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Is it Okay for a Teacher to Hug a Student?

When I was a teacher, I was known for many things:  not allowing use of the word “hate,” wearing a lot of rings on my fingers, and hugging.  Whether I was teaching kindergarten, fourth, or fifth grades, I always hugged my students (if they wanted a hug).  I hugged them hello and goodbye, I hugged them on their birthdays, to celebrate an accomplishment, to offer comfort, and to calm and soothe.

Within the last few years, teachers have been in the news with increasing frequency for inappropriate, criminal behavior towards their students.  Teachers are now advised not to touch a student.  It is safer that way — no innocent gesture could be misinterpreted.  And I watched teachers tell students they couldn’t hug them. 

But, that wasn’t me.  Any child who wanted a hug, got one from me.  They also received high-fives, air kisses across the hallway, pinkie swears, a hand on their shoulder.   Not everyone agreed with my hands-on methods, but that’s who I am.  I was willing to risk any reprimand if it meant a child knew he or she was loved and cared for.

My son went to a fantastic preschool where he was one of twenty children, with three teachers.  They were firm believers in the power of hugs and kisses on the tops of heads.  Now my son is in kindergarten, where he is one of twenty-three students with one teacher, and a part-time teacher’s assistant.  His teacher does not hug.

One afternoon at dismissal, he asked me if his teacher would hug him good-bye.  We asked if Ryan could hug her, and she turned sideways and gave a half-hearted hug.  Later, Ryan questioned me about his teacher’s hug; “It wasn’t cozy,” he told me.  I told him that she was wearing her keys around her neck and probably didn’t want to bump him with them.

There’s no easy explanation regarding the lack of hugs my son is receiving this year.  Some believe that hugs have no place in a school setting; children are there to learn, not to be cuddled.

Personally, that’s where I would remind others that the key word here is “children.”  We are talking about children; children who need to feel safe and respected and cared for.  And, it has been my experience, that hugs accomplish all those things.  Meanwhile, I can’t force someone to become a “hugger;” all I can do is remind my son that his teacher is there to keep him and all his friends healthy and safe.  That every adult at his school has the number one job of keeping all the kids healthy and safe.

And my son knows that in our family, there will be no shortage of hugs and kisses.

This was a guest post by Wendy Kennar. Wendy is  the mother to a 5-year-old-son, a writer, and a public school teacher for twelve years.  She has had work published in the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, L.A. Parent, GreenPrints, DivineCaroline.com, Familius.com, United Teacher, Beyond the Diaper Bag, and The Barefoot Review. She blogs at Wendy’s Weekly Words

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