My SIL has an unhealthy relationship with her students (long)

My husband’s sister is a 32-year-old high school drama and speech teacher. She has been a teacher for 10 years now, and the school she is at now is the first one where she has kept her job for more than a year or two (or less). She was fired from a couple of schools early on, and simply has not had her contract renewed at others. This doesn’t surprise us, as she does not have the personality necessary to be an effective teacher.

During her whole career, she has always tried to be buddies with her students. Not in the sense of being a mentor or trusted adult, but in the way that involves her attending their parties and social activities on weekends. This probably was inappropriate already when she was in her early 20s, but it has gotten worse over time. As far as we know she has never been romantically/sexually involved with a student, but as I said she would go to their parties, and e-mail and call them in the evenings just to chat.

SIL got married a little over a year ago. We think she only got married because she hated feeling left out after her little brother found a wife that both he and his parents adore (me!) and suddenly became the “good kid” of the family. Before I started dating my husband, they shared an apartment and she hung out with him and his friends. Even though he is the younger brother (by 2 1/2 years), she was always the tag-along.

She married a guy who doesn’t treat her all that well. He is extremely passive, has a low-paying, dead-end job that is over an hour’s commute from their house, and prefers to spend all his time at his parents’ house or playing video games. Several months ago, he was offered a job with better pay, more chance at promotions, and much closer to their home. He refused to take it, even though he claims not to like his current job. SIL has never had much self-esteem, and pretty much married the first guy who asked. We’re not sure why he did, but we assume it’s because he found a woman who was desperate enough to put up with his crap, finance his lifestyle, and provide free maid service. Before they got married, they never discussed things like whether they ever want children. As far as we know, they have yet to talk about it.

Over the past year, SIL’s friendship with some of her students has kicked into overdrive. Last month, on her first wedding anniversary, she told my husband that she wanted to celebrate by coming to our house to watch a wrestling pay-per-view. (She and my husband have watched wrestling together since they were little kids and yes, they’re well aware that it’s all scripted.) SIL’s husband is not a wrestling fan, but basically tolerates it. Some anniversary party! But it’s what she wanted to do, and he didn’t care, so they drove down to our house (a little over an hour away from the town where she lives and works) to watch the show. What we didn’t expect was that she brought three of her students along with her! These are 16-17-year-old boys. She didn’t tell us ahead of time, and didn’t introduce them as her students. They trooped in the front door and she introduced them by their first names, and call her by hers. At first we thought maybe they were relatives of her husband’s, as he has a large family and we’ve never met most of them, but we quickly realized these were her students. Apparently they all hung out over Spring Break. They went to see 300 together and that kind of thing. We were fairly appalled, but didn’t say anything. We also never got around to breaking out the beer and champagne we had in the fridge!

My husband mentioned all this to my mother-in-law, who is also a teacher (an excellent one – known and respected throughout her community). He didn’t want to be a tattletale, but wanted to make sure we weren’t overreacting, and to get advice. MIL was horrifed, and said SIL is committing professional suicide, as we thought. Especially with all the media focus on teachers having inappropriate relationships with students, this whole thing is a disaster waiting to happen. She could be fired, and probably would be blackballed from teaching anywhere in the state. She would lose her house next, and her husband sure as hell can’t support her. My husband asked his mother not to say anything about it to SIL, and said he would talk to her instead. She likely would ignore her mother’s advice anyway, as she typically does.

My husband is having trouble with this though. Last night she described those students to my husband as her “best friends in the world.” She has no other friends. She stays late afterschool to play Dungeons and Dragons with them in her classroom – and she’s not even the one running the game! He has tried broaching the topic, but she always goes off on a tangent about what new, fun things she and her teenage buddies are doing. After their conversation last night, he says he doesn’t have the heart to tell her what a giant train wreck this is bound to be.

I’m sure she’s going to be devastated when they graduate and leave her behind, but she will do what she has always done: find new high school kids who will let her into their social circle. This is going to get harder as she gets older, and eventually she’s going to be “that creepy teacher,” and then “that unemployed woman who lives with her parents.”

I really don’t know what we can do. Attempts in years past to explain that she doesn’t belong at high school keggers have fallen on deaf ears. As time passes and she gets crazier and more desperate, I doubt she’s getting any more receptive to the message. We don’t want her to freak out and stop talking to her family, which is probably what would happen, and then she would have nowhere she felt she could turn for emotional support when the inevitable disaster happens.

