Voices: I’m a teacher – this is what my 15-year-olds are saying about Andrew Tate

In our termly equalities meeting at the secondary school where I teach, we usually discuss the broad concerns we’re trying to tackle as a staff body. This week, it was different. Rather than talking about systemic issues and how they affect our students, such as racism, homophobia and ableism, we ended up talking about one man. That man was Andrew Tate.

After discussing the controversial influencer who appeared in court this week, we decided that – due to his continued reach on social media – it would be best to hold assemblies across all the school years to make sure they are being smart about the content they are consuming online.

I spoke to students and teachers about conversations in the classroom regarding Tate and found that they’d been occurring since last year, even before his recent arrest in Romania on charges of organised crime, human trafficking and rape, following his failed attempt to make Greta Thunberg look silly on Twitter. From spontaneous class discussions centred around Tate, to a cut-out picture of his head being found in a urinal for target practice in the boy’s toilets, Tate has been a huge focus point for our students for longer than I previously realised. I found that every student had an opinion, and every teacher had at least one example of his name being brought up during a lesson.

Opinions about him are strong and they are polarised. Some students feel that his words and actions are inexcusable, no matter if he sometimes says things they agree with. A considerable number of pupils told me he is a “scammer”. Many of those expressing negative views about Tate are female students and students who identify as LGBT+.

However, worryingly, some are more supportive of Tate as a person, varying in their agreement with things that he has said and done.

Tate has teachers like me worried about what our students are being exposed to – and how much of his message is being absorbed. It’s not difficult to find offensive and extreme quotes online, and his comments on sexual violence and gender equality are particularly concerning. He is a self-described misogynist, who explained that it being easier to beat rape charges in Eastern Europe was “40 per cent of the reason I moved to Romania”. On the topic of a woman seeing herself as equal to a man, Tate said that she would be “the exact kind of woman that I would never give my time of day to”.

Interestingly, when similar quotes have come up in class, teachers tell me that students supporting Tate’s views will often only have Tate’s own videos to back these statements up, whereas students opposing these opinions will have read around the subject and are able to bring external arguments to the discourse.

It is concerning how much Tate’s supporters will take his word as gospel, and not do any research before regurgitating it back out into the world. Tate’s speeches not only scream of toxic masculinity, misogyny and ­­­victim blaming, but they express a deep lack of care for other people as human beings. The message seems to be about climbing to the top, no matter what it takes. Boys may think they are taking on a mindset that will propel them towards affluence and success, but in reality, it is easy to see how Tate’s philosophy may blight their chances or forming healthy and respectful relationships in their teenage years – and in later life.

Tate’s target audience is obviously men and boys. When I walked around the school intentionally to canvas students’ views, some male pupils told me that they “fully support him”, while others quickly made excuses for him, saying he’s “not that bad”; before I’d even made it clear why I was asking. Many boys told me that Tate had been misquoted, or edited to deliberately make him look bad.

Perhaps they feel inclined to excuse the misogynistic soundbites because the Bugatti-driving, super-affluent image he projects is so alluring. This lifestyle appeals to young men, and the message is that they must be just like him to reach it. One teacher told me a student had said that Tate was “correct” regarding his distrust in government and taxes, so “the other stuff must be right”.

I’m proud of my school for having diverse and positive role models throughout the staff body. Our staff don’t need to rely on expensive cars or hyper-masculine speech to prove that they’re worthy of respect. They do it through their actions, and the kindness and openness they demonstrate every single day. These teachers are not offering Andrew Tate-style cheat codes, they’re demonstrating that through hard work and care, students at schools like mine can fulfil their potential.

Matt Adams is head of performing arts at a west London school