Pat Brothwell on why this question bugs him so much.
When people find out I’m a high school English teacher I’m often guaranteed at least one of the following two reactions:
2) Being asked, “Are your students hot?”
I get the surprise. I’m a young looking 27; plenty of students look older than me. I’m actually mistaken for students by substitutes and visitors pretty regularly. I say “like” and swear more than anyone with an English degree should and people who are my Facebook friend tend to say things like, “Really? You make a lot of grammar mistakes online.” I try to have a sense of humor about myself and usually just roll with it.
I used to have a sense of humor and roll with the “Are the students hot?” question. When I started teaching I was 22. I was just four years older than some of the students, and generationally, still had more in common with them than some of my colleagues. I hung out with people just a year or two older than the kids. It made sense then. The older I get, though, the more it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and while I play it cool, I wish people would stop asking.
While I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with the question, I guess I understand where these guys, and to be fair, girls, are coming from. We’re led to believe that getting the attention of young, attractive females is a positive. Although I hate this particular blame game, the media really does rub this in our faces. The terms “Lolita” and “jailbait” often don’t have negative connotations, and many publications routinely have countdowns for famous teenage girls—Miley Cyrus and Emma Watson are two examples—to become “legal.”
Because of this (I’m assuming) a lot of guys would give anything to be able to routinely chat with attractive 18-year-olds. They’d jump at the chance to do what I get paid to do on a daily basis, to see with their own eyes just how many “hotties” I have in class.
The thing is, I’m not paid to chat them up. I’m paid to be there for a specific purpose. I’m paid to help them analyze nonfiction and read critically and write in various styles and know enough about language and the ways we manipulate it to be able to function in the real world. And believe me, on the other end, they usually are not talking to me because they want to.
We’re around each other because I’m their teacher. I’m paid to teach these kids.
I didn’t use the word “kids” haphazardly either. It’s a very calculated part of the answer I give whenever posed with the “are they hot?” question. I first respond that you have to not think of them that way. You think of them as kids. It’s not hard, but a lot of people can’t seem to wrap their heads around that.
Are there students that are good looking? Certainly. But part of the responsibility of teachers, especially male teachers, is to realize that despite the fact that at 18 they could legally date you or be featured on the cover of Maxim… they are kids.
This is not devaluing their intellect or their personalities or anything they’ve accomplished. Some of them are incredibly bright and articulate and some possess a keen understanding of the adult world, much better than I did at their age, but developmentally they’re still teenagers. They have teenage dreams and teenage problems and teenage values and teenage impulses that govern a lot of their choices. You could say that they are “young adults” till you’re blue in the face. I will continue to assert that these are teenagers.
Then comes my favorite part, the part where I say “I don’t look at them this way,” and whoever I’m in the conversation with assumes that I’m lying and brings up what would happen if I’d chosen another profession.
“Well, you legally can’t do anything with them. But c’mon, if they weren’t your students, you’d be hitting on them all the time, right?”
This is where I stop rolling with it and begin to get pissed and insulted.
I view them as kids; they’re adolescent kids, sure, but kids nonetheless. I don’t hit on kids. If I were an accountant or a nurse or a police officer, I still wouldn’t be hitting on teenagers. There are plenty of girls out there my own age. I literally have no idea what any 27-year-old has in common with an 18-year-old, but that’s a tangent for another day.
I also believe that aside from legal obligations keeping teachers and students romantically and sexually apart, there’s also a certain code of conduct that we, as teachers, should be modeling for both our male and female students. It’s something I chose to do when I became a teacher.
The sad reality is that a lot of these girls, these teenage girls, these kids, once they’ve reached a certain age, have gotten used to unwanted attention from older adult males. They’re used to being sexually objectified. They’re used to being leered at. While teachers certainly can’t fix it, we certainly can not add to it. How many times do you hear that boys need positive male role models? Girls do too. I’m not trying to martyr myself or put myself up on a pedestal. I’m simply saying that I think the least I could do at my job is not objectify these girls and leer at them and make them feel even more uncomfortable than any host of guys my age have made them already feel. I can show them that there are guys out there interested in their thoughts and opinions and helping them without expecting anything in return (except for respect, but again, a whole other tangent). Their looks and sexual allure are far from the only tools they’ve got and it’s a teacher’s job to show them that not all guys think like that.
And it is insulting when people assume that just because I am a guy, and I think especially one still in my 20s, that I have to really stop myself from hitting on them all day long. I doubt this question is pushed as hard with female teachers or with other professions that deal with kids. I don’t think anyone would dream of asking a pediatrician if their older patients were hot, because we assume that is unprofessional. It would be unprofessional for me to do what you’re asking as well.
Furthermore, I’m not going to fault you if you want to hit on girls once they turn 18 (if hitting on 16-year-olds is your style, then you’re gross and sad and need to acquaint yourself with something called Megan’s Law). Not my style, but completely legal for you. You didn’t choose to work with them, but I did, and I assure you that finding a date or hookup had absolutely nothing to do with it. I’m not going to judge you for checking out nubile teenage girls either. Again, legally you could do that, but again, with this profession, it’s not my prerogative. I’m not sure why it’s such a hard concept to grasp.
So while I’m not going to fault or judge you for your choices, I am going to ask you for a little more understanding when I tell you that I simply don’t have any hot students. Please stop bringing it up. Focus instead on my bad grammar or how I look like a baby or ask me about some of the ridiculous things students say. I’ll entertain you with those as long as you want.