This issue is more complex than one single issue but an issue which occurred in a lesson with a Year 9 group has highlighted a number of things that I see as being wrong, not this time with the education system but with me and my ability to be a teacher. There a number of issues which I wish to discuss and I only intend to cover the incident from my lesson within this post. In the future I will undoubtedly write about everything else I see as being wrong with the education system. This is in no way an attack or a critique of my current school.
I was subjected to sexual harassment whilst teaching a lesson by a boy in Year 9. This still feels quite strange to type those words, but to call it anything different would be to not acknowledge this severity of what happened.
Having moved the student to the back of the room, seemingly away from their friends who had been causing a distraction originally, the disruption continued. Now it is my style to teach from the back of the classroom a lot of the time as I find it much easier to see what is happening in front of me and it also means that the students are not necessarily aware of if or when I am looking at them.
Low level disruption is something which often happens in Year 9 lessons. I only see one Year 9 group per week for one lesson, but they are by far the least focussed and most disruptive students within the school. Can I label an entire year group as disruptive? I personally would say yes. There have been more students from this year group placed on “managed moves” (more on that later) than any other year group so far this year, as well as the general consensus amongst the teaching staff that this year group are the most difficult in terms of their behaviour.
Having circulated the room and returned to my chosen spot I was not stood there for long before I felt something graze my bum. What do you do in that situation? How am I supposed to react? More importantly, how am I supposed to feel about it? What I did, and not because I had given it any great thought, was remove said student from the lesson to the classroom of another member of my department.
Luckily, standing at the back of the room had paid off in this instant as no other students apart from the partner in crime of said student had witnessed or were aware of what had happened. There was no shouting involved, no discussion and as much as there were questions following his removal, it was quickly dropped from the rest of the students’ thoughts.
Sexual harassment or sexual assault anywhere at any time must be quite the traumatising experience but I have to admit that I did not feel even slightly effected by the incident. It is only after the fact that I have become more aware of quite how serious an incident this was.
One thing that has been consistently raised to me is “Just imagine if it was a woman he had done it to!” Well yes, I see your point. Had it been a female member of staff there would have been uproar at the highest levels. This raises another issue of course: why would it be worse if it was a female member of staff? I’m not exactly sure what the answer is to that question and it is one which I am cautious of posing an answer to. We as a society should surely treat this kind of incident with equal severity.
I must admit that I had the full support of my line manager and my Head of College which I greatly appreciated. Both were very welcoming and took the incident very seriously, letting me know what the process would be in terms of punishment for said student.
So why am I still not particularly affected by this?
One thing which I discussed with my partner on returning home was the idea that the idea of “lad” culture and excusing things as “banter” have been so ingrained in me given my upbringing and life experiences (all boys grammar school, rugby playing, university educated) that I simply do not view this as a serious issue. Maybe had it been a full on grab of my buttocks I would be more inclined to take offense to such an action, but I am still struggling to give this incident its full weight.
I digress slightly. You may be wondering “Well, it all seems to have been resolved: the student suitably punished and you have the full support of your line managers.” I am well aware that for some people in the work place that level of support from those above often is not present. But it poses serious problems for me. Am I suited to work in this environment when I did not see the severity of the incident until it was made clear to me? Myself and another male colleague had joked that I may have tempted the student by standing provocatively (which I very much was not).
There are a great number of issues which I have with the education system. I was not aware that the action of students was going to be one of them. I think that this whole thing has highlighted my faults to me more so than anything else. I am not bitter towards the school, I am not bitter towards the student, which maybe I should be a bit more, but rather I am annoyed with myself for creating a relationship with a student where he has clearly become far too comfortable with me. This leads me to question whether I am ready to be a teacher.
Should I be in a position of responsibility trying to educate students not only on my subject but to make them better people when I can so easily see the funny side of an incident which could have been viewed in a much more serious manner had it been a different member of staff? If I can’t see the severity of the incident without it being pointed out to me then how am I supposed to teach these young people right from wrong?