When Students Sexually Harass Teachers

Teachers are sexualised by their pupils more often than you'd think. This is what they're taught to do.
A stock image of a teacher not quoted in this article. Photo: Tetra Images, LLC / Alamy Stock Photo

Baran’s day is a good one if she hasn’t been upskirted. A bright-eyed English teacher at an all-boys school in west London, her breaks are spent with a colleague who always wears a coat while teaching, so that the boys stare at quadratic equations instead of her arse.

Every day, Baran peels open her notebook – where her Superstars of the Week live – and flicks to the final pages, titled: Inappropriate Encounters. Here, she records – and later reports – the students who make her uncomfortable.


“I’m Santa Claus,” she deadpans. “I have a good list and a bad list.”

Keeping a list like this is important. Teachers are advised, especially at NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) level, to keep diligent records of any indecent behaviour they face from pupils – to flag disciplinary issues and firmly protect themselves from any potential allegations.

So far in 2020, of 31 hearings held in front of the Teaching Regulation Agency, 16 cases (52 percent) were to do with sexual misconduct. This ranges in severity from flirtatious Snapchat messages to actual sexual assault. Last year, it was 31 sexual transgression cases, out of 92 (34 percent).

However, it’s important to remember that this is a microscopic snapshot of a vast profession, which currently encompasses over 400,000 teachers across the UK. “Of course, not all teachers are potentially a threat to children,” says Colin Henderson, Solicitor Director at Lawyers for Teachers. “It’s very, very rare for a teacher to be convicted of one of these offences nowadays.”

What is far more common is the undeniable frenzy that occurs whenever anybody vaguely youthful enters the orbit of sardined, pubescent teenagers. Baran’s very first case - an infatuated year 10 boy – remains the most troubling. “It started with emails about extra work, seeing him after lessons, seeing him after school,” she recounts.

Initially, Baran saw an opening for a potential breakthrough with the pupil, so responded promptly – but was immediately filled with regret. It was an out-of-hours email, timestamped at 9:32PM.


“Next lesson, I told him I’ll set up a Google Doc where I post more work. But after class, his friends were being very laddish,” she explains. “Peering into the class when we were talking, then patting him on the shoulder. I walked past them and felt incredibly uncomfortable. I thought, ‘Oh god, what did I do? I probably entertained this kid. I probably made him think there’s something there when there isn’t’. I immediately reported it.”

Lately, the student has grown possessive, like his feelings have grown fingers. Just last week, after being icy and distant all lesson, he stayed behind to tell her why, as if it was obvious: she’d handed extra revision guides to another student. “Miss, you never give me handouts that are just for me.” Baran’s laughter is uneasy: “He opted out of the Google Doc, too, when he realised that I’d also added the Head of English to it. I mean, it’s getting really worrying.”

There are others, of course. Pointers, jeerers, wolf whistlers. Some loiter outside her office until they’re late for registration, and some ogle her openly in the corridors. Da-amn. What you sayin’, Miss? In these moments, she is transported to the side of a street, bristling against catcalls.


Photo: Tetra Images, LLC / Alamy Stock Photo

Saurav, a 38-year-old published author, still struggles to untangle his early love for prose from his obsession with his childhood English teacher. “It was the first time someone was actually taking that kind of interest in promoting my writing and talking to me about it. I pretty much thought I loved her,” he says. “She was extremely tall, with heels. Very slim. The face as well, a deep tan. Heavily made-up, heavily permed hair, red lipstick.”


Those words conjure a woman who came to feature in all of his short stories at the time. “I described her to a T. I thought she was the ideal female character. And as time went on, the stories got more and more explicit. Imagining love making scenes, or the character naked. I’d always run these stories by her. She kind of dismissed it, the feedback was always good. As far as I was concerned, she liked it,” Saurav sighs, with newfound clarity. “I saw her again years later, and I felt a sense of shame, because I had broached this divide which I shouldn’t have done. I objectified her. She must’ve felt extremely uncomfortable reading all these accounts for three, four years and just putting a brave face on it.”

Jackson, a science teacher in Derby, is quick to preface that he has it easier: “Girls at that age are more subtle, a lot shier. Whereas, for female teachers, boys are more obvious. It probably becomes more vocal and rowdier.”

The incidents he records, in a safeguarding software called CPOMMS, are less direct. Girls covertly recording him. By-proxy confessions of “Sir, she thinks you’re sexy.” One time, a student abruptly blurting out, “Mr O’Daddy” (a play on his surname) in class.

It is true, however, that there is an added layer of anxiety for male teachers, particularly those of colour, in protecting themselves from disrepute. “You have to make sure all your bases are covered. Being a young male teacher, especially being a brown teacher, in a school that’s all white— I’m not worried, there are CCTV cameras in all the rooms,” says Jackson. “But white kids in a class and a brown teacher teaching them, who knows what people might say.”


The crux of the issue, for Baran, is that the behaviour is normalised. Hyper sexualisation of teachers is often far more damaging than the average, mild terrorising they are subject to. But while her female colleagues are empathetic and thorough, the male ones remain obtuse or dismissive, and it yields a culture of silence.

“It’s like, ‘Boys will be boys,’ or, ‘Well, what do you expect?’ When I told my line manager about my first case – the year 10 who uncharacteristically asked for more work in those late emails – he said that maybe, ‘Over quarantine, he has realised the value of education’. Which has probably never been true of any teenage boy, ever.”

The quote becomes a running joke among male teachers, who josh and posture like oversized boys. “The boys are sexualising the teachers. The teachers are sexualising the teachers,” says Baran. “They weren’t expecting me to report. They’re so used to women being silent. But this is my job, and I won’t be spoken to like that.”

Colin, who has spent decades representing teachers facing the regulatory panel, argues that merely recording the incidents is not enough. “Absolutely, recording is wise. But you need to report it, not just record it,” he says. “You can’t sit on it and ignore it. It gives you some protection, of course – it is possible that pupils who don’t find their advances being requited can make up allegations. Our advice is to always be extremely careful and transparent.

“But careers could be on the line. And, very simply, teachers of both sexes are entitled to feel safe in their own environment.”