When Mike Hartford of Royal Oak was 16, he had a consuming crush. "She was blond. She smelled amazing. And she wore these little glasses that made me crazy."
She also taught Hartford about the Trail of Tears, the Civil War and the Dred Scott decision. She was, after all, Hartford’s American history teacher.
"When I look back on it, she was probably only 10 years older than me," Hartford says. "I thought she was the most amazing woman in the world. Nothing ever happened. But if she’d ever taken an interest in me, I have to admit, I would have been totally game."
Many students have had crushes on teachers at some point. Most, like Hartford’s, are innocent and unrequited. But headlines tell of teachers entering sexual relationships with their students. Many start with a school-age crush and an ethically compromised educator.
But if teachers handle the situation correctly and parents stress the importance of healthy relationships and boundaries, experts say, the crush can be used as an opening to discuss relationships.
Megan Rotar, a psychologist with the Mental Fitness Center in Rochester, says crushes on teachers are very common.
"Teachers, to students, are almost like celebrities," she says. "They are there to be supportive and help the students in learning and facilitate their growth. Sometimes the teachers will fulfill a need the student has, and that can lead to a crush.
"Crushes can be healthy and positive. Students might find someone who would be a good role model for them, spark an interest in learning and help (them) figure out their newly developing romantic feelings."
Rotar says parents should be mindful, so they can talk to their child about these feelings and why this relationship is inappropriate. Wheatley Davis, a female teacher who started at an all-boy Detroit school, says teachers don’t want parents to scold their kids over classroom crushes. Instead, they encourage open conversation.
"When kids harmlessly smile at you and beam when they see you, it is fine," Davis says. "When they are trying to find out where you live, we as teachers would really like mom or dad to have a conversation with their child, just addressing these boundaries."
Most crushes can be healthy and eventually fade, but others can be dangerous for the student and the teacher.
Rotar says if it starts interfering with the student’s life, becomes obsessive, if the student has expectations the feelings will be returned – or the student makes comments that make the teacher uncomfortable