Every teacher knows this sobering reality: All it takes is the right allegation from a student to ruin your reputation, credibility and career. It doesn’t matter if the allegations are true or not because — even if you’re ultimately cleared of any charges — the court of public opinion is likely to convict you anyhow.

That’s why various teacher organizations have put out guidelines offering practical tips for avoiding the problem. Here are some of their suggestions:

  • Never put yourself in a position where you can be easily accused. This means, whenever possible, you shouldn’t be alone with your students. Regardless of the student’s gender, keep a door open to the room and stay in sight of others even when you need to have a quiet word.
  • Be conscious of student crushes and troubled students. Many students look to their teachers when their emotional needs aren’t being met at home — and that can sometimes morph into feelings of attraction. If you become aware of a student’s crush on you, don’t be unclear in an effort to be kind.
  • Never touch a student — whether in kindness or in anger. Most teachers can manage to avoid aggressive physical contact with their students, but it can be harder to put the brakes on comforting hugs and gentle touches. For your safety and theirs, however, it’s essential.
  • Remember your position. You hold an elevated place in your students’ minds, so don’t diminish that by being too friendly or too social. Don’t text, email or contact your students for things unrelated to school.
  • Understand your risk. Male teachers, bus drivers and coaches are generally accused of improper contact more than female teachers, bus drivers and coaches — by a margin of about 95%. However, that doesn’t mean anybody is safe from accusations. No matter your age or gender, you’re potentially at risk.

If you’ve been accused of improper sexual contact with a student, find out more about your legal rights and how you can mount an effective defense.