What are teachers’ responsibilities outside of school?

On a recent visit to Manchester, a trainee teacher told me about a night out he’d had at a local club.  While inside, he had spotted  a couple of his pupils who were under-age and shouldn’t have been there.  I asked him what he did, and he replied,

“I didn’t do anything. It’s outside school hours and not my responsibility.”

Trainee teachers have often raised this dilemma – what should they do if they see, for example, their under-aged pupils drinking or smoking?  How does a teacher’s responsibility to safeguard children and young people apply outside the school?

I pressed this student. He was adamant. “It’s not my responsibility. It’s the parents’.”

I continued to probe. “Let’s say that one of the pupils over-drinks and seriously injures herself in a fall and has to be taken to hospital.  The parents of the pupil are angry to find out that their child’s teacher was in the club but didn’t do anything. What would be your response?”

He continued his stance: “I would say to them: ‘Where were you?’ You are the ones responsible for your children when they are out at night.  Not me.”

I probed again:”Let’s say, for example, a fight broke out in the club and one of your students was being assaulted. Would you step in to protect them?”

This time he stopped and thought, for quite a while but then maintained his position: “No. It’s not my responsibility.”

Is there a point at which teachers should take responsibility? What if you saw one of your students (or even colleagues) taking part in a riot?

Is there a point you would step in? If so, where is it?,

What are the legitimate expectations of parents on the one hand and of society on the other in situations like this?

What do you think a teacher’s responsibilities are outside the classroom?

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.  You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and you can book him for an interactive session to trainee teachers on professionalism. His new book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.

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20 thoughts on “What are teachers’ responsibilities outside of school?

  1. I’m a teacher and I do a pretty good job in the week! If I want to keep an eye on what young people do after school in a pub/club, I’d be a parent or a bouncer! I don’t get paid extra to manage pupil behaviour in a pub!

    1. me too with mine… and I don’t remember thinking any the less of them either. Indeed, I really think I learned how to drink responsibly being in the company of adult men and women who I would have felt very embarrassed to be seen drunk in front of. In these days of binge drinking youths plaguing our high streets every weekend (in the UK anyway)… maybe there’s a lesson for us in that reflection. Thanks teachernz.

  2. This scenario is precisely why so many teachers live far from school but what about Social Networking? What if the activities of pupils come to light through shared networks? It’s not the same as bumping into them in a club but the revelations could potentially be. I know that several pupils of mine are on Twitter for example, like many Twitterers their accounts are publicly available. Do I have a responsibility to check them or to avoid them? It’s a literal 21st century minefield and one on which I feel we will have to tread eventually.

    1. You raise such a fascinating issue ThoseThatCan, and again it comes back to where the boundaries are between your position as a ‘role-model’ and your position as a private individual. In the blog, I report just an extract of that conversation – but I completely respect the views of the new teacher who said: “It’s not my responsibility as a teacher to respond to every situation where I might be a witness to the bad (and even illegal) behaviour of my students.” And I think he has a point. He is clear about where he is drawing the line and I recall him saying “I don’t care if other people think I should be responsible. I am declaring that I am not. It’s my own time, it’s my private life and I’m not going to be held responsible any more than a private citizen who decides not to get involved when they witness an assault or a robbery and say, “It’s up to the police, not me.”

      While I respect that position, I also respect and admire those who go further and say: “Actually I am prepared to draw the line in a different place. A place where I do take more responsibility when others engage in offensive or even illegal behaviour – not just as a citizen or as a by-standing member of the public, but as a teacher.

      But your point is even more tantalising… what do we do when we see it displayed in the ‘public’ areas of social media spaces..?

      I think I feel another blog coming on…!

      Thanks very much ThoseThatCan – such an excellent post.

  3. I have one in draft myself. It’s been plaguing me for a while along with having colleagues on Facebook. I use Twitter in the classroom and as a result have had to take one or two pupils to one side and say ‘are you aware that when you follow the class twitter account, you can be seen by anyone at school’. Enter: me in uncharted waters. Exit: children with red faces. Look forward to your views.

