Behaviour

15th May 2009 at 01:00

Problem: I work in the main school in a small town and I've started seeing older pupils out at weekends. They tease me in class about what I was wearing and who I was with. How do I deal with this when it's none of their business?

What teachers do in their free time and who they do it with often intrigues pupils. In fact, interest is usually inversely proportional to privacy: the more personal the information, the greater the draw.

It may be deeply mundane to any right-minded adult, but spotting a teacher out and about of an evening can be gossip gold dust for pupils. How you respond will either fuel the unwanted teasing or successfully deflect attention, says Natalie Richards, 28, a drama teacher at Bishop Gore School in Swansea.

Pupils can be particularly keen to know how, when and where Mrs Richards socialises, partly because her previous job - as a roadie for the pop band Catatonia - is pretty cool by most people's standards. But she knows how to strike a balance between being teacher, role model and friend.

"As long as you know where to draw the line, I find you can discuss elements of your personal life with pupils," says Mrs Richards. "A lot of girls ask me about my clothes or where I go out and I don't mind sharing that information with them up to a point."

She also goes out of her way to comment on pupils' clothes during non- uniform days. "I can tell it makes them feel good about themselves, and it helps build a rapport."

But Mrs Richards is careful not to put herself in compromising situations. Although she works in Swansea, she has only gone out in the city twice in two years. "I'd be appalled if a pupil saw me drunk," she says. "I'd rather not risk it and go out in Cardiff instead."

However, teachers should not feel that they have to sacrifice their social life on account of their profession, stresses Hannah Essex from the Teacher Support Network. "It's important to remember in any situation that you're a person that happens to be a teacher, not a teacher exclusively," she says.

It is also worth bearing in mind that teachers, as adults, are entitled to drink wherever they please. The same can not always be said of their young charges. When Mrs Richards spotted some of her under-age pupils in the same club as her last year, she duly reported them to the bar staff.

Any teasing that does seep back into the classroom is unacceptable, says Ms Essex. Re-familiarise yourself with the school's behaviour and discipline policies. These should point you towards greater support from colleagues or behavioural procedures that will help stop inappropriate remarks.

Mrs Richards would initially try to joke off any teasing. "I'd say: `I'm not as old as you think I am'," she says. "It's good for them to see that I'm a rounded individual: a younger teacher with two small children, a husband, an education, friends and a life."

Hurtful wisecracks, or those that move into the realm of bullying, may have to be addressed more formally. Pupils need to know that such comments are upsetting or unkind. Encourage them to think about how they would feel if they were the ones being teased, and how their comments could be taken by others. If they have seriously crossed the line, they may need to be spoken to or reprimanded in private.

But teachers should be wary about closing off completely. "I'd never let them be a friend on Facebook, but chatting about clothes or elements of your life outside school does not have to be a totally bad thing either," says Mrs Richards.

Next week: Web etiquette

DO .

. Consider sharing some personal information, but only up to a point.

. Try to joke it off. Remind pupils that you are entitled to a personal life.

. Enforce the school's behaviour and discipline policies.

DON'T .

. Go out to the same places as pupils, if at all possible.

. Get bullied into discussing personal details.

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