24 July 2007

DISCIPLINE IN SCHOOL: What is a teacher to do?


AT first, it was the football-team bashing time. Now, it seems that the attention has been diverted to the teachers. First, it was the case of a student who uttered an expletive and a teacher who allegedly punched her. Next, it was the case involving students who failed to hand in their homework. Finally, the case involving 200 schoolgirls in a pond and a warden who took centre stage.

As a teacher myself, it is disheartening to read reports portraying teachers in a bad light. No doubt, teachers have to follow certain guidelines in curtailing discipline problems but we must remember teachers are human beings, too. As parents, you have to follow a certain procedure in disciplining your child. A parent may have to deal with three or four children, but a teacher has to discipline 30 to 40 of them.

A 13-year-old girl utters a curse word in the presence of the others. What would you do? You may not punch her on the face, but believe me, the last thing that you would do is open the procedure book for guidance. I am not condoning what the teacher did but had any of us been in that situation, we, too, would be facing suspension.

During my school days, being slapped or caned by the headmaster or headmistress was something shameful, not only for the student but the parents as well. I remember parents dragging their children to the headmaster’s office to apologise for the child’s misdeeds and inflicting further punishment on their child themselves.
Nowadays, we still have parents dragging their children to the headmaster’s office but with a posse of reporters and photographers. Instead of apologising, they demand apologies. Instead of shame, they invite publicity.

Before I attempt to "defend" the Sibu incident, allow me to share an incident that took place in my school. Just last week, I stumbled upon a few boys who were covered from head to toe with flour. The class was a mess with flour on the tables, chairs and the floor.

It was quite obvious that there had been a "flour fight". However, when I demanded an explanation, no one admitted starting the fight or even bringing flour to school.

Even the threat of calling their parents was futile. Finally, when I waved my cane, the students started volunteering names and details of the "flour fight".

The warden in Sibu was not as lucky as I was. She might have threatened to dip them in the pond and probably had to do it when all the students kept mum.

I am not saying what the teachers above did is right or wrong. I am just saying that suspending or putting these teachers in a bad light is not the right thing to do.

In a way, I salute these teachers for trying to make a change. Obviously, it would have been easier to just ignore the problem.

There are many teachers out there who opt to play it safe. They just walk into the class, deliver their lesson and walk out again, ignoring the students who curse, who do not do their homework and those who do not pay attention.

I am from the old school. I believe in instilling discipline. My students dare not curse me, they will finish their homework and they will admit if they are wrong. However, after reading about the cases mentioned, maybe I, too, should play it safe.

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