There's no excuse for sexual harassment

4th April 2008 at 01:00
I have always believed that teachers are bright and thoughtful people who lead by example, who promote sensitive attitudes and consistent and generous beliefs. I still remember those who taught me with reverence and awe. And when I first started my teaching career, I was amazed at the learning that older colleagues displayed.

There are times, however, when I am disappointed. We have a young and elegant teacher in her first post. Sara attracts a great deal of attention which she probably enjoys more than she should, but she is still a young woman. Many of the girls resent her because of this, but others try to model themselves upon her.

She has become a celebrity. To speak to her, however briefly, earns the boys in Year 9 a credibility which they can live off for a number of days. And she can cause rather more disruption than you would want.

One day she will learn, like the rest of us, that school is work, not a fashion show. The collateral damage caused by an exploding soft drink or an inexpertly balanced plate of beans will soon persuade her that we don't go to work in designer clothes. But Sara is a good teacher and she has a bright future.

Last week, in a crowded corridor, a Y9 boy pinched her bum. Our discipline machine sprang into action and the yob, Josh, was quickly identified. Sara was obviously shocked and upset by this, although she managed to maintain more of a perspective than me. I excluded Josh and called his mother to the school.

A rather bluff and unreconstructed teacher came "to have a word". Now I respect Eddie. He is a good teacher of a certain kind of child. He gets good work out of difficult boys who regard him as a character. They enjoy the male banter that he uses, that isolates and mildly humiliates an individual. They enjoy wondering who will be the next recipient of his sarcasm, as long as it is not directed at themselves.

This time he came to complain about the exclusion. It wasn't really Josh's fault. Sara was "asking for it". I was shocked. I thought such attitudes had disappeared from our world long ago. But no. Apparently she should not have dressed so provocatively.

Her heels made her tall, an easy target. Her skirt was too tight, her blouse too low. If she had dressed differently it would not have happened. Boys will be boys.

I told him that I could not agree, that Sara had a right to walk the school without fear. Should we return to the staffrooms where I first started out, where all teachers wore gowns to keep the chalk dust off jackets with the leather elbow patches?

No one should blame Sara. To say that she brought it on herself is neither wise nor thoughtful. Eddie should remember that, in pointing the finger at the girl, he is endorsing the age-old excuse of the rapist: "She was asking for it."

John Sutton is a pseudonym. He teaches in North Wales.

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