In my book More Teacher Misery, I focused a lot on the lack of consequences for deplorable behavior in schools across the country. The most atrocious and often dangerous behavior is mostly ignored by administration because they are not allowed to actually punish kids anymore. I’d like to take a moment to focus on one specific aspect of this behavior that is widespread and somehow continues with no consequences: teacher sexual harassment.
Teacher Sexual Harassment
It is quite commonplace for a young, female teacher to be sexually harassed both verbally and physically by male students (and occasionally female students too). The general response to something that would absolutely be considered criminal behavior outside of school is “boys will be boys” and “deal with it.” It is like being harassed is part of the job description, and if you complain too much about it, you are seen as a burden on the school.
A Guardian article entitled, “From lewd comments to up-skirting: female teachers speak out about sexual harassment,” describes the kind of sexual harassment that was allowed to go on in 2018.
“There was one female member of staff … [pupils] found photos of her on Facebook and Photoshopped them with pictures of penises to [make it] look like she was giving someone a blowjob, printed them off, and cascaded them down the stairs. The head’s reaction was to threaten to fire her. Nothing happened to the children.” Can you imagine that? The administration tried to find fault with the teacher. If I were her, I’d be getting my files together for a big lawsuit, but the culture of fear at her workplace was too intimidating. At the same school, female staff who reported being sexually harassed by students saw no action taken. Another teacher “had her phone stolen by the kids, who rang her dad and said: ‘We’re going to rape your daughter outside school.’ She wasn’t supported [by the school] at all, and no one was interested.”
Sexual Harassment in the Classroom
Another teacher had students call the school’s main office, pose as parents and ask to be put through to her extension. When she answered, the boys would make “really threatening, lewd comments. One kid said he was going to rape me; do it down my neck and into my face, or he was going to catch me later on my way to the train; [he] knew where I headed after school.” She reported the situation to the principal, and she was told not to say anything in case she was “embarrassed” by the incident becoming public. She asked to involve the police and for the pupils to be held accountable, “but instead, the school simply shut down the internal telephone system.”
“It becomes grinding,” she said. “You have no idea what to do. You dread going in. In some classes, the boys would be so aggressive it would just be an hour of hell.”
One might be inclined to think that maybe this one school in the U.K. is just a nightmare and not the norm. But her story is not uncommon. In the same article, a sociology teacher described how her 15-year-old male students asked her for blowjobs and made comments about her breasts in class. She felt too intimidated to report it to admin, “I hate to say it, but a lot of the time, I ignored it out of fear that it would somehow be seen to be my fault.”
Another young English teacher said male students made “extremely sexually suggestive comments,” and one repeatedly interrupted a lesson to ask her to be his valentine. “When I told him to stop as he was inappropriate,” she says, “he told me he knew where I lived.” When she reported this to administration, she was told to “adjust [her] teaching strategies and not tolerate his behavior.” Another student said, “he wanted to anally fist her.” When she reported it, not only was no action taken, but she was told to “expect” such harassment, and they said it “was normal boys’ behavior.”
Sexual Harassment of Teachers by Students
Teacher sexual harassment is very common in the U.S. as well. I will let the experiences of my followers speak for themselves. (Let me just add here that male teachers also get sexually harassed and other kinds of teacher sexual harassment also take place for males in the classroom.)
I had a boy secretly take a picture of me and photoshop it with a penis by my mouth and then spread it via social media. Admin. made him apologize to me. Of course, he was kept in my class. When I told my husband about the situation, he wanted to go to my school and beat up admin. I had to beg him not to so I could keep my job. At this point, I was stuck; I had something like 15 years at this school. My income is necessary for my family of four to get by.
My administrator was called a f***ing d*** by a student. The district told her to counsel him on sexual harassment.
