How to avoid false accusations of sexual harassment.

So, for now I'm just going to put this here and ask you what you think, because I'm in the process of figuring out how to tell the MOE what I think, which I think means holding off on blogging about it, until I've done all I can in that regard.

Today, Sarah, who is in charge of the "guest English teachers" (a name I am still not fond of -- who's making down my bed and getting me a snack? -- last time I checked, I was an employee and not a guest) here in Incheon posted this link to her Facebook page. I'll put the full text below. Let me know in the comments if you see any problems with this.

For my part, I plan on taking it to my most trusted co-teachers tomorrow to have a conversation about what the Korean teachers, for their part, are told on the same subject and if they see any issues with it, as well.

Here's the text, in full, if you're too lazy to click the link:

Sexual Harassment - How to Prevent It:

Sexual Harassment has been a hot topic in the Korean media lately, especially related to the school environment. You'll be working around kids, and many of them are adorable. Many of them also love to run up to you and give you a giant hug and/or grab onto your legs while you try to walk away. Here are some tips to help keep you aware, and to prevent any awkward situations:

Tips on How to Avoid False Accusation of Sexual Harassment

Limit physical contact with students.

Close proximity is a part of Korean culture. But, we ask that you try to limit the amount of physical contact with your students in order to avoid accusations. This does not mean push away students who deserve praise or to avoid ANY physical contact, just be conscious of when and how physical contact occurs.

Keep a third party handy.

For most of us, being alone at school is not an option. We either have a co-teacher with us in class or are surrounded by teachers in our office. Thus, having a third party is usually not a problem. However, there are times when it is unavoidable. If ever a third party is not present and the situation becomes risky, we suggest that you politely leave. Also, you can always act busy. If you tell students that you are busy they will understand and leave you alone.

Don't be overly friendly with your students.

This simply means avoid giving your students too much praise and having frequent contact with them. Spending time with your students is fine, such as playing basketball with them during lunch, but limit your time with them -- Finish the task or activity at hand and go your own way.

Avoid giving too many treats.

While it's a fine practice to give treats once in awhile, you definitely want to avoid spoiling them. Treats should only be given out once or twice a semester. Giving away too many treats may have adverse effects; students may follow you around and bug you for more; students will not respond in class unless treats are available; students won't take you seriously...etc. Plus, your student could choke on the candy and you don't want to be the one responsible if that happens. Ultimately, you also don't want to be seen as trying too hard to be close to your students, so watch the treats.

Minimize contact with students after school hours.

In Korea, the relationship between student and teacher is much closer than in Western society. In is common to see teachers out with their students having dinner, plsaying sports or casually talking. But since mere rumors can break reputations, make an effort to refrain from having contact with your students after school. If a student somehow has your number and is texing you like crazy, don't respond. You don't want to add fuel to the fire.

Maintain the student-teacher relationship.

This is perhaps the most effective method to maintain a comfortable distance between you and your students while productively being able to do your job. There are many times when the boundaries of a student-teacher relationship are blurred , allowing students to see the teacher as a friend more than a teacher. When this happens, students will be more touchy and closer to you in proximity. You may just be trying to be friendly, but it is more than likely your student will lose respect for you as a teacher. The best way to avoid risky situations is to keep the respect of your students at all times. Here are some tips to help, but remember this can be done in many different ways!
  • Have your students call you Miss/Ms/Mr or teacher. Korean students feel more comfortable using honorifics.
  • Don't be afraid to discipline. Many students see you as more of an entertainer than a teacher. Feel free to call the kids out if they are not keeping to the rules of the classroom, don't always rely on your co-teacher.
  • Take command of your classroom when necessary, and make sure your co-teacher and you have as close to an equal presence in your classroom.

*As teachers, we are all responsible to report to the authorities when we witness sexual harassment or notice suspicious behavior. When you perceive sexual harassment, report it immediately to your co-teacher, vice-principal, and principal (while strictly adhering to confidentiality). The authorities will take the appropriate measures and medical/couseling assistance will provided to the victim.


HL said...

Is Sarah Korean?

The tips aren't that bad in general. If anything, it sounds like common sense, but not in the sense of "if you follow these suggestions you won't get sexually harassed". You could get sexually harassed even if you are Robo-Perfect EFL teacher, and you could be the most touchy-feely call-me-by-my-first-name teacher, no classroom management, and students still won't sexually harass you. I mean, is this a response to increased incidences of sexual harassment? Who's been reporting them, the students or the teachers? Now that I think about it probably the students? I don't know if that changes my sentiment though.

baekgom84 said...

Seems like generally good advice to me, and in many ways, these are the rules I follow. I don't think they're suggesting that this is some kind of professional code of conduct, but just some advice to limit the risk that you might arouse suspicions about your intentions towards the students. Reputation is extremely important for teachers and it only takes one disgruntled kid to start spreading false rumours, in which case it might get messy if you have a more hands-on relationship with your students.

Honestly I'd say this is good advice for Korean teachers too. The media here, much like at home, tends to jump on any story about inappropriate teacher-student relations, which in turn fosters a lot of mistrust towards all teachers. Traditionally Korean teachers have always been close to their students, and I've always thought that was awesome, and would also love to have a similarly close relationship with my students. But my mum is a high school teacher back home, and she's always drilled into me that just one allegation, if difficult to disprove, can leave your reputation in tatters and make you unemployable as a teacher.

I worked in the Incheon public school system for three years and if it's the same Sarah, she can be a bit of a prickly character (although I rarely had an issue with her) so I can see how her intentions here might be misconstrued (or perhaps they are right on the money). As I think you suspect, it is probably a reaction to recent media perceptions. In any case, for teachers these days, I think compassion is best tempered with caution. That's not to say you shouldn't have a close relationship with your students or have dealings with them outside of the classroom, but definitely be aware that rumours can be extremely damaging and it's always best to make sure that your alibi is solid.

baekgom84 said...

The 'don't give too many treats' thing is a bit much, though.

matt said...

This is the same as a 'sexual harassment prevention' guide published by the Daegu office of education in 2010, so it seems to be standard.

While the advice is good, as one commenter put it regarding foreign teachers, "You are already guilty. Here are a few tips to appear less guilty."

In other words, I'd be curious if the 'Finish the task or activity at hand, and go on your own way' bit of advice would be given to Korean teachers, who often hang out with students after class/school. Hell, that's often the mark of a good/caring teacher.

Roboseyo said...

quite a lot of victim blaming there... and no proactive tips whatever.

I'd say the best way would be to make yourself visible to the parents and families of the students -- be present in the community and at school events, so they can see you, and feel comfortable around you, and see with their own eyes that you're on the up and up.

Lauren said...

This is pretty stock-standard for what I was taught as a teacher in Australia.

HRod said...

Creeper question: How was your TOPIK exam?

Vesta Duvall said...

Thanks for sharing these tips. It's true that there are some incidents where false accusation was made. That's why it's important to establish some boundaries between the student and the teacher. And when the reports had been made, there should be strict investigation.