I guess I’m soliciting opinions and advice, if you’re still reading, but mostly I’ve just had this on my mind a lot and wanted to get it out there.

I have some advice, but you won’t like it. I don’t like giving it; I didn’t like it when I learned it.

Let it be. You can’t save her from herself. You can only help her if she realizes her problem and asks for your help.

Yeah, I learned that you can’t save people from themselves several years ago when another friend self-destructed. In that case, I was able to remove myself from the situation and we just weren’t friends anymore.

I just wish there was some way to prevent the rest of my husband’s family from getting dragged through the drama when it happens. I know it will be a huge embarrassment for my MIL, who teaches in a town not far from SIL’s town. All that angst will then trickle down to my husband, and it just sucks.

Is there a way of saying something to the administration at the school so that they might clamp down in this situation? I dunno - this is a tough one.

If we thought she had a sexual relationship with any of the kids, we definitely would confront her, and maybe make an anonymous call or something (I think I would call, and allow my husband plausible deniability). We don’t see any evidence of that at this point, but we do perk up our ears every time one of the local news stations does a “teacher caught with student” teaser for the newscast – which seems to happen every couple of weeks around here!

I just wonder if anyone in the school’s administration has said anything to her yet. Maybe it would raise more red flags if she were single, but that doesn’t really mean much.

Eh, I don’t know if that’s wise. She would probably lose her job and it’ll get blown out of proportion. She isn’t REALLY harming any of these students, she’s just harming herself. Getting the administration involved would be too much of a big step.

I have a friend who is in a similar situation (doesn’t seem quite as bad as the SIL, as he doesn’t seem as involved as she is) and I am worried about him too. He is dating a girl who was his student last year :frowning: I am torn on the topic as well, and look forward to any good advice people have for the OP.

I think your husband needs to try to talk to her, to make her face the fact that she is committing career suicide. If she refuses to listen, then drop it, but at least when it hits the fan he will know that he tried.

Is there any indication that the parents of any of these kids know what is going on? I didn’t have 24 hour supervision as a 16 year old, but my parents had a general idea of where I was and who I was with. Maybe she isn’t seen as threatening because she’s a woman, in spite of all the sensational news stories. Does she have similar relationships with female students? Of course if their parents don’t know/care that they are having keggers, then maybe that’s my answer right there.

These particular kids may not be having keggers, per se. The keggers were at previous schools she wasn’t invited back to. They’re definitely staying late on school grounds to play D&D. I’m sure there are many worse things they could be out doing.

We have only heard about male students on this go-round. I’m not sure if she hung out with any girls at previous schools.

I don’t know whether the parents are aware, but if they’re hanging out as much as it seems, they would have to have some idea. Maybe they’re glad the kids have adult supervision and just think she’s a really committed teacher.

Agreed. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation, considering it will probably be fruitless, but he has to say something so that later, from the unemployment line (or jail) she can’t say to him Why didn’t you say anything??

An update, for anyone who cares.

My SIL lost her job at the high school. We don’t know the gory details, but she her contract was not renewed. She was allowed to finish out the school year since they only had a few weeks to go, so at least she avoided an ugly incident. Not sure where she’s going to work now, since she’s already worked for most of the districts in the area, and was fired from most of them. I hope she tries to get a non-teaching job of some sort, maybe somewhere she can work with adults.


Are there any adult literacy programs that pay as a full time job? How about art therapy for adults?

I’m actually sort of glad she lost her job…I hope she learns from this (this time).

Sad. As strange as this sort of behavior is, it also kind of makes me feel bad for her since it sounds like some kind of mental illness is at work here…something that’s making it hard for her to form the normal social bonds that most adults are capable of forming with other adults. I hope there is some way for her to get some help and figure out how to work on her social skills before she ends up losing yet another job.

She’s lucky she got fired, or “not renewed.” Now she needs to get therapy.

Even if she wasn’t having a physical sexual relationship, the relationship she was having was inappropriate. It’s “fraternizing.” She shouldn’t have been doing it at all, no matter how non-sexual it was at least up to that point. I hope she gets some help or she’ll be fired from the next job too, if she’s lucky again. Unlucky means the newspapers.