Published: 16th April 2018
Can a 'well-behaved' 14-year-old student be a sexual harasser? These teachers have horrifying tales to tell
Harassment and cat-calling by students faced by young teachers is not an exception but the norm in city schools
The term 'sexual harassment at workplace' evokes a very 'corporate' image of a sleazy boss demanding sexual favours from a subordinate, who in most cases is a woman.
While this image is a stereotype for a reason, the harasser does not always have to be in a position of power. He can even be a minor struggling with trigonometry and chemical equations. Little has been said about the harassment of teachers in their workplace — the classroom — by pre-adolescent, corrupt and prying eyes. "Sometimes my midriff gets more attention than my physics classes," says Priya*, a higher secondary teacher from the city.
"Knowing that some students are lusting for me instead of paying attention in class is very distracting and makes me forget what I wanted to say," she says, explaining how she has to constantly check if any skin is exposed.
This form of harassment faced by young teachers like Priya seems to be not an exception, but the norm in city schools. But teachers say they can do little to stop this debauchery in school. "Students will immediately deny staring and throw a tantrum if we escalate the issue. It is of no use. I've learned to ignore it," said another teacher on condition of anonymity. But in some cases, it does not stop with the depraved stares and dirty fantasies. Teachers also allege that some students make inappropriate touches look like an accident.
Anand K R, a software professional, narrates an incident which in retrospect he considers disturbing. "I was in seventh standard and it was our last half-yearly exam. The invigilator was a newly married teacher in her mid-twenties and I remember seeing some visible excitement on the faces of the older students in the classroom during the exam.
Once the exam was over, the narrow corridor was teeming with students rushing to the staircase. The flood of students became worse as the invigilator stepped out of the classroom. She had to hold the answer sheets above head level to ensure that none of them got lost. The older students began taking advantage of the fact that she had no hands to maintain some personal space. They were rubbing against her and blaming the crowd. A few even used the situation to feel her up. With so many people, she did not know who was touching her."
Rajalakshmi Jayanandan, a former headmistress of a private school near the city, says the first step to battling harassment in the classroom is to call it out. "Teachers have to privately talk to students who indulge in these acts. Nipping such behaviour in the bud with care and counsel is important," she says.
Stating an incident of how a teacher in her school became involved with a student, she also says, "A stray incident like that has long lasting ramifications and can mislead many other students. Teachers have to be extra careful to ensure that this kind of behaviour is not legitimised."
J S Venkatramani, a child psychologist from the city, also advocates care and counsel. "There are always a few delinquents in a peer group and these black sheep should be identified and counselled so that they do not influence other children."
Venkatramani also says that ensuring students get enough time for sporting activity will go a long way in curbing harassment. "Physical exertion is needed for pre-adolescents and it shifts their focus towards being healthy and active instead of encouraging sexual thoughts," he says.
(This story first appeared at The New Indian Express)