Dealing with abusive teachers

2009-09-28 00:00

When I was in Standard 9, (Grade 11), we made our biology teacher so tired that he called it a day and took his pension. The next lesson we were greeted by his young and very attractive replacement — only 23 years old — and this hotbed of teenage hormones was his first post.

It will always be to our new teacher’s credit that he just smiled at that class of 20 (there were eight boys, and I cannot speak for them) flirting hormonal phenomena, and managed to bring us up to an 80% class average without committing a single indiscretion. It’ll give my age away, but that year The Police (Sting) released the hit song Don’t Stand So Close to Me. I t’s about a schoolgirl’s crush on her young teacher and the teacher’s nervousness about the situation. The meaning of this song was not lost on us.

Efforts to gain our teacher’s attention ranged from subtle to outrageous, but he managed to maintain a firm and gracious distance without making any of his pupils feel rejected.

Fast forward to 2009, and a group of five teachers at a school in Kwazulu-Natal who, it is alleged, have been plying their teenage pupils with money and alcohol in exchange for sex in the science lab.

While there have been many scandalous liaisons of this nature over the years, this particular situation plays out in a South Africa that is grappling with harsh health challenges, such as HIV/Aids, and social catastrophes, such as high unemployment and teenage pregnancy.

As a country we are still trying to figure out if we can install condom machines in high school toilets and how we can get teenagers safely through the gauntlet of pupil-on-pupil violence and sexual abuse.

It is against this backdrop that these teachers are being accused of sexually liaising with the teenage pupils placed in their care.

It’s alleged that one of the pupils may have had to leave the school as she was pregnant, which means the sex was unprotected. I find myself wondering, should these teachers be found guilty of sexual misconduct, whether the Department of Education will ensure that all the girls in question get tested for HIV/Aids? Will it assist them with accessing treatment if they test positive?

When I ran this story by a colleague who has school-going children, she had another question:

“What are the girls’ parents doing about this?”

Indeed.

It reminded me of another incident in my school career.

In the old days, gymslips and frightful school underwear were expected to match. Our principal, enraged by an outbreak of frilly lingerie, announced during assembly that girls’ attire would be inspected. Using adolescent poetic licence, I told my dad that the principal had told us he was going to inspect our underwear — whereupon my father called him, denounced him as a pervert and threatened to report him to that terrifying body: the inspectors. The principal lightened up and focused on getting us to all wear longer skirts.

Why did my colleague’s question compound the issue for me? Well, I don’t know if we have inspectors any more, there’s not much information on what the parents in this tragic mess thought and there’s reason to believe that the accused teachers may simply go on to other schools.

According to initial reports, if the teachers in question are proven guilty, they will face dismissal. Even though some of the pupils are as young as 15, and the legal age of sexual consent for girls in South Africa is 16. It seems monstrously inappropriate simply to be dismissed for having so thoroughly breached the trust of one’s profession and one’s community. Not to mention possibly having committed statutory rape. Thankfully, it now appears that prosecutors are in the process of drafting charges against the five Umlazi teachers who are accused of sexual assault, which is at least the sign of a proper response.

Wherever you are, Mr K, you did so much more than teach us photosynthesis, you gave us one more year just to be teenagers.

— Health24.com

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