Let me twist a Robbie Burns poem
How do I fear thee (O' burden of a teacher)?
Let me count the ways...
1. In Loco Parentis
In English, that means 'in the place of a parent'. In legal terms, that means a teacher is expected to be as responsible as a parent for the safety of his or her students while they are within the school grounds or under his or her care. And they may be liable in the same way a parent would be, where the law is concerned.
I attended a course by an IAB lecturer way back in 2000 and listened in horror as she detailed the many different ways I could've been in trouble with regard to the way I dealt with students.
If a rock falls on a student within the school grounds, the school has to answer. Even if the rock fell at 5.30 a.m. and no teacher was in school... and the student climbed over the school fence to get in.
If a student breaks his or her leg while on a school outing, the teacher AND school has to answer.
If a student whacks another student over the head with a piece of wood in class, the teacher in the classroom (AND the school) has to answer. Woe betide that teacher if he or she was supposed to be in that classroom according to the school timetable but he wasn't.
Things really go to hell in a handbasket if the student on a school outing didn't get written permission from the parents or the teacher isn't one of those given permission to use the school van (in the case of an accident). It doesn't matter if the outing is an informal one organized by students who just invited the teacher along. As long as the teacher is there... it's IN LOCO PARENTIS!
Once, my La Salle boys decided to go on a biking adventure from Penampang to Papar and invited me and another teacher along. It was a whole day event and I had lots of fun. Imagine driving (did you think I'd bike all the way??) along lush green padi fields, stopping by white sandy beaches and drinking ice-cold juices at roadside stalls. Then when I got home and my dad (who happened to be a Nazir) found out, he really ripped a strip off me for that. If anything had happened to the boys, I would've had to answer.
2. Lawsuit-Happy Community
Nowadays, lawyers are everywhere and parents are not afraid to sue teachers, principals, schools... even the Education Minister if they think they can do so. While I respect the right of every parent to safeguard the rights of his child (I too am a parent), sometimes things are taken to a ridiculous extent.
Teachers nowadays are wary of disciplining a student for fear of being slapped with a lawsuit at the end of the week. But sometimes some students can be too much. Yes, there are procedures in place with regard to the disciplining of students. But the bureaucratic maze can delay things so much that the student will only be punished six months later. How could that be, one may ask? Very easily... in a former place of work, the discipline teacher sent letters to the parents which went unanswered. Then the teacher went in search of the house. Imagine an address as simple as 'Kg Bahagia, Kota Kinabalu.' Believe it or not, such addresses exist. By the time the teacher found the house, he was informed that the parents had moved away (without the student!). No wonder the letters went nowhere! Then the poor teacher had to ascertain who was the legal guardian of the student. All this without the cooperation of said student. And later, the teacher told me that he feared for his safety while walking in the kampung as everyone there stared at him in a hostile manner.
Even then, the teacher was worried about trespassing and the non-delivery of the letter. The student involved had been in a fight and the parents of the other student was threatening all sorts of action over what they perceived as apathy on the part of the school.
3. Trigger-Happy Students
Last but not least, the students themselves.
I would like to think that the majority of the students in Malaysia are gentle happy souls. But if you, as a teacher, come across one hostile youth with a machete or a Molotov cocktail, that is already one too many violent person to deal with.
I won't elaborate on that... it speaks for itself. That is why many teachers fear teaching in inner-city schools and prefer to stay in the rural areas.
I have been fortunate in that I haven't had many run-ins with violent students.
However, I HAVE charged at two boys who were each of them double my weight and were about to start fighting. I didn't have the chance to feel fear as I only thought of stopping them before the first punch.
I have also faced up to a young man who spat the F expletive at me in class. That doesn't sound so 'bad', does it? But if I hadn't handled him and showed his classmates that I didn't accept such behaviour, I would have been in for a hard time in his class. Incidentally, he had a problem but not with me... poor kid was struggling with problems at home... and luckily I didn't begin by yelling at him. When I asked him if I had done something to upset him, he just deflated.
And yes, I have gone nose-to-nose with stubborn young people. I don't know if it was my fierceness or my foghorn voice... but somehow or other, I have been fortunate to come away the 'victor' in all the confrontations. And university never prepared me for this...
I've come to realise that I 'won' these confrontations because the students knew I was right. It's easier to win with righteousness on your side. But if a teacher is wrong... well, students nowadays don't back down like they used to.
But a word of warning, a smart teacher must know when to be hard and when to be gentle. A wrong move may take you down a path that will only lead to more pain and trouble... if not for you, then for the youth who is probably only lashing out at a world that is hostile to him or her.