Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Protect protect protect!

In the spirit of keeping an open mind I have recently applied for a couple of summer camp jobs in England. But the interview I had the other day reminded me of exactly why I don’t want to come back here to work with children and young people. After a grueling sixty minute interview in which I was asked every question under the sun, I was left dizzy and feeling out of my depth, which is crazy based on my experience and qualifications versus the job in question (sounds a little arrogant, but it’s true). Questions were split into sub-categories, including grammar, planning an entire program of lessons on the spot, and the dreaded ‘safeguarding.’ It’s been a while since I’ve heard this word and I can safely say I will happily wait a while before hearing it again. Of course child protection policies should be in place, but I feel like we take it to an extreme here in England, and often rules are now focused more on making sure the staff member doesn’t get in trouble. I was reminded by the interviewer that during the camp I wouldn’t be able to be in a room on my own with a child. And what’s so sad is that one of the main reasons for this rule is to protect the staff member from having an allegation made against them. I was also asked what I would do if I saw that a colleague was talking inappropriately with a student on facebook. I knew exactly what the interviewer wanted me to say—that I would tell someone about it—but I refused to give her the satisfaction. My suspicions were correct as she went on to say that in this circumstance I would be expected to go to senior management about the issue. It’s not that I think people should talk to their students on facebook (or make inappropriate comments to students) but I don’t want to be part of a company that wants its staff to spy and tell on each other. What kind of a working environment is that?
I don’t know, maybe I’m just out of touch with the British way of thinking regarding working with children and young people. I was stunned when I was told I would have to attend a two day child protection training course before beginning the job, but when I think back to my previous jobs in England I spent a lot of time on training days just like this without batting an eyelid. And I guess some of it was useful stuff, but was it all really necessary?
According to schools in Korea, the answer is apparently no. To get my job in Seoul, all my employers really wanted was a photo to check I had a suitably ‘western’ face, and proof that I had a degree. The interview consisted of asking me when I could start. In terms of the actual work, it was refreshing knowing that I could hold a child’s hand, or give a student a hug, without being accused of ‘crossing boundaries,’ or worse. But at the same time, any special needs were largely ignored and the supervision round the swimming pool was near enough non-existent, to name just a couple of the problems. I suppose it will unfortunately take for something bad to happen for Korea to up its game in terms of health and safety and safeguarding. Maybe it will be a good thing when they do, but inevitably sooner or later they’ll go too far as well.
My question is this: isn’t it possible for us to find a middle ground? A working environment where kids are protected, but where staff don’t have to question themselves and others at every single turn, to the detriment of a child’s learning and enjoyment.  
Answers on a postcard.  

Oh and just in case you're interested, I got the job, but didn't take it.

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