Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Clearer conduct guidelines for teachers

Stacey Chia | The Straits Times | Sat Jan 12 2013

SINGAPORE - A new code of conduct for teachers will spell out more clearly guidelines on dealing with students and take in possibly tricky scenarios that developments like social media pose.

The code is expected to be released by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, schools have been briefing teachers on it, through sessions where scenarios and their solutions are discussed.

The Straits Times understands teachers will be reminded that inappropriate relationships with students are not allowed.

Some teachers said they were told that getting involved with students is prohibited - even if they are no longer teaching at the same school.

Under the new guidelines, teachers are also likely to be advised against adding students as Facebook friends.

Instead, they may be encouraged to set up a separate group page to interact with students.

The move follows calls for stricter guidelines in the wake of a string of scandals involving teachers, including that of a female teacher who had sex with a teenage boy from her school.

The Ministry of Education first announced in November last year that it had completed work on a Code of Professional Conduct for Educators to help teachers uphold high standards amid an environment that is becoming "increasingly complex".

Ahead of its official roll-out, some schools have conducted briefings for teachers in the past week.

Others are expected to do so soon.

The new code incorporates two documents currently used by teachers - the Civil Service Instruction Manuals and the Ministry of Education internal conduct guidelines.

But it is likely to include more advice on what teachers should do in tricky situations. For instance, teachers may be told that tattoos, while not forbidden, should be concealed at all times in school.

Teachers said the discussion went beyond just notifying them of the guidelines.

They were also asked for their views and responses to situations which may be less clear-cut, via case studies raised by principals for discussion.

Said one secondary school principal: "For instance, teachers know they should not be in any inappropriate relationship with students, and it is stated in current guidelines, but some things are not as clear-cut."

The principal cited a scenario which describes a teacher who forms a close but professional relationship with a student. The teacher then leaves for another school, and the relationship continues and becomes romantic.

"Teachers will be asked to discuss if this is appropriate, but the bottom line is no. By discussing, you cover all bases which may not be able to be spelt out in a document," he said.

Another scenario discussed was on befriending students on social media. "In the primary schools it is clear-cut, pupils are not supposed to be on social media websites, since they are not of age. But in the secondary school, it can be a useful teaching tool," said the principal.

Another principal said that by getting teachers to think about the various facets of an issue, "there is meaning to the guidelines" when they see the code.

A primary school teacher said the discussion serves as a good reminder because teachers may not be always conscious about their actions. Asked if he felt that the guidelines were too restrictive, he said: "When we signed up to be teachers, we knew that more is expected of us as we are supposed to be role models."

But a secondary school teacher felt that the briefings were "unnecessary and childish". "We should be able to judge a situation for ourselves, are these things that need to be spelt out?"

Operations manager Rex See, who has two children in Primary6 and Secondary 3, said he is glad more is being done to address the issue of personal conduct among teachers.

Said Mr See, 47: "Children pick up everything from their parents and teachers, so it is important that they are also good role models."

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