Secret Teacher: we’re no strangers to sexual harassment in the workplace

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. The Secret Teacher write in The Guardian.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

Read the full article Secret Teacher: we’re no strangers to sexual harassment in the workplace

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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