Answered Dec 8, 2017
Although I’m not a teacher, I have spent considerable time as a university student.
My default is to never touch anyone unnecessarily, aside from a handshake. I also strongly prefer for other people to have exactly that same attitude in their approach to me (with exactly one exception, who is a close, long-standing friend).
I am perfectly capable of touching people, if necessary. I once had job with plenty of up-close-and-personal touching, because it involved caring for elderly and disabled people. The key word is “necessary”.
For teaching children:
If the child just tripped on their shoelaces and face-planted, go ahead and approach to check for injuries. However, get more cautious as the age increases.
If there is a student-vs-student fight, break it up before someone is injured. If I saw a child being punched in the face, I would be inclined to restrain the assailant, and then face an investigation. An exception would be if the assailant was a teenager who was larger and stronger than me, in which case I would call security.
When in a room alone with a student, either have another person present, or at least leave the door open.
For teaching adults:
Basically, the same as for children.
An important factor (especially with children) is the gender of the teacher. Men are highly vulnerable to suspicion and accusations of “inappropriate” touching, and their career can be instantly over simply due to this bias, without actually doing anything wrong. This is unfortunate, because I would prefer to see more men in traditionally pink-collar occupations.
Women should also be cautious, and should examine the socialised sense of entitlement to be seen as safe and innocent, when the reality is that many women are predators, and some students have experience with that fact.
Transsexual people (in either direction) should never even consider working with children, due to the pervasive paranoia and discrimination, regardless of the individual’s actual integrity or innocence.
For both men and women, I strongly agree with another commentator’s willingness to have a video camera present in the room. In my personal life, I have had a few times when it would have been to my great advantage to have a video recording of an event, to prove my story, and have even considered buying and wearing a “body-cam” just in case of such a situation. It can be anything from a crime committed against you, to a false criminal accusation against you, to civilly actionable behaviour, like harassment or discrimination.
Another important factor (with anyone in any situation) is that, you don’t know the other person’s experiences. You don’t necessarily know if they have experienced child abuse, other violence, or sexual assault. They could be living in a high-crime neighbourhood, where they need to be highly vigilant about anyone suddenly reaching out to grab them. They could have experienced an armed robbery in a workplace. They aren’t obligated to tell you about it, and they aren’t obligated to simply “get over it” and allow random people to reach out and grab them without consent.
I have also heard the “touchy-culture” excuse. However, I grew up on a relatively NON-touchy culture, so “cultural sensitivity” really means respecting my space, and keeping your hands off.
As an adult student, I had a very negative experience with an educational institution (a low-rent polytechnic) where this issue was part of their incessant, totally unprofessional pattern of disrespect and boundary-violations. I switched my money and academic performance to a much better institution, with much more professional staff. “Professional” including respecting boundaries like this.
You may decide your own actions and intentions, but you don’t get to decide other people’s reactions.