    1. Hi ThoseThatCan – you’ve had me thinking all day about the issues related to this one… and I think I have concluded that our ethical models for using ‘social media’ should try to replicate the ethical models we employ in other parts of our social (and professional) lives. But it nevertheless raises some fascinating talking points.

      For example, you mention colleagues on FB… now let’s imagine (not difficult) that our colleagues are posting pictures or comments that compromise them (let’s say they show them drunk and ‘mooning’ in Ibiza). On the one hand, that’s their private life and they are entitled to it. We might think they are opening themselves to criticism or moral judgement, but hey, life is like that. They are grown-ups and will have to take the rough with the smooth.

      On the other hand, do you offer them a bit of sisterly advice and say to them “Look, other people can see that stuff and it makes you look bad. I’d hide it if I were you.”

      Now let’s look again at that scenario ‘pre-internet social media’. Let’s say your colleagues have come back from a drunken binge in Ibiza with photos that they are showing round the staff room and to parents they know in the playground and telling everyone what a great time they had getting wasted on holiday.

      In my view, your options are still the same. You either stay out of it and let them take the flak (or not) as the case may be. Or you offer them your sisterly advice again and suggest that some of their colleagues or parents might think the worse of them now that they have given them the opportunity to be judged.

      Personally, I don’t think ‘social media’ is in principle any different to any other kind of ‘real-life’ social platform – whether it’s a conversation round a dinner table, chatting in the staff room, partying, a barbecue, drinks in the pub… whatever. In my view, the ethical principles that guide your judgement are the same.

      Now let’s up the ante a little….

      Let’s say some of your colleagues tightly restricted access to their FB pages to protect their privacy (good advice..!) but that you were one of the friends who could see their posts. Now… you see that some of your colleagues are posting stuff that slags off their Head of Department or Headteacher, and where they are making disparaging remarks about, let’s say challenging pupils.

      What do you do now…?

      Go back to the first principles I was talking about and imagine life before the internet and social media…

      and let me know what you would do… I look forward to it.

      Thanks again ThoseThatCan – you’ve got me really thinking…!

  4. This whole issue has been troubling me for a while. I agree that we should be ourselves online however I am anonymous as a teacher online because I think we need to be our ‘best selves’ all the time if we can be identified and held to account.

    In the staff room, on duty, at parents evening and yes, when out but only if local to the school. Forget the role modeling for a moment; we are professionals and with that comes an expectation of professional behaviour.

    Does that mean that I intend to say something as @thosethatcan that I would be embarrassed by or even disciplined for? No – I stand by any comments or blogs but I’m also conscious that these are conversations and observations of a professional nature that require a level of empathy and understanding to be seen in the context intended. I wouldn’t want a parent or child to find them and be able to attribute them to me. Or worse, them.

    I think there’s a real case to be be made here for it being our duty to be our best selves – our professional selves – whenever we can be identified. And yes, at times that might even mean offering unsolicited (but mostly well received) advice every now and then…

    1. Thanks for that. I think you have come with a fascinating and very important remark: “I’m also conscious that these are conversations and observations of a professional nature that require a level of empathy and understanding to be seen in the context intended.”

      That reminds me of times in some of the staff rooms where I worked. Opening the staff room door would release gales of laughter coming from inside. We would be letting off steam through humour – and often that included ‘mimicking’ or ‘taking the piss’ out of each other and the kids. I would defend this and argue there was nothing ‘unprofessional’ about it. These were hard-working, dedicated and committed teachers who were letting off steam and relaxing for a few minutes by finding humour in often stressful and challenging circumstances. In some respects, they were finding ways of ‘interpreting’ professional experiences through humour.

      But it had to be viewed, like you very wisely point out, in the context intended. None of us would have wanted children or parents to have witnessed that.

      Thanks again ThoseThatCan – another excellent comment.

