Teachers: Their Role in School

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By Andrew Matjila Teaching is without doubt the most difficult, challenging and unenviable profession. The stage is set in the classroom from where all the other professions must eventually emerge. Taking children from their early delicate stage, to mould and see them grow and develop into intelligent and upright members of society is not everybody’s kettle of fish. One has got to have guts, determination and commitment to really get to grips with the task of educating little ones. The key concept to the system of classical Confucian thought is the Chinese character jen, translated as virtue, love, magnanimity or human heartedness. This, said the great Confucius, is inborn in all men and women. To nurture and cultivate this seed-essence of humanity into full, flowering virtue is the common mission of human life. To the teacher this is the cradle of all success in his/her calling. The teacher’s jen will be radiated in the lives of the children he/she educates. The task is twofold, viz. to educate/teach, and to act as role model (his/her jen) to the children under his/her charge. Failure to carry out both these holy assignments faithfully, diligently and with commitment, might possibly destroy the future of young children forever. Whether they be blue, black yellow or green, and living anywhere on this planet, children imitate whatever adult persons do, be it good or bad. Hence the need for any person instructing little children, or bringing them up, to exercise but extreme caution, patience, love, tact and above all, intelligent leadership which should address all societal demands. The teacher in school takes the place of parents in the upbringing of their children. He/she also takes the place of Almighty God by creating the correct atmosphere required to instruct children, so as to prepare them for their journey back to Him when He calls. The latter is definitely the most important task confronting any person teaching children. In the Holy Bible, Jesus says, “Suffer little children to come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Having said that, one is led by the teaching spirit to reminisce on the past, when the teacher was perhaps the most important person in the village, second only to the chief. In those far off hazy days of yore, the teacher was regularly consulted by society on various issues. These included the Christian religion, hygiene, the Holy Bible, modern living, transportation and the English language in particular. Mark you, the chief, headmen and society at large extolled the ability of those of their children who could speak English, and regarded them as well educated. “Ua hongua”, they would say. Thus, the teacher’s visit to the homes of his/her pupils was regarded as an important event in the village, being overshadowed only by that of the chief. Interestingly, teachers of that period also appreciated the great trust and sense of dependence the community placed on their knowledge and leadership. This was borne out by their commitment to their calling and by giving everything they had. The little education they shared with the school-going children of their time, was given unselfishly and with dedication. The wheel has now turned full circle, and the modern teacher presents a different personality altogether. “With the advent of globalization, the world we live in has changed drastically,” some might say, “and requires modern thinking and modern ways of doing things.” This may partly be true, except that certain basic principles of life and values do not change like day following night, or a green tomato turning red the next day, Respect, a hundred, or a thousand years ago still remains respect today. Vulgar language fifty years ago is still vulgar today. Many people of today confuse rights and responsibilities. In the same way as there can be no freedom without the law, a person’s rights can only be enjoyed in an atmosphere of responsibility. The modern teacher therefore cannot and should not dismiss issues simply because to him/her they are ‘outdated’. And here the importance of research cannot be overemphasized. Like the great flu of 1918, which encircled the world and reached southern Africa, many undesirable foreign practices, songs, films and dances are as it were blown by an ill wind into our part of the world under the guise of culture and modernity. Many of today’s young people are highly receptive to foreign music, porn and many bizarre practices that the average African parent abhors. The teachers of children in our schools have great challenges to nib dangerous, foreign and undesirable influences in the bud. The sought-after Afro-centric approach required to Africanize our children is still a few light years away. The reader might immediately react and ask: “Who has appointed teachers to be the censorship officials of our society?” But teachers have the responsibility to curb the wrong influences coming into the school. The jen we mentioned earlier is real and is by the way wholly embodied in African culture east to west, and north to south. Challenges in Namibia One cannot deny that there were multiple factors which influenced the life of school children before independence. Such factors were either imposed by the policies of the day, or came simply as the failure of parents in raising their children according to acceptable basic human values. I venture to state that the advent of freedom must have nudged especially teachers to grasp the nettle and put shoulder to the wheel, or did it? Of the many challenges facing the schoolmaster of today, a few merit mention here: Namibia became an independent state in 1990 and all her citizens saw the great moment when the South African flag was lowered, and the new flag of Namibia was raised in dignity. To the teacher in particular, this was the clarion call to “ring out the old, ring in the new”. The commitment to serve, to teach, to educate, etc., was put on a new footing. Every teacher would know that independence means hard work, greater sacrifice because “we now own the country and have to make our own decisions”. Some teachers can surely still remember the Teachers Conference held in Mariental in early April 1989. Are the decisions teachers make nowadays very often the right ones? It’s a challenge they will have to take head on. Every teacher knew that from 1990, the Minister of Education would no longer be somebody in Pretoria, but a son of the soil of Namibia, who would be available at any time when required for consultation. Everyone involved in the education of children in the country would do so conscientiously, diligently and aggressively, while bearing in mind that it is too late in the day to procrastinate. Teachers would develop the spirit of loyalty, trustworthiness and patriotism almost overnight, and carry out their responsibilities accordingly. How far are we in that respect? Tackling undesirable home influences often needs specialized knowledge. Some children come from homes where “the children come and go as they please” without anybody asking questions. Such children need a different