I had a student who constantly sexually harassed me throughout an entire school year. He would air hump in my direction. He left me notes, saying, “I want to f*** you in the a**hole.” He called me a b****, c***, and yelled out, “suck my d***” a lot in class. He once whispered, “I want you to have my baby” into my ear. I reported the behavior over and over to admin., the school psychologist, his counselor, and even H.R. No one cared. They scheduled a meeting with his mom without me, even though I thought it was very important that I be in that meeting. The next day he said to me, “You better watch your back because I will find you and kill you.” When I reported that, the consequence was that he couldn’t come to my class for two days. When he returned, the abuse continued. I asked my union rep. for help, and she laughed at me. She said that a student had actually tried to kill her while she hid in a closet. “Harassment is a rite of passage for female teachers,” she said. “One day, you will laugh at this.” Years later, I’m not laughing.
In my first year of undergrad, I taught at a technical college, so my students were mostly male, and all were adults. I had one student whose first language was Spanish, so sometimes, he’d stay after class, and I’d help him by summarizing the lesson for him in Spanish and doing some practice problems on the board. This lasted no more than five minutes. Well, apparently, he took that as me flirting and starting leaving notes on my desk about how beautiful I was and that he loved me. I kept all the notes and reported it to my boss, but nothing was done. Then, the student started closing and locking the door during these sessions. I reported that. When he stuck out his arms and physically blocked me between the wall and my desk and began telling me how beautiful I was, I went into fight or flight mode and pushed past him and went immediately to my boss to say I was uncomfortable. Several days later, I was called into a “mediation meeting” with H.R., my boss, and the student, where I was told the relationship wasn’t inappropriate since the student was at the college level. There were no rules against student-teacher relationships. I was told if I didn’t want to encourage the student, I should insist on taking our after-class conversations to the hallway. I didn’t continue my contract with that school next year.
An 8th-grade student full-on grabbed my butt and squeezed it three times. I reported it to admin. but the student denied it and admin. said, “He’s a really good kid. I’m sure he didn’t mean to. He’s really upset. You should apologize for accusing him of that.” He faced no consequences, and a month later, he did the same thing to another female teacher.
I was sent porn links, threats of sexual violence (with graphic sexually violent images), and death threats by a student. Police were investigating, but one day into the investigation, the district asked me to transfer out of the school (I had been there for seven years) before police had concluded the investigation.
Students Don’t Receive Any Consequences
More often than not, when a teacher reports sexual harassment by students, nothing is done. These students don’t receive any consequences or punishment for their actions, despite them being quite egregious.
I was sent messages through our school’s online message system from a male student with explicit sexual language about what he wanted to do to my butt. The school’s police officer said it “wasn’t a threat,” so it wasn’t a crime. Two of the three boys involved were removed from school by their parents, who didn’t like that admin was considering punishing them. The kid who actually sent the message wasn’t a student in my class, and since they couldn’t “prove” that he did it, there was no consequence for him.
In my first year of teaching, I taught a credit recovery class for 2nd-semester seniors. They were mostly male and 18-years-old. They would blast porn from their phones, talk about gang-raping me, make sexual comments about me, etc. I documented everything and would send email after email. Admin, of course, did nothing. The only threat they received was that they would potentially lose prom. They didn’t.
A former student of mine played porn in class. The admin. said that they would do something about it, but the student continued making sexual comments toward me. I reported it because I didn’t want my other students to think that it was okay to speak that way. Again, nothing was done.
I received an incredibly lewd email from a student that is so inappropriate I don’t even feel comfortable sharing. I just couldn’t believe the sexual things they said about my body. The issue made it up to the district level, but there was never a real punishment.
My district recently took rape off the discipline matrix as a zero-tolerance offense.
When I taught grade 8, one student said: “I want to cover you in chocolate sauce, and rage f*** you.” He never got in trouble.
I am a physical education teacher, and one of my coworkers had an 8th-grade boy expose himself to her, and her administration did NOTHING. I just started teaching, and I received a lot of unwanted attention. Boys whistle and say inappropriate comments, and then a boy asked me for my number, and I lost it. I went to the head of discipline and told him, and he replied precisely, “Do you think I can do something about it every time a child comments like that? No. So deal with it.”