  5. Having read all the comments and the OP I feel that as a trainee teacher on my GTP I would do what a ‘reasonable parent’ would do in any situation. That being said, if I was in the above situation I would act like a parent would. In my experience if the kids in the club were say 15-16 most parents would know that their son/daughter would be out trying to get into the club and would be aware that their son/daughter had started drinking. I know when I was in year 10-11 I was drinking at parties and then trying to get into local clubs. So, if I were out and saw some of the kids I would probably agree with the OP and ignore the fact they were there as their parents would probably be aware of it and would condone their actions. However, if the kids then got into any sort of harm or looked clearly worse for wear I would act on this – maybe not directly but to one of the staff in the club? It is a very difficult situation and there’s probably too fine a line between what you are professionally expected to do and what, as a responsible human, you should do. The politically correct response would probably be to make the club aware there were underage kids in the club, point them out and then leave yourself too!?

    1. That’s a very well considered and measured response Paul – thanks for that. It is interesting where we each, individually draw lines at slightly different points and justify those decisions both personally and professionally. The dividing is not clear – and though professions have codes of conduct and the public have varying expectations – in a free society, that’s probably a good thing. Thanks for sharing yours.
      (btw – I loved the bit where you point the kid out to the landlord and then leave – classic..!) 😉

  6. The news that someone employed in education has been involved in these riots has made me both sad and angry. Our debate this week about the responsibilities of working with young people feels too narrow in light of all that has happened. At one point I considered going to places of disorder and trying to reason with them. They are, after all, children. Then I remembered that I am not really equipped for a full scale riot mediation and I am, after all, just a teacher.

    As for Alexis Bailey, I am hoping he is the only one of our number involved but I sense that even if he is not there lays a moral panic ahead.

    Simon Hughes has been commenting all week that the six week break is to blame and many on Twitter have an opinion regarding our responsibilities and limitations. All I feel is incredibly sad though. These are children, caught up in a cycle that I imagine doesn’t feel very real.

    I can’t help feeling as though we have a responsibility to do something. I’m just not sure what.

    1. Well said ThoseThatCan.

      Like you, I too feel a deep sense of sadness and anger. But I also feel slightly ashamed – though I’m not quite sure why. I need more time to reflect on what has happened before I can consider what the implications are for our society, our communities and on being a teacher. I’ll get back to you – but in the meantime, don’t let my sense of helplessness in expressing myself constrain you if you want to write down any thoughts or feelings that are occurring to you.

  7. I think it’s a really tricky question with no one right answer. Obviously, individual teachers will choose different courses of action in these kind of situations, and this is a good thing. I think it says something about the unique way we interact with the children in our care. I don’t believe it is *not* our responsibility to intervene, more that it is not *solely* our responsibility, and I do not think we should be held responsible if we choose not to act. After all, as people have pointed out – it is our time off.

    Personally, I believe that as a public figure in a position of influence over the minds of the young people we are teaching, that our responsibilities extend beyond the classroom, and as such I hope I would have the courage of convictions to step in and say something to the child. However, this would depend on my relationship with the child: is it a child I know well and have taught, or merely a child I’ve seen around school. And it would be dependent on my own safety in the situation.

    1. Thanks very much for responding MrsNic.

      I think it’s fascinating that everyone will have a slightly different take on this and make slightly different choices – and as you say – that’s a good thing (we don’t live in a totalitaritian society after all). I think scenarios related to the recent events do expose the overlapping boundaries of our personal and professional values and, for all of us, that’s in a constant state of re-evaluation and negotiation – even if we have things like Codes of Conduct to guide us.

      Thanks again for your post.

  8. Wow, it’s not difficult. They aren’t your pupil outside school, they’re another person. So I think the question is, what if you see someone who you know to be underage drinking out on the town?

    That’s the question raised here. Whether it is the person’s student or not isn’t really all that important.

  9. If I was aware as a teacher that one of my pupils were putting themselves in danger due to drinking/ smoking under age, I could only guide them as a member of the public from making the right decision, outside of school hours.

    I agree it is the responsibility of the parent during social hours but we should at least be willing to notify parents or the bar-staff.

    What if the underage drinking/ smoking affected a pupils education – we’ve all experienced a hangover!

    Anyway on a lighter note, I’d be more concerned that I was in a bar that my students also were in!

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