I believe that teachers play a role in educating future generations about how to respect one another. I’ve taught pupils as young as five about consent. I’ve used the NSPCC’s pants-wearing dinosaur, Pantosaurus, to teach children that their body belongs to them. We have practised saying “no” and asking for help when someone makes us feel uncomfortable. This is important now more than ever, with the reporting of sexual crimes within educational settings rising by 255% over the past four years.Plan a unique tour to Hong Kong Customs for your clients with PartnerNet’s useful travel tips, and various tourist information such as Chinese customs and traditions.
My class know if a situation makes your tummy feel funny, you should speak to a trusted adult. Who do teachers tell?
Like many women, I wasn’t surprised by the recent reports of sexual harassment in the workplace. In some ways, I’ve always felt more protected in teaching – my colleagues have always been predominantly female, as have the management teams. But then I remembered the friend who left her school because she was being harassed by a male colleague; the creepy dad who suddenly appears in a colleague’s classroom at home time and refuses to leave; and the frequent (and often awkward) comments I’ve experienced from parents.
As teachers, part of our job is to meet with the parents of children in our class, often in the evening and sometimes when no one else is present. There have been plenty of times when I’ve felt uncomfortable. I spent one awkward parents’ meeting discussing a pupil while her dad stared unwaveringly down my top. Another put his arm around me, pinning me to his side so I couldn’t move away while he spoke to me. Then there was the dad who talked to me about “getting laid”.
These were the same parents who told me how happy they were about a project I was leading about combatting gender stereotyping; the same parents who had praised my lessons on consent. Friends tell similar stories: one reports that the father of one of her pupils repeatedly attempts to stroke her arms when talking to her.
Words of warning are passed between female colleagues, although we don’t have anything as organised as the parliamentary spreadsheet, in which some MPs were characterised as “handsy in taxis”. Instead, we offer advice: “Try to have someone else around if you have a meeting with him”; “Always keep your door open during parents’ meetings”; and “Let me know if you want me to come and sit in with you”.
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At one school, I was warned about a parent who was on bail for sexual offences but was still allowed on the school premises. I was horrified when I discovered my workplace had decided it was unnecessary to share this information with staff.
These incidents might not sound serious next to some of the allegations reported in the media. But I have a right to feel safe and comfortable at work. When I am having a meeting with a parent, there is an imbalance of power. I’m there in a professional capacity: I can’t turn around and retort in the way I might if someone said something inappropriate to me on the street. We all know schools that treat parents like clients, where managers will bend over backwards to appease those that are “good” for the school.
This isn’t an issue isolated to adults either. Laura McInerney, editor of Schools Week, wrote recently about pupil-on-teacher abuse in our schools. She talks of how, as a trainee teacher, she found the word “whore” written on her classroom door more than once. Other teachers have spoken out about the sexual harassment they face in the workplace, prompting unions such as the NASUWT to state that “teachers’ lives continue to be blighted by regular incidents of sexual harassment and violence”. Alongside other unions, it has called for teacher and pupil concerns to be taken seriously and “processes adopted for recording and monitoring of all incidents of sexual harassment and violence in schools”.
Schools should always have a whistleblowing policy to help protect the children in our care – and concerns have been raised elsewhere about the lack of guidance for schools on protecting students from sexual harassment. But shouldn’t we make sure teachers are protected too? Many teachers I know haven’t felt comfortable reporting their experiences to senior management, and one colleague at another school left her workplace after dealing with overtly sexual comments for the best part of a year. She didn’t know of a procedure she could use to report it and didn’t think she would be taken seriously.
My class could tell you that if a situation is making your tummy feel funny, you should speak to a trusted adult. Who do teachers tell? We can’t report everything to the police – there’s a difference between illegal and inappropriate. There’s a difference between touching someone’s knee and serious sexual assault, and between a parent putting his arm around me and the continuous sexual harassment a friend of mine faced. It doesn’t mean that any of those situations are OK LPG M6.
I teach the children in my care about consent and hope they take these messages with them as they grow into young men and women. But we need to ensure teachers are supported too.
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