The Punishment Doesn’t Fit the Crime
When students are given consequences for teacher sexual harassment, it’s often nothing more than a missed period or something totally random that won’t help change their behavior.
Sexual Harassment Blamed on Teacher’s Clothing
Blaming the victim is huge in teaching, especially when it comes to teacher sexual harassment. Even if a teacher is wearing a “modest” outfit, they are often blamed for wearing revealing clothing and “tempting” students.
I worked at a school where kids were circulating up-skirt pics of at least one female teacher. Kids got caught, but the consensus of staff and admin was that the teacher was asking for it, in a floor-length maxi skirt.
A male student gave me his cellphone number and said to call him if I was ever alone with a particular student who sat across from him. He didn’t want me to be alone with him because he made lewd comments about me that were so offensive one girl that had overheard couldn’t even repeat it. I reported this to admin. The female student had to write down what she heard, and it matched the accounts that two other students gave. Admin. said, “Well, you’re a young, pretty girl. You should expect it.” He went on to say how sometimes my clothes seemed too tight or too short, and the female administrator said, “Stand up. Let’s see what you’re wearing today. I was humiliated. The student was moved from my class, but there was no further punishment. A male teacher asked why I was making the student’s life so much harder.
When I first started teaching, I would always wear nice knee-length dresses and cardigans and other cute professional elementary art teacher outfits. A group of 6th-grade boys was caught calling me hot and sexy. What did my school do? They told me I needed to wear clothes that covered more and stop dressing up. Thanks! I’ll wear yoga pants and an oversized t-shirt from now on, and feel completely ashamed and disgusted with my body as a bonus.
When I was still in graduate school, and in my practicum experience in an autism support classroom, a middle school student started touching himself inappropriately under the table while I was teaching his small group. I couldn’t see what he was doing from my angle, but my mentor teacher was watching from a few feet away. She called me over to talk to me about how my outfit (a cowl-neck sweater, in case you were wondering) was not appropriate while teaching middle school boys. Instead of using it as a teachable moment for the student about how this is not appropriate behavior in school, she blamed me.
Two male students in my 5th-grade class started a contest to see who could grab my butt as I walked by without getting caught. They told other kids, and I was grabbed continuously in the hallway. Admin. gave one detention and told me to stop wearing dresses and only to wear pants.
I taught at an all-boys catholic school in a major U.S. city. Students called me “sweet tits” in the hallway and put their hands up my skirt. I had a student bait me so the other one could take a picture up my skirt with their cell phone camera. I was humiliated. I went to our all-male administration, and nothing was done. Our vice-principal, who was a state senator, told me to stop wearing skirts. I had to get the police involved because they refused to expel the kid.
Teacher Blamed for the Sexual Harassment
Sometimes when a teacher reports harassment, they are blamed for the incident with the student getting away without a single consequence.
Harassment Report Brushed Off
Lastly, even if a sexual harassment report isn’t completely ignored by administration, it is often just brushed off as being “normal behavior” or “not a big deal,” when it should be taken much more seriously.
Teacher Sexual Harassment by Students
Teacher sexual harassment is an occurrence that happens far too often in both public and private school settings, oftentimes with little to no consequence for the action. Admin desperately needs to listen to teachers when they make these reports and carry out the appropriate consequences for students.
Have you experienced teacher sexual harassment at your job? Let us know about it by Submitting a Secret to Teacher Misery or sharing your thoughts in our Vent forum.
Jane Morris, Author
Jane Morris is the pen name of a teacher who would really like to tell you more about herself but is afraid she’ll lose her job. Jane has taught English for over 15 years in a major American city. She received her B.A. in English and Secondary Education from a well-known university and her M.A. in writing from an even fancier (more expensive) university. As a professional queen of commiseration turned published author, Jane’s foremost passion in life is to make people laugh.
She has written several highly acclaimed books unpacking the reality of teaching and life inside the school system. You can view her full library of works here.