Sunday, June 22, 2014

Hiring a Pedophile

The international education press, in particular the British, has been agog with news of the recent suicide of an international school teacher. This American teacher worked since 1972 in nine countries, despite a 1969 arrest for child-related sex offenses. He was outed accidentally after he fired his cleaner who took a flash-drive in retaliation, on which she discovered disturbing images. This led to his suicide. Apparently, for many years, in many schools and involving many students he had been drugging and molesting students in his care and recording it. No-one had known, or nothing had been done.

How did this happen? Teacher recruitment and supervision has two significant, but unrelated phases. I do not blame any of the schools above for failures in the first; I do for the second.

During the recruitment phase, schools take references, conduct background searches, require police checks or FBI clearances. By all accounts, these were all done in the case above. Indeed, the high-profile London school is demanding to know how the 1969 incident was never recorded, how the teacher obtained 1971 teacher certification, 1986 principal certification and clean bills of health from half-a dozen previous schools and/or national police departments. Clear and possibly criminal culpability would appear to lie with US state and federal authorities in this case, at least in terms of the 1969, 1971, 1986 events.

The most recent and penultimate schools can rightfully feel that they did what they should have and could have done to avoid the very situation in which they found themselves.

However, the affected schools and school leaders did fail in their supervision of this teacher. Teaching has four elements, overlapping but distinct nonetheless:
  • pedagogical, including craft and subject knowledge
  • extracurricular
  • administrative
  • personal
Each element should be appraised and each should be evaluated (read here as to how these are not the same). School leaders, teachers, and their representatives (ie, unions) are comfortable with the first although rarely in agreement as to what that might entail. The second is often a check-box, and at least in the US connected with extra pay rather than as an element of a teacher's performance. The third is rarely addressed, although is often the cause of conflict in a school. The fourth is typically left alone for fear of accusations of subjectivity or discrimination, despite the fact that any effective appraisal and evaluation can be nothing but subjective.

Effective supervision includes determining specific indicators, some generic and some particular to a school, program, time and so on. While each indicator may not mean much, the multiple data points, their total, and their accumulation over time will reveal patterns and trends.  If the data points are recorded, a school leader who is "on top" of his/her staff will see the patterns or trends.

Reportedly, in this case:
  • the teacher volunteered repeatedly to lead overnight trips
  • the trips were restricted to boys
  • the teacher was the lone chaperone
  • the boys were given milk and cookies at bed-time (as opposed to their making them)
  • the boys were comforted when feeling ill
  • boys fell ill
and so on.

Unfortunately, many teachers see any efforts by school leaders as intrusive, threatening, and problematic and so resist them. Even more unfortunately, too many school leaders do not want to get involved in their teachers' practice, particularly non-classroom. They will argue time constraints or the lack of scientific validity, but I disagree. "Big data" makes this both possible and easy if the will is present.

Had the school leaders done the degree of supervision they should have, and had the schools' cultures allowed them to do so, I very much doubt that the above events would have occurred, and would have continued to occur, for so long.

No comments :