Thursday, 7 February 2013

New Code of Conduct Places Responsibility on Teachers

Up to teachers to avoid 'inappropriate situations', says code of conduct
By Kezia Toh, The Straits Times, 6 Feb 2013

TEACHERS have a responsibility to fend off romantic advances from infatuated students, a new code of conduct spells out for the first time.

The newly released rules place the onus for avoiding inappropriate situations firmly on the adult.

They come in the wake of calls for stricter guidelines following a string of scandals last year, including that of a female teacher who had sex with a teenage boy from her school.

The Code of Professional Conduct for Educators aims to uphold boundaries by clearly defining which relationships are "inappropriate".

For example, staff cannot have any kind of romantic entanglement with students - even if they are not teaching them directly or the young person goes to a different school.

And the standards apply regardless of whether the relationship is consensual, the parents approve or the youngster is over 16.

For the first time, teachers are explicitly told they should take steps to discourage "infatuations that can sometimes develop".

However, the code says that they should handle the situation sensitively "while minimising hurt and distress to the student concerned".

Yesterday, parents and educators welcomed the new guidelines.

Housewife Saliza Ramilan, who has a son at Greendale Secondary, said it was a good way to remind staff that they are role models.

"Our children are young and easily influenced," added the 46-year-old.

"This is especially important because teachers are the ones they really look up to."

The principal of a primary school in the west, who asked not to be named, told The Straits Times that the guidelines were much better than the previous versions, which were like "trying to navigate a grey area".

A teacher from a secondary school in the north, who has been teaching for the past two years, added that placing the onus on staff is a good move because they are older and are expected to be more responsible.

The Education Ministry first announced the code in November last year.

It said at the time that the aim was to help staff uphold high standards amid an environment that is becoming "increasingly complex" due to factors such as the rise of social media.

Teachers were given briefings, during which they discussed possible scenarios that could arise in the classroom.

Last week, they were told that the rules were available on the ministry's Intranet.

The new code incorporates two documents currently used by teachers - the civil service instruction manuals and the Ministry of Education internal conduct guidelines.

It has two parts: mandatory rules such as not drinking or gambling in school and advice including how to keep work and personal life separate by creating two social media accounts.

The document, which is more than 30 pages long, goes into far greater detail about teacher-student boundaries than previous versions. For example, it covers issues such as personal appearance and communication with parents.

Several definitions of an "inappropriate" relationship are listed. These include teachers dating students and displaying "flirtatious behaviour" or romantic feelings towards them.

And the code explicitly outlaws "grooming" a young person for a sexual relationship or abuse. Students are defined as children in mainstream primary and secondary schools, junior colleges and centralised institutes.

However, the guidelines are not "designed to cover every situation". They say that staff should ask their vice-principals, principals or branch heads if they need clarification.

Dos and don'ts

Teacher-student relationships

The onus is on the teachers - not the students - to distance themselves from inappropriate situations.

These include teachers dating students and displaying "flirtatious behaviour" or romantic feelings towards them.

Out-of-school and after-school activities

Teachers should not attend a one-on-one social event with a student unless there is a "professional need" to do so and the principal or parents have consented to it.

Social media

Teachers are personally responsible for what they post online, and should protect their privacy to avoid their professionalism being questioned.

They are advised to manage their social media presence by creating a separate account for educational matters or use professional language when communicating online with students.

Drinking, gambling, smoking

Teachers cannot drink alcohol, gamble or smoke in school or while on duty.

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