Throughout my 12 years as a teacher I have had many conversations with my fellow male teachers about what measures we need to take in order to protect ourselves professionally. This might come as a surprise to some, but male teachers need to be very careful with how they interact with their students. Some of you will be crying sexism and think that it’s unfair but this is how things are and it’s how they will remain for the foreseeable future. I guarantee you that any aspiring male teacher studying education at university will have been made well aware of this topic. A lot of this advice could also apply to women within the profession but for the sake of simplicity I will be referring to male teachers.
So why do male teachers need to be especially careful with their professional image and how they interact with students? Well, essentially it comes down to the behaviour of other men. Men make up the majority of: murderers, rapists, psychopaths and paedophiles. If a person off the street was asked to describe a stereotypical criminal they would almost certainly be male. While I don’t have the official numbers on me, I would say men will make up most of the dismissals for: child abuse material, sexual misconduct and sexual misconduct with a student in NSW each year. The same goes for Queensland.
These sorts of statistics are the reason why teaching is one of the most heavily scrutinised professions. Since the introduction of the Working with Children Check (WWCC) and the TRBWA, I have been required to complete a police clearance every time my WWCC expires and every time I am up for reregistration. This works out to be every 2-3 years over 12 years.
The other reason is that an allegation of a sexual offence allegation would instantly destroy your career, even if you were exonerated. Would parents still trust you? Would you still get work as a tutor? Would you be rehired as a teacher? As the saying goes ‘mud sticks’. Just ask former Daramalan College teacher, Peter Cuzner, who was cleared of two child sexual assault allegations that came about as a result of the Royal Commission into child sex abuse. If there ever was a reason to join your teachers’ union, then this is it.
Now before you start chanting #notallmen and permanently shut yourself off from any form of physical contact with students just remember to apply some common sense to your dealings with students. So, let’s get into what precautions male teachers need to take.
Physical contact - hugs
· Younger students are more likely to come up and spontaneously hug you.
· If this happens, allow the student to hug you and then break off contact with the child and offer a small verbal compliment like ‘thankyou’ or ‘that was very kind of you’.
· If a child continually hugs you then you need to have a conversation with their parents about respecting your personal boundaries.
· In situations where a younger child is visibly upset or hurt then physical contact to reassure the child would not be seen as suspicious
· It is inappropriate to initiate a hug with a student in the majority of cases especially with older children.
Physical contact – physical education
· If you are running a physical education class which requires you to correct a student with their physical technique just make sure you tell a student beforehand.
· The same goes for situations where you will make physical contact within the context of the game.
Physical contact – within the classroom
· Make sure you announce what you are going to do before you do it. This helps with your students who might be the anxious type.
· This can include: correcting a students handwriting grip, typing style etc.
· This can also include: a guiding hand to help a student with where they need to go if they are distracted or to remove them from a potentially harmful situation.
Physical contact – behaviour management
· I could write an entire blog post about this topic
· Always use the holds and restraints that your employer recommends e.g. TeamTeach
· Always get help from admin if you need to initiate a restraint or have commenced a restraint
· If you are not in the position to physically help, then make sure you are doing something to help the situation. In this instance I am referring to two six foot five high school students fighting and the closest teacher just happens to be five foot five.
Situations where you are alone in the classroom with a student
· If you are in a situation where you need to mind a student in your classroom by yourself make sure you keep the door open at all times.
· Send a text message or email to admin that Joe Bloggs is in your classroom.
· It’s a good idea to have them at the back of the classroom or a considerable distance away from you if you are just minding them.
Situations where you are driving students
· Never drive a student in your car.
· A group of students are a different matter but never with a single student.
· Set your profile to the highest security setting possible
· Mention to the classroom that you never add any students to your account on social media and outline what steps you will take if they do.
· Consider changing your name to something else, many teachers do this.
· If a student contacts you, do not respond. Tell admin the next day and then send an email to the parents. Proof of a paper trail is much clearer than a phone call because the contents of a phone call can be disputed. Another alternative is a meeting with the parents with admin present
· As a primary school teacher you will be in situations where you will need to supervise students changing after their swimming lessons.
· Ideally you would want two male teachers in the changerooms at all times when supervising the boys.
· There will be situations where you will need to help kids change. Obviously you wouldn’t refuse help to a pre-primary student who is struggling with changing. Make a note of who you helped and inform admin.
Remember that context is incredibly important when determining if physical contact with a student was justified or not. While this list is not exhaustive these precautions are an important part of maintaining your professionalism with students. These precautions will also help reduce the likelihood of you ever being accused of misconduct by another person.
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