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Addressing Violence Against Teachers In Guyana

Teachers in Guyana, once revered as being at the helm of imparting education, now find themselves at the receiving end of physical altercation. What is being inferred by these unprecedented attacks on those tasked with educating Guyana’s future leaders? How do we keep teachers safe while ensuring an education for students with complex needs?

No member of the teaching profession should be subjected to aggressive or violent behaviour by either student or parent, who needless to say, should, in the primary instance, be acting as good role models. Whenever parents model disrespect, children will do the same.

Unquestionably, parents deserve a say in shaping their children’s education. However, in no way does such a status confer on them the right to turn public schools into battlegrounds, fracturing communities, and diverting time and energy away from teaching and learning.

It is seemingly apparent that the children in Guyana are aware of their rights, but not their responsibilities, and by extension, this misguided notion is also applicable to their parents.

Teachers should be sensitive to parental anxieties and concerns, and  there remains a limit to the behaviour that they should be expected to deal with. Once there is physical aggression, verbal intimidation or assault, then a different call to action is warranted. Strange, but nevertheless true, every attack comes with an underlying message.

It is important to peel back the layers and extract the message. What is implied here, is that there is always something else motivating the behaviour, some deeper need that the parent or student is trying to address, via the attack mode. Administrators are not off the hook in any way, as there is a need for the teachers to see through demonstrable actions that they have the full support and collaboration of the administrator, especially in times of crisis.

At the risk of being accused of adding fuel to fire, or attachment of any similar moniker, permit me, as a former educator, to point out some irregularities in the handling of the recent incident involving Fort Wellington Secondary School teacher, Marlon Daniels.

In the first instance, why was the miscreant in the classroom? No pedagogical instruction should have begun once there was an alien present? What means of discipline is in place, for incidents such as the one described? 

Shouldn’t the Principal be summoned by some means other than having the teacher leave an already disturbed learning environment to accompany “potty mouth” to the Headmaster’s office.  To tell the truth there was far too much oral discourse transpiring between the injured teacher and the foul-mouthed student.

Once handed over to the Headmaster, there was no need for the teacher to be part of what turned out to be an interactive three-ring circus, with the lead actor being apprised of the likely actions that will be taken by a member of the supporting cast. Of greater concern is the statement in the media, made by the injured party: “He was loud, shouting across the classroom and I just asked him to leave, and other teachers are scared of him…”  Such an acknowledgement warrants a different view of the situation. What has brought about this existing trepidation among the teachers? To whom was the fear disclosed?  How were previous misdeeds concerning this student dealt with? 

Notwithstanding, the time has arrived, the call is being sounded for a cessation of the aggression towards teachers.  It is important to identify the factors that allow violence toward teachers to occur in the first place.  Teachers, themselves, play pivotal roles in reducing school violence via their classroom practices. 

It has been suggested that teachers should engage in deliberate evidence-based practices to reduce the likelihood of aggression or violence in their classrooms, clearly stating classroom and school rules and being consistent in modeling and rewarding positive behaviours are strategies that can improve student behaviour.

Teachers can also improve classroom management by being more flexible and communicating clearly with students in order to reduce their uncertainties about assignments or other class work. Schools also need to have clear plans for responding to students who show signs of behaviour issues, as well as a plan for students who have violated behavioral expectations .

Specifically, Administration and staff need to establish and implement consequences for students who demonstrate major and minor rule infractions. Overarching and undergirding the levels of efforts is the vitally important, yet often overlooked, school leadership factor.

Headmasters/Headmistresses, School Commissioners and other leaders should, first of all, institute a thorough investigation into the facts surrounding the allegations of violence directed toward educators. Heads should take all necessary steps to respond, both privately and publicly, in a supportive fashion to the affected teachers, and should address larger school and community needs when violence is perpetrated.  Not only are these steps pivotal in preventive , but also far-reaching, with respect to teacher recruitment and retention. 

Teachers need to speak with their principal as soon as threatening or abusive communication appears. The response, or lack of, teaches parents what they can get away with.  A coordinated response should be developed with the principal to let the parent know what will not be tolerated.  Basic respect is not negotiable and failure to do so will result in action being taken. 

What about the Parent-Teacher Associations in Guyana? Are they alive, or is there a need for them to be revived?  Where are the Guidance Counsellors? 

Conclusively, the message to be sent to parents is clear: cease the aggression and behaviour so wild, for it severely hinders the progress of your child.

Yvonne Sam
Montreal, Canada

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