I have been listening to the prevailing discourse about how teachers are disempowered from administering corporal punishment for the offenses of learners at school. I find this argument to be a delayed argument as it was relevant at the time when policy was still under public consultations. Let me also share with you that I have been in the teaching space for more than 15 years.
It is not true that the schools are completely disempowered. It sounds more like teachers and parents in general are still hoping for the law to be structured in such a way that it allows them to commit a crime. Corporal punishment even during its days had never been a great tool to administer corrective discipline in schools. I know of many people in my rural village who were with me at school, who left school because of corporal punishment and to me this practice has in so many ways contributed to the many failed dreams.
There is sufficient consensus that learners especially in township schools are out of order and they are not respectful of the teachers are their dream polishers and deliverers. There is also sufficient consensus that the disrespect of teachers and their killing in the classrooms is an unacceptable feat. But are teachers completely disempowered? No, I don’t think so.
Schools have been given the authority to draw up a code of conduct that suits that particular school through the School Governing Body (SGB) comprised of the elected parents. Every school in South Africa has a code of conduct which must be reviewed at least every year. This code is reviewed through the participation of all stakeholders; parents, teachers, learners, general staff and the department of education as represented by the principal of the school. Now where is the problem? Why are learners getting out of hand to a point of distressing learners? It lies on implementation of this code.
In an average South African township school, learner ill-discipline is the majority contributor to the low pass rate. Ill- discipline of learners has not only contributed to low pass rates, but also to the frustration of teachers. Sadly, this has frustrated even some great teachers who ended leaving the profession. This was confirmed by the Sadtu secretary General in 2011. Mugwena Maluleke mentioned that an estimated 67000 teachers exited due to lack of discipline in schools and less support from the employing education department. It is true that the figures in this statement can be debatable. What is not debatable though is that learner discipline is a concerning issue for all well- meaning South Africans.
The implementation agents of this code at entry level are the teachers themselves. Teachers should be the ones who keep the record of learner behaviour, both good and bad. The majority of teachers are finding this task to be challenging, hence their inconsistent record keeping. The department has also simplified matters for teacher through the introduction of a school administration system called SASAMS. Through this system, teachers are able to record all conduct of learners at different levels of transgressions. This information can be collated into a dossier that can strengthen the school’s case during a disciplinary hearing which could result in the expulsion of a learner who is out to cause trouble at school.
A few years ago when I was a principal of Blue Eagle high school we made a recommendation for the redirection of a child who was on drugs and refused to be assisted through the School Based Support Team (SBST) which is a support committee that helps those learners who are prepared to be assisted. That recommendation was a serious deterrent for the others who were also becoming a threat to the successful teaching and learning process in the school. We were successful because the teachers provided us with records, the parents were prepared to go through a disciplinary process having the more than thousand learners in mind instead of one who had no interest in learning. The department agreed with us and the learner was expelled from school and placed at a relevant institution to further his learning as he was already over aged for mainstream education.
The issue of learner discipline is important in every institution. We have heard horror stories of learners doing the unspeakable within the school premises. We have heard stories which when narrated, your whole body will shiver as you begin to question whether your own children are safe when they enter the school premises. The story of the young boy who hit the teacher with a brick, the girl who hit the teacher with her book, the one of the boy learner who chased after the teacher can be successfully be dealt with using the code of conduct which is the law of the school. But schools and teachers by extension are reluctant to deal with such little issues and they grow into huge unbearable cases which taint the education system.
The following easy solutions can be implemented to the benefit of teachers, parents and learners:
Familiarize yourself with the school’s code of conduct: One can only apply the code that he or she understands. It is important to note that not all offenses will require the teacher to provide evidence, unless supporting evidence is required for a learner who transgressed the level four and five offenses. This may warrant an immediate suspension depending on how the code has been structured. The knowledge of the code of conduct will help you immensely to create a functional classroom setup.
Keep the record of learners conduct in the class: Don’t leave things to chance, make note of all the conduct good and bad. You never know when you will need this information. After all, this information will help you during feedback meetings with parents. You will be shocked as to how this information will create a proper learning environment in the class.
Keep a professional conduct at all times: Treat the children as though they are adults who understand what they are at school for. Teach them with all enthusiasm and give them hope, otherwise when they suspect that you have no interest in their lives, you will forever have serious problems.
Keep the parents informed about the learner’s behaviour: Constant communication through SMSes or whatsup will go a long way in addressing ill behaviour. After all teachers and parents are partners in this.
Help the parents to be aware of the drug problem creeping in: Teachers are likely to be the first to see the learner who has started using the softer drugs because they spend more time with these learners at school. Some parents will have problems with that but remember you are the teacher and your responsibility is bigger whether the parents like it or not you still need to help them. They will only appreciate it after some time.
Teaching happens in a cooperative environment. But the school must take full accountability on the disciplinary levels in the premises. The school is responsible in making sure that that both the teachers and the learners are safe and secured but the implementation of those policies which have been adopted for that purpose.
Written by Maano Ramadwa
(Speaker/ Life Coach/ Leadership Coach/ Author)
(A Former School Principal/ Author of the book, Teach To Inspire/ Founder of the Maano Ramadwa Education Foundation)