The student teacher romance is a cliché in modern America, but it's always a bad idea for the teacher and the student.
About the Student Teacher Romance
Modern understanding of a romance between a student and a teacher centers around Mary Kay Letourneau's affair with her then sixth grade student, Vili Fualaau. Although the couple was married after Letourneau spent seven and a half years in prison and gave birth to two children, the inappropriate relationship between student and teacher was not lessened because Fualaau became a consenting adult versus when he was a child.
Romantic affairs between college students and professors are depicted in literature and television as provocative. However, a teacher is in a position of authority, to abuse that power by initiating or allowing the student to initiate a romantic relationship is inappropriate behavior. It could also lead to the teacher's dismissal because most universities have a code of conduct that both students and professors are expected to follow. Professors who violate this code of conduct may forfeit personal reputations and valued tenures.
What if the Romance Is Real?
Can a romance between a student and a teacher be the real thing? Mary Kay Letourneau gave birth to two children and eventually married the young man she had seduced. Both maintained that they were in love from the get go and both continued to pursue the relationship. Ultimately, the couple stood the test of time against fierce criticism, prison sentences and questions of moral turpitude, yet it did not make their affair appropriate. At the time, he was too young (legally under-aged) and she was his teacher (inappropriate behavior).
If a relationship is real, then it is better for the student to transfer out of the teacher's class or to wait until there is no longer a student and teacher situation. If the student remains at the same university or college, then the professor should contact the dean to alert him or her of a possible morals clause violation. Ultimately, it is up to the teacher (who has the most to lose) to put the brakes on any possible romance with a student, particularly if it is harmful to his or her reputation, job security and safety. Passions can run high in college; tempestuous affairs are as quick to ignite as to burn out. For the teacher or student, who is seeking a long-term relationship, waiting until the student and teacher relationship is over before kindling a romance is a good way to ensure a long-term successful relationship.
Avoid Temptation: The Bait
An important distinction should be noted when considering any variation of the student and teacher romantic relationship. If one participant is under the age of 18, then it is illegal. With few exceptions, most states consider acting physically on that kind of a romantic relationship to be child molestation. For consenting adults on both sides of the equation, the danger of sexual harassment charges and improper conduct accusations are still potential threats to livelihoods and careers.
The best advice for a student and teacher, who find themselves interested in pursuing a romantic relationship, is to sever the student and teacher relationship before acting in any inappropriate manner. If it is impossible to sever the student and teacher relationship, then the couple should refrain from acting on feelings (no matter how intense) until such a time as the student/teacher bond has ended.
If you or someone you know is concerned about whether or not your student teacher romance is inappropriate or illegal, consider seeking help by confiding in a trust friend, a physician or even an attorney. While doubt is a natural byproduct of romance, fear of discovery, legal ramifications and a threat to your reputation may be the wake-up call needed to avoid making a bad decision worse.