The information I have chosen to share about this school may seem extreme, but this is not due to any kind of exaggeration or hyperbole on my part. I have made every possible effort to make sure that the information here is as accurate as possible. The situation at this school is highly concerning and this is simply a description of that situation.
I am an experienced English teacher and have worked in many different kinds of schools and institutions. I came to Colombia for the first time a few years ago and have lived and worked here off and on ever since, including here on the Caribbean coast.
In my time working at the school, I experienced what can only be described as a serious case of sexual harassment in the workplace. The kinds of comments I received were not compliments or innocent social interaction that were taken the wrong way. None of it could be confused for flirtation. These comments were highly sexual in nature and made with the express purpose of humiliating me for the enjoyment of others. This treatment eventually intensified to the point where my ability to perform various functions of my job was hindered in significant ways. While the harassment I experienced was solely verbal in nature, the possibility of it escalating to a physical level was always there just beneath the surface. The existence of this possibility was confirmed at one point by a school psychologist in a private conversation. In other conversations with the Bilingual Coordinator and another school psychologist/human resources representative, this possibility was not dismissed outright. I eventually began to have serious doubts about my safety at work. It was due to these factors, along with an attempt by a coworker to intimidate me, that led to my decision to leave the school.
The treatment I received did not occur in isolation. Rather, it was representative of a larger problem with deep roots within the culture of the workplace there. This is an environment where sexually explicit comments are commonplace. Homophobic comments and “jokes” are an absolute constant. Sexist remarks are also not uncommon. Teachers have on at least one occasion edited photos of coworkers to include sexual imagery. It is unlikely that this was the only time this occurred. This has all been normalized to the point where no one raises an eyebrow at even the most outrageous of behavior and much of this is brushed away as being nothing more than “jokes”. It is my impression that the environment has deteriorated to this point due to some combination of the lack of moral leadership at the school and many teachers’ longstanding personal ties to the General Coordinator. When I eventually went to management to voice my concerns about all of this, I was told that there had been many previous complaints.
In case it is not clear, I would like to emphasize that all of this went far beyond any cultural differences, something that virtually everyone with knowledge of the situation at the school has also acknowledged. In fact, many Colombian coworkers mentioned to me that the nature of the working environment was difficult for them to adjust to at first. The sense that the culture at the school was different from most other workplaces here appeared to be shared by many.
This entire episode has revealed volumes about the character of those working at the school and what is has revealed is deeply unsettling. In particular, I would like to highlight the actions of the Bilingual Coordinator. This individual knowingly withheld or misrepresented important information, so that I would either enter or remain in a situation that was potentially dangerous for myself. I know of at least one other occasion where he acted in a similar fashion with others working at the school, also putting them at risk. Also concerning is the fact that there is a teacher at the school who has had at least 3 major incidents with female coworkers, including myself.
This is not a safe workplace for women.
Virtually everyone in middle and upper management, as well as in human resources, is aware of the situation. However, after all that I have witnessed in the aftermath of my resignation, I remain doubtful that the school is interested in making the serious and drastic changes needed to improve the working environment.
Sexual harassment is a crime in Colombia. Also, foreign teachers are asked to begin work before receiving their visa. While this is not uncommon, it is illegal and could put teachers at risk for many different kinds of problems.
If I ever receive information that the work environment has improved, I will gladly edit this review to reflect that.