approach to that accorded those who come from stable homes. Also, political influences, where the children’s parents and the teacher belong to different political parties, play a role and influence children’s behaviour. Dealing with aggressive children is very tricky nowadays. These are children who, perhaps due to wrong upbringing, do not know obedience and react violently to anyone at school, even with little or no provocation at all. These are children who would rather be elsewhere or whose immediate concerns lie elsewhere, to the extent that they become antagonistic to, or uninterested in, learning anything at school. Obligatory curricula and disciplined arrangements in a classroom setting gall them and bring out the violence in them. The rights of children have also become a new challenge. Many adults of today still remember the belt of years ago when they were still small boys and girls. There was no escape from corporal punishment. The strap burned their backs. Today’s generations think that parents in the past were beating their children willy-nilly, with no love or care. Possibly for some. On the contrary, today’s parents seem to have lost control over their children. The spread of disease, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, pornography and many other social evils now permeating societies around the world, are partly due to rot destroying families. Thus, the teacher’s task is much greater now than it was in the past in this regard. He must protect the rights of children as well, and not only cry foul when things get tough in the playground. Learning from the learners: There are teachers who might not be aware of this, but it is a fact of life. There is so much that the teacher learns from the children that should he/she keep a record thereof, it might fill volumes in the long run. Experience is made of this learning process, which some teachers ignore at their peril. Overcrowded classrooms: It is an achievement to proudly have every child in the country in. Teachers often have to put up with numbers of learners far in excess of pedagogically accepted standards. On the other hand, healthy standards are a pre-requisite where large numbers of children congregate for long periods of time. Lamentably, very often very little happens in overcrowded classrooms, except continuous catcalls, bullying, injuries and damage to school property, if it exists at all. Lack of teaching aids, textbooks, etc: These are the standard wherewithal every teacher should have to be able to make things happen in his/her class. Lack or shortage of these spells disaster with a heavy failure rate the result. Teachers unions have a duty to assist their members to acquire whatever teaching aids they need to improve their work, if such aids are not provided by the ministry. Lack of proper classrooms, housing for teachers: Very often teachers in Namibia have to leave their regions to teach elsewhere. They need good housing and proper facilities to be able to do their work well. Many young people refuse to teach in the rural areas because of a lack of proper toilets, lighting, housing and so forth. The age-old classroom backlog in Namibia still persists and cannot be overtaken easily because of the large yearly increase in new learner numbers. Lack of proper continuous motivation and supervision: Teachers need ‘sharp’ inspectors who are continuously in the field checking, advising, motivating, instructing and even teaching to show their teachers how it should be done, where they go wrong. No-one ever completes learning or becomes over-learned. Leaders are not there to stand with arms akimbo. Setting standards: Every teacher should set standards in his/her class. This is apart from standards set by the Ministry in its policy to obtain overall perfection in education. The presentation of lessons effectively, convincingly, the attitude of the teacher, speech, language usage, dress code, discipline, love and approach to culture, will greatly radiate standards the children will remember for many years to come. There are old people today who still remember: “Oh, teacher so and so was worth emulating in my time.” Appearing clumsy, unkempt, groggy and overall unpresentable before children does not set any standard whatsoever, whether it is in a modern day classroom or that of days gone by. Lastly. Regular teacher-performance appraisal records are a challenge no teacher dare ignore. The Ministry can only get its pound of flesh when records show that teachers are indeed doing the job for which they get their monthly cheques. Inspectors in the field must control this very important exercise. The modem young teacher Today’s young teacher should be a politically literate, culturally proud, patriotic and outgoing visionary. He/she has to, because of the mountainous opportunities granted them in their quest for knowledge. The sky is the limit and resources are available to advance the younger generations to the highest pinnacle. Those who willingly go to teacher training colleges to prepare for a life in the classroom until retirement must know: A teacher is employed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. There is no holiday or day-dreaming, or watching TV. The life of a teacher cannot be a bed of roses. It is sacrifice all the way. Teachers strike while on duty teaching, toy-toying can only jeopardize the children’s future. Teachers take part in projects in society. Very often they initiate such projects. Teachers plan the beautifying of their school environment. School surroundings that look like tsunami disaster areas tell the visitor a lot about the character of the teachers in the school. Teachers not only participate in the visual arts, music and entertainment, but help society to promote these. A nation without theatre and composers cannot develop a good culture. A good teacher thinks of the classroom first, and the cheque afterwards. The young Republic of Namibia needs teachers who are prepared to give unselfishly to those under their charge. Let me emphasize patriotism by drawing attention to the fact that whereas teachers served the system in the past with careful diligence afraid to lose their jobs and perhaps even faced serious situations, they now serve themselves, as it were. Namibia is their home, their country forever, without fear. To love Namibia means working all out for the Motherland. And where for the love of life, does a teacher work his pants off for his/her country? In the classroom, of course. A patriot must sacrifice nice time, disco. TV, beer sessions, business, and what have you for the country. These are issues which get us bogged down in useless past-times, unproductive loafing, retrogression and getting negative elements to exclaim: “Let us go back to the big pots of Egypt (the past), for things were much better then.” Teachers know better and can remember that for the 40 years that the Children of Israel roamed the desert looking for a home, the belly managers of the Pharaoh among them were always exhorting the people to go back whenever things got difficult. No, countrymen and women. We are looking forward, and never to turn back, come hell or high water!