The issue of ill-discipline in our schools has once again been highlighted by the incident at Sans Souci Girls’ High School in Cape Town, to which Ellapen Rapiti appertains in his letter, "Ugly school conflict not a racial issue" (The Star, February 20).
As a former teacher, a lecturer at a teacher training college, an inspector of education and finally a university academic, I would like to add my voice to Rapiti's. I concede that the matter should be handled by mediators rather than the courts. Rapiti maintains that the teacher should not have allowed her anger to get the better of her. But this is easier said than done.
How does a teacher control their anger in the face of open defiance? Did I have occasion to slap a learner during my years in the classroom?
Occasionally, but I managed to get away with it with the support of the principal. To disabuse your readers of the notion that a teacher was allowed to inflict corporal punishment, willy-nilly, the answer is no.
Only the principal, vice-principal or a teacher deputised by the principal could inflict corporal punishment which was strictly regulated in terms of the diameter of the cane, the angle at which it should be wielded and the maximum number of strokes inflicted.
But those are bygone days and we will never see corporal punishment reinstated.
So what advice can I offer on the present school culture, where knives are common and deadly assaults on teachers and fellow learners are increasing in frequency?
I would suggest, as a matter of urgency, that district officials conduct workshops on discipline in schools.
Experts with a background in child psychology should be brought in to train teachers in anger management.
To the teacher I would say that respect begets respect.
If a teacher regards a class of learners as young adults and treats them as such, they will respect the teacher in turn.
There will be the difficult cases and these should be referred to the guidance counsellors (if these still exist) or the principal’s office.
But before sending every offender to the principal, the teacher should use his or her guile to win over such maladjusted learners. The experts from the district offices must guide the educators practically.
The principal’s office in turn must be empowered by the school district authorities to take appropriate action to discipline the errant learner.
Measures to be considered could range from detention, demanding an apology in writing from the learner and, in extreme cases, suspending the offender for an appropriate period. Summoning the parent to the school is a good idea but not feasible if the parent is employed. Criminal cases should be reported to the police.
As for the proliferation of knives and other weapons in schools, the only course of action will be to have sporadic searches by senior teachers of both sexes with the help of police.
If we do not tackle the problem of ill-discipline in our schools, the public school system will disintegrate as it will become increasingly difficult to attract young teachers to the profession if such a culture became the norm.
Finally, to the teacher who is provoked in the extreme, I would repeat what a wise principal once told teachers: stay calm, count to 10 and walk away from the source of annoyance.