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Teachers should be respected, not bullied

Teachers are usually held in high esteem in society as they are rightly perceived as the providers of knowledge to youngsters preparing themselves to become members of the community. So when one hears about acts of violence committed against teachers, it is justified to ask why such crimes take place and what is being done to prevent them.

The humiliating ordeal that a teacher of English at St Ignatius secondary boys’ school in Tal-Ħandaq went through at the hands of an irresponsible mother shows that school bullying is not a phenomenon that just affects students but is also a sad reality among adults.

This particular incident of a parent bullying a teacher is surrounded by other worrying elements that indicate that we may also be facing a phenomenon of weak leadership in the management of the educational system.

The police were right to take criminal action against the perpetrator of this vile act of violence. The mother of the child involved in this incident admitted in court to slightly injuring the teacher, saying that she had retaliated because the educator had done the same to her child.

This admission in court prevented the teacher from giving her version of events. But the teacher was not prepared to resort to connivance to avoid the issue from escalating any further.

She spoke to The Times as she was “irked by the tame version of events that emerged in court”. She claims that she was “slapped in the face, punched in the tummy and pushed to the ground. It was a humiliating experience”.

What is more worrying is that this teacher says that she “felt let down by the school administration”. She added “the assistant head even tried to convince me not to report the case to the police”. The Education Ministry denies this claim. There is certainly no place for connivance in cases where teachers are bullied in front of their students

The teacher remarked: “I don’t know who my boss is, whether the headmaster or the education division, but I expected some support from them.” Surely, this is not too much to ask from an employer, though the school said it offered support.

The Malta Union of Teachers took a harsher line, instructing its members not to communicate with the offender and “to refuse to attend any meetings with her”. Perhaps more important, they asked why schools in some trouble spots where violence against school teachers could be a real possibility are not protected by security guards.

One shudders to think what could happen if a deranged person carrying a lethal weapon is allowed free access to a classroom where a teacher is intent on giving a lesson to her students without worrying too much about her personal security.

The contribution that teachers make to society is, unfortunately, often taken for granted.

Our political leaders rightly worry that one of three of students leaves the educational system without obtaining any formal qualifications. This does not augur well for the individual concerned and neither for our prospects of economic prosperity.

The input of teachers to address this weakness is a critical success factor. But teachers, like all other employees, must feel that they are respected and protected from undue risks at their place of work.

The educational authorities should not consider this case as closed. They need to address the concerns of teachers about security and act on the recommendations made by the MUT.

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