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Physical interaction with students - serious question

Discussion in 'Primary' started by simon43, Nov 13, 2015.

  1. simon43

    simon43 New commenter

    This is a serious question - I'm looking for advice/regulations.

    I am a British. non-qualified Primary Homeroom teacher, teaching in south-east Asia for more than 10 years. I'm male and mature in years (56).

    I am returning back to the UK to study on-campus for a PGCE in Primary Education, followed by teaching in the UK, if anyone will employ me in my advanced years :)

    My question is maybe a little delicate.

    I have taught in schools in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. All these schools have encouraged primary teachers - make and female - to adopt a 'parenting' role with their class, since the teacher is both responsible for academic teaching and the pastoral care of their students.

    So these means physical interaction with the young students, which means (depending on the age of the student and the specific circumstances), hugging, holding hands, comforting etc.

    Of course, common sense dictates that teachers do not behave in a manner that could raise eyebrows. (All classrooms where I have taught have CCTV installed to avoid any accusations of improper teacher/student behaviour).

    So the male teacher is really acting as a 'father' and the female teacher as a 'mother', (in many cases, the children do not have a real father at home).

    I should emphasise that I have 4 kids of my own, and a police background clearance in both the UK and countries where I have been teaching. For me, the physical interaction between student and teacher is just a normal part of the school day.

    But I want to understand what is the rule or accepted physical interaction between young student and teacher in the UK. I do not want to be arrested in the classroom for some innocent, physical action that is - nevertheless - considered taboo.

    Are there any resources which explain what is required from a primary teacher concerning physical interaction with his/her young students.
  2. nick909

    nick909 Star commenter

    For a male sfaff member:

    Hugging: no.
    Holding hands: possibly, with very little ones. I choose not to but then I have little contact with the very little ones.
    Comforting: a hand on the shoulder is just about acceptable. I generally choose not to.

    Although to put it into context, the very thought of a hug off me would make my Y6 pupils run a mile.

    There are plenty of female staff members around to give a hug if needed. I'm not offering comment as to whether this is right or just but it's the way it is. I'd rather not bother, for the good of everyone concerned.
  3. teacup71

    teacup71 Occasional commenter

    You are not a stand in parent. You are a trusted adult. Again I agree with the above post. Holding hands for safety or leading into assembly etc is appropriate for little ones. You can comfort without touching. Think of the power of a smile and words. Don't automatically think the only way we can comfort is through hugging etc.
    Your PGCE provider will do a lot of work on this. Listen carefully and when you go into schools on placement speak to your mentor and read school policy.
  4. simon43

    simon43 New commenter

    This is an important point. In the schools in south-east Asia where I have taught, the teacher is expected to be a stand-in parent during the school day. Of course, the level of physical contact very much depends upon the age of the child, (I agree with Nick909's comment about Y6...).

    Is the actual policy down to each school? Or is there some general legislation that all schools have to adhere to?
  5. sir2006

    sir2006 New commenter

  6. neddyfonk

    neddyfonk Lead commenter

    I found this thread after reading this weeks article in TES from a psychologist about children's need for physical contact and the damage that may result from non-contact.
    I agreed with my son (30) that neither of us had any physical contact with teachers at schools - but surely teachers can and should encourage peer support, especially in early years. " Paul is a bit sad today because he had an accident and broke his favourite toy. I think he could do with a group hug ". Failing that they should have a giant teddy in the corner they can cuddle and share their problems with or a punch bag they can vent their anger on.
  7. drvs

    drvs Star commenter

    Really? What does "in loco parentis" mean to you?
    Rott Weiler likes this.
  8. sallylou

    sallylou New commenter

    I never initiate any contact however, as I work in KS1 the children often do! I get at least a few hugs a day and am told daily that they love me. I would never reject a child- they are hugging for a reason but also struggle with the "I love you"s. Mostly just thank them. I do have children from my old classes giving passing hugs in the corridor too!
    I think the key is that we do not initiate any contact but are there if they need it!
  9. Pomza

    Pomza Star commenter

    I think that 'common sense' is the order of the day.

    I would not ever seek to instigate physical contact with a pupil, regardless of their age. However, it is not unusual for a small child to run up to a staff member they like and give them a hug. It could be hurtful if they were pushed away, but such circumstances can be very quickly maneuverered to a brief arm-around the-shoulder (sideways-on).

    Where schools have nurseries attached, it is quite common for very child to jump onto the laps of (admittedly mainly female) staff and sometimes want a hug if they are upset.

    Occasionally, I might condescend to return a high-five in passing in a corridor!
  10. simon43

    simon43 New commenter

    I'm glad this thread has been resurrected. I never went back to the UK because I found good, long-term employment at an international school. I'm teaching ESL to KG and primary 1 students, and it is a very rewarding job helping these young learners to get a grasp on the English language.

    The classroom situation is as per my previous schools in Asia ==> while the student is at the school, the teacher (male or female) is expected to act as a 'temporary parent', and that includes all that goes with the youngest students, such as accepting hugs from the kids, comforting them when they are upset etc etc.

    I found the recent comment from Neddyfonk about children's need for physical contact interesting and worthy of a discussion/thread in its own right.

    Likewise, Nick909's comment:
    For a male staff member:
    Hugging: no.
    Holding hands: possibly, with very little ones. I choose not to but then I have little contact with the very little ones.
    Comforting: a hand on the shoulder is just about acceptable. I generally choose not to.
    Although to put it into context, the very thought of a hug off me would make my Y6 pupils run a mile.
    There are plenty of female staff members around to give a hug if needed

    Hmm, why is it OK for female staff to hug and not male?

    My employer and teaching colleagues would be mightily unhappy if I shunned physical contact from the youngest of children - it goes with the job of teaching KG.

    Just to be clear here, I'm not talking about initiating contact with a child.

    I also don't actively encourage such contact because kids carry diseases LoL! (head lice etc). I'm forever washing my hands after a lesson to lessen the chance of catching some bug. (In this developing country, hugs and bugs often go together).

    If a teacher (male or female) has been strictly checked (CRB etc), then accepting such contact should not be an issue, or should it?

    I get the feeling that some double-standards concerning teacher gender come into play in the UK

    Please, your comments are welcome on this topic. Just because certain opinions about this are mainstream in the UK, doesn't actually make it the right opinion.
  11. arianasarah866

    arianasarah866 New commenter

    Working in KS1 / EYFS I hold hands with the pupils a lot when moving around school (or to keep a trouble maker in check). I don't initiate hugs etc but don't push the children to stop when they give you a hug, or even sit on your lap if they are crying and they just climb on. I think that in a classroom with other adults present to not give comfort when it's needed is very sad and as a parent myself I'd like to think if my children were upset someone would comfort them.

    In KS2 I've received many hugs from pupils in passing and that's also fine, however we do start to discuss sometimes personal space / appropriate time etc when I've had kids who want to stroke your arm or something as you work near them.

    There shouldn't be any gender difference in my eyes especially when we're talking about working with the little ones - I would expect a male teacher to respond to my child if upset and comfort them, however I do see in the profession that male teachers (who more often work further up school anyway) do tend to feel more wary of physical contact - even child initiated.

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