IN American jargon, when teachers are told not to “cross the line”, it is a warning not to engage in improper or intimate relationship with their students.
But, this is not what I have in mind for my column today. What I wish to remind our teachers is that since they have their Teachers’ Code of Conduct or Code of Ethics, they must always adhere and abide by them in their relationship vis-à-vis students, parents and other teachers.
According to the relevant material on the subject I found in cyberspace, the code states, inter alia, that a teacher:
SHALL give foremost consideration to the pupil’s wellbeing;
SHALL act, and be seen to act, with justice;
SHALL exercise authority in accordance with the law of the land; and,
SHALL not intentionally expose the pupil to embarrassment or disparagement.
Teachers should always bear in mind that there is a thin line separating disciplinary measures (which are acceptable) from criminal conduct (which is punishable by law). For some teachers, it may be difficult to determine where the former ends and the latter begins.
Since “ignorance of the law is no excuse”, I hope our federal and state education authorities can organise a legal awareness course for our teachers (if they had not done so in the past) so that they will keep within the boundaries of proper student discipline and not cross the line.
What worries parents and educationists today is that young students, who cannot cope with the trauma or shame of being “punished” by their teachers, may entertain thoughts of committing suicide. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between 15 and 24 years old. Among younger people (between 10 and 14 years old), the rate has doubled over the last two decades. Suicide remains the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, where reportedly, every 15 minutes someone dies by suicide.
In December 2012, in Osaka, Japan, a second-year high school student committed suicide after he was punished the day before by his basketball club coach. The student left a suicide note addressed to the coach. The Osaka City Education Committee was later informed that the student had “suffered frequent corporal punishment at the hands of the team coach”.
In September last year, an 11-year old student in India was made to stand for three hours by his teacher in class. He later committed suicide by consuming poison. A suicide note was later found in his school bag, written in Hindi (translated into English by the Hindustan Times) as follows: “I had my first exam today on Sept 15. My class teacher made me stand till 9:15am because she only listens to sycophants. I have decided to die. My last wish is that “my ma’am” should not punish any other student in such a manner”. His parents later blamed the school authorities for the tragedy.
In November last year, another young student in India committed suicide after being punished by her teacher. The student, Puja Pal, had scored low marks in her examination and was punished by the teacher in front of her juniors. Depressed, she committed suicide. Her parents blamed the teacher for the tragedy, describing the punishment by the teacher as the cause of the suicide. Police are investigating.
Most recently, last December, Elias Sharifi, a 12-year-old Iranian student in Houweyzeh city committed suicide after being punished by his teacher. According to a report from the Ahwazi Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), the student was punished by the teacher that same morning by ordering him to do more homework than usual. Overcome by the punishment, upon arriving home he used his mother’s scarf to hang himself. His mother brought him to a clinic to seek help, but he died soon after that.
Having taught at high school (in the early 1960s), and later at several universities (in the late 1980s and early 1990s), I have always believed that teaching is a most noble profession and nothing gives me more pleasure than to see my former students achieve success in their chosen career after their graduation. One of my daughters chose to teach despite her tertiary education in accountancy.
