It is not uncommon for commentators from various sectors of the society to question the commitment of teachers to their charges and quite rightly so.
This forms part of the social contract that teachers enter into with the society upon entry into the teaching service. This layer of accountability is critical to the development of the profession and must be welcomed if done in a constructive manner.
However, there are times when criticisms are levelled against teachers that are somewhat unfair and reflect a lack of understanding of the challenges teachers face in the execution of their mandate. On a daily basis teachers are challenged by a population that is increasingly aware of their rights but not necessarily of their responsibilities. Against this background parents are unafraid of challenging the actions of teachers in the courts.
In the circumstances TTUTA has had no choice but to warn its members to be aware of the legal framework within which they operate as a first step to protecting themselves from litigation. While the mandate of the school has expanded significantly, the legal framework that governs the delivery of education has not kept commensurate pace with such.
In the current dispensation schools are seen as moral agents providing social satisfaction to a clientele that extends beyond the classroom. The governing legislation for education never envisaged such a broad-based mandate. Indeed, the industrial model of education against which it was crafted has and continues to prove to be woefully inadequate to the current needs of the society. The students that characterized schools in that model came from a particular socio-economic background and thus certain assumptions could have been made about the role and responsibility of the teacher. In current times such assumptions are no longer valid – teacher expectations have changed.
The view that education is a public good which should be available to all redefined the role, nature, and purpose of schools and by extension the teacher. Unfortunately, the commensurate legal framework is lagging behind. How many times have we heard about the need to revise the Education Act? It is against this background that teachers sometimes have to protect themselves, much to the chagrin of those who don’t walk in our shoes.
In any profession there is an ethical violation rate of between ten and twenty per cent and teaching is no exception. Given that there are over fifteen thousand teachers in the country it is very easy to identify teachers who do not uphold expected ethical standards. Unfortunately, the great work that the thousands of teachers do in the classroom on a daily basis goes unnoticed or even taken for granted. These are the teachers who go above and beyond the call of duty to nurture the adults of the future, functioning well beyond the letter of the law and their job descriptions, sometimes despite the advice of TTUTA.
These are the teachers who give children monies out of their pockets to commute home on evenings, take them on field trips that extend well beyond their school hours, give extra lessons free of charge, visit homes to find parents that will not visit the school despite several letters and telephone calls, purchase books and uniforms for needy students, and give students hugs when needed. These acts go well beyond the legal remit of the teacher but they are performed on a daily basis by teachers across the length and breadth of our country.
It is therefore unfortunate that the defence of our rights and in the exercise of our professional autonomy, this is perceived by some commentators as being obstructionists and self-serving.