Is it ever ethical for a teacher to date a student? | Inquirer Opinion

Is it ever ethical for a teacher to date a student?

There is a viral post going around about a female student who ended up with her high school teacher. According to the young woman’s post, they now have two children and have been together for 12 years, sharing how fortunate she was to have found her “forever” partner. She mentioned that initially, she felt very uncomfortable with her teacher’s extra attention and teasing, responding by either ignoring him or giving him hateful stares. Eventually, however, she gave in to his persistent advances and became pregnant with their first child two years later. The problem with this supposed “love story”? The teacher pursued her in 2011 while she was in her second year of high school and when she was only around 14 or 15 years old.

Most would agree that this case is a textbook example of grooming—a covert form of abuse where an adult builds an emotional connection with a child to manipulate, exploit, and abuse them. Rereading the young woman’s story, we see how the high school teacher used his position to get her attention, slowly build trust, and eventually escalate the relationship to a more romantic and sexual nature. As of writing, one of the shared versions of the original post has already amassed 15,000 comments. While some pointed out that the teacher’s actions violated basic moral and ethical code because she was a minor, some lauded both the couple’s decision to defy conventional norms for the sake of love. To me, the resulting debate in the comments section highlights the critical importance of educating the public about children’s rights and correcting widespread misconceptions regarding a child’s capacity for informed consent.

Some pointed out that the relationship would have been okay if the student had been at least 18 years old, assuming that she would have been in a better position to give consent at that age. I would like to argue, however, that any relationship between a teacher and student will invariably have elements of an asymmetrical power dynamic. For instance, although a romantic relationship between a college student and a professor may appear outwardly consensual, one must consider that the teacher could significantly influence the student’s academic standing, career recommendations, and future opportunities. This power imbalance then compromises the young person’s ability to give free and equal consent, even if there is no apparent coercion involved.

I would be remiss not to acknowledge that some successful romantic relationships began this way. I know of one person who secretly started dating her college professor during her last year in university and eventually married him. However, these few examples should not be an excuse for higher educational institutions not to discourage romantic teacher-student relationships. The adverse outcomes of such relationships have been supported by numerous studies that have found negative physical, psychological, and professional consequences, especially for the students involved. For instance, a study focusing on female students who had been involved with their professors showed that many regretted their decision. Many of these women experienced long-term anxiety, depression, and diminished self-esteem. Additionally, these relationships can result in academic issues like biased grading and other conflicts of interest, compromising the integrity of the educational setting as a whole.


Schools are responsible for ensuring a professional and safe learning environment, including enforcing policies that set clear boundaries between students and teachers and discouraging any form of relationship, even close friendships, that could lead to potential harm and ethical violations. Comprehensive training programs for educators can help them recognize early signs of inappropriate relationships and understand their legal and ethical obligations to report and intervene. Similarly, children and young people can benefit significantly from workshops on establishing personal boundaries and understanding what constitutes appropriate versus inappropriate behavior from adults.

In my previous column, “Safer campuses and safer futures” (3/10/24), I stressed that character references and background checks on teacher applicants cannot be entirely relied on in identifying potential offenders. Establishing a publicly available national registry of sex offenders is a crucial measure to safeguard the safety of young people, alongside a clear and confidential reporting system for abuse in schools.

What kind of relationship should teachers cultivate with their students? I like how one master teacher in our school articulated the needed balance, “We can be caring, encouraging, and friendly to our students without being their friend.” As educators, it is our duty to help young people reach their full potential. This requires dedication and empathy, but also fairness and impartiality—which we can only achieve by maintaining our professional distance.

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