What keeps me awake at night

9th November 2012 at 00:00

He ran off with a pupil? Poor man

Have you heard about that poor guy? You know, the teacher who ran off to France with a 15-year-old pupil, risking everything: his career, his marriage, his future? Whereas that girl, what does she have to lose? Chances are she'll dump him in a matter of months, the fickle little minx.

I, of course, am being ironic. But the same cannot be said of all my colleagues. Unsurprisingly, events earlier this term - when 30-year-old Jeremy Forrest absconded with his pupil Megan Stammers - caught the imagination of the staffroom. What has shocked me, and can get in the way of a good night's sleep, is the nature of the comments that followed.

One male colleague, furtively at first, expressed sympathy for that helpless maths teacher, at the mercy of a cunning female. The agreement was muted - we are all well versed in political correctness - but unambiguous. Apparently, it's the kind of thing that can happen to any red-blooded man.

What about the victims here? Forrest's wife, and the female students expecting to be judged on their brains, attitude and character; the pupils who assume teachers are trustworthy.

In an era of relentless sexualisation of young women - some of whom have absent fathers - male teachers have a more important role to play than ever before. Teenage girls need to be safe with their teachers - even safe, occasionally, to flirt with them one-sidedly. Male teachers need to step up and act like grown-ups, whether they are aged 25 or 55. I have seen male teachers do just that - taking on fatherly, selfless and giving roles, which can be important parts of the job. But I have also seen boundaries being blurred, so easily done in the age of Facebook and text messaging.

Girls have been excelling in education for decades now, and the spotlight is on the underperforming boys who nonetheless still have the much more promising career paths ahead of them. Male teachers are role models for these pupils, and their attitudes will communicate themselves, latently or explicitly, to the astute teenagers in their classrooms. If their notions of masculinity are still defined by archaic ideas of teasing temptresses leading helpless men astray, this fearful misogyny will be picked up by male and female pupils alike.

I was staggered to hear my colleagues' comments, and yet perhaps these issues need to be aired and addressed much more explicitly than is current practice. Of course there will always be the odd scandalous teacher-pupil affair, and sometimes it is female teachers who transgress. But it would be reassuring if teachers who run away with their students were given appropriate labels in staffroom discussions. The poor guy? No: the pathetic guy.

The writer is a secondary school teacher. To tell us what keeps you awake at night, email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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