Maintaining discipline in school

BY Goolbai Gunasekara

Every child psychologist agrees that while most children can accept rigorous discipline if necessary, there is no child who can accept injustice. How often we hear children complain about their siblings. “It’s so unfair,” they yell, alleging partiality.

Of course, they can’t very well yell at a teacher; but they can feel extremely ill-used, and this can greatly colour their attitude to that particular individual. If such partiality is occasional, then both child and teacher can relegate it to history. But what happens if a teacher is perceived as being habitually unfair?

This child-parent combination in a school is a potentially disastrous situation; it is one which no principal likes to deal with. As far as possible, it’s best to keep a teacher and her child far apart, give the mother alternative classes to teach and place her children under others.

However, teachers themselves are often to blame for the perception that they favour their own. Here are a few scenarios, which one would do well to avoid.

Allowing children to run to the staffroom to ask for tuck shop money and things they forgot at home – it’s too easy to depend on a parent on the spot.

Running to the staffroom to meet mothers during interval time for no particular reason except to touch base and maybe share a snack.

Interrupting mothers who may be talking to other children…

Asking mothers for items they have left at home and need in class that very minute. Of course, any child who does this means he or she is out of class during study time. And even if she has permission from the attendant teacher, it’s not a good practice.

Here is a code I expected my teachers to follow; and if they were sensible, they would follow it to the letter.

Once a teacher has entered through the school gate, she should totally ignore her own child – as indeed she would have to if her kid attended another school.

Tell her offspring that he or she need not contact her until school is over.

Teachers should never use their own children to run little errands for them in school – such as buying them tuck shop goodies.

A teacher should refuse to handle any extracurricular activity her child might join. The principal can sort this situation out for her.

One horrendous incident that took place led to all kinds of accusations and counter-allegations when the son of a teacher in charge of a club became its president. Actually, he was voted in by his peers; but it smacked of favouritism.

Let me mention another incident, which illustrates how easy it is for teachers to give the impression they’re favouring their offspring…

A certain department head had her own office and considerable clout in school. Her two daughters would spend the entire interval in their mother’s office where she fed them their midmorning snack and encouraged them to tell her all the current news. Not exactly to tell tales but to keep her informed.

I warned her several times that she was going to be severely criticised and misunderstood if she continued this practice.

Her children were good students but earned the animosity of the staff thanks to their mother’s habits. The crunch came when prefectships were being awarded and neither of her daughters received the requisite number of staff votes in spite of their excellent results. They were viewed as being talebearers.

My own daughter never came to a school where I taught. My principal-mother saw to it that I was rarely in her schools either. But my grandchildren did attend the school where I was principal and were seriously told never to come to my office.

“As if I’d want to,” my grandson scoffed.

“Please ignore me if you even see me around,” said my granddaughter, who nonetheless was occasionally appointed spokesperson if her class needed a favour.

“You realise, I hope, that I can find it very easy to say ‘no’ to you,” I told her.

“I’ve told them, Achchi; but they think you will at least listen if I talk.”

“Forget it,” I told her bluntly. So another and more successful spokesperson was appointed.

To this day, my secretary tells of the time my grandson desperately begged her to ask me for Rs. 50, which he had forgotten to bring from home. Knowing my dislike of such requests from him, she loaned him the money instead. Apparently that started a happy little business between the two of them and other teachers’ children in similar straits.

I knew of it only when both grandchildren were safely abroad and out of my reach. Frankly, I found it amusing, and was assured that one group of kids realised that justice can prevail for all and a way to beat the system can also be handled with student aplomb (and student cunning, alas!)…