What’s behind the news media’s obsession with teacher-student sex?

Dan Lothian, former CNN White House corespondent responds to the recent uptick in student-teacher sex scandals.


“A female middle school teacher is under investigation for having sex with one of her students,” the local news anchor announced with breathless excitement. It was the top story that had been teased throughout the day. There were interviews with shocked parents and other students. Administrators vowed to get to the bottom of it.  Police and prosecutors explained the seriousness of the crime. In gym classes young boys snickered as did grown men watching at home.

To be clear this is no laughing matter. A teacher having sex with a young student is not a relationship it is a crime.  What bothers me is why and how often these stories are covered by the news media.  And the fact that most of the stories seem to involve a pretty female teacher and a young jock.

There’s a long list of these kinds of cases around the country. Whether it’s in small rural schools or crowded urban districts.  One that garnered national attention and seems to be the reference point for bad teacher behavior happened in 1997. Mary Kay Letourneau admitted that she had sex with her 6th grade student. She later became pregnant and went to prison.

Like shards of metal to a magnet these cases draw the attention of every news editor because they sell. In an industry driven by ratings and clicks “teacher-student sex” gets attention.  There is value in reporting these stories, but rarely is there any substantive context.  Perhaps the exploration of why this keeps happening or a review of ethical training for educators might be good avenues for the media to pursue.  Instead they jump at the opportunity to write a steamy headline and flash the photo of an attractive female teacher on the screen as just another spoke in the Breaking News wheel. What’s even more trouble is this subtext of gender bias.  While most cases of teacher-student abuse involve a male teacher (Hofstra University report) a quick Google search of coverage seemed to focus on female teachers. Perhaps it’s driven by the same attitude of those locker room boys. That unacceptable snickering as editorial decisions are being made.

You might be reading this and wondering why I chose the subject.  Could I also be guilty of trying to get attention for my commentary? Afer all everyone wants to find the largest audience for their work. However, it was an education article about the gratuitous coverage of teacher-student sex that caught my attention.

Teachers are amazing individuals, in fact I’m married to one. They are great role models who influence young minds and prepare them for many things they’ll encounter in life. But when some of them cross the line into criminal behavior the news media need to be more responsible.  Don’t just focus on sex and sizzle. It’s time to take the high road.