Sometimes giving a learner a hug is the right thing to do

8th March 2019, 12:04am
The Question Is Whether Teacher Should Give Learners A Supportive Hug
Tes Editorial

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Sometimes giving a learner a hug is the right thing to do

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/sometimes-giving-learner-hug-right-thing-do

Human compassion and appropriate professional behaviour aren't always the same thing.

A while ago, an adult student disclosed some really upsetting news to me and tears started to stream down her face. She looked broken. My natural reaction was to envelop her in my arms to try to give her some maternal comfort. But I fought my instinct because: a) the intention with which I gave the hug might be received in an entirely different way; and b) physical contact between a teacher and student, even an adult student, is not appropriate.

There's a difference in power and status implicit in the teacher-student relationship, regardless of the ages of the parties. And when power disparity and physicality are combined, it's wise to tread very carefully.

To acknowledge my feelings and let her know that I cared, I said: "I want to give you a massive hug, but …" I was going to say "but I shouldn't because that isn't what teachers do".

Before I could say the second bit, she collapsed into my arms, weeping, with her head on my shoulder.

I know that hugging is a no-no between teacher and student. Of course it is. And being visible, during the occasional instance when being alone with a student is unavoidable, is sensible for everyone's sake.

But there are rare occasions when a parental reaction to console, to protect, to soothe is the right professional choice.

Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands and is director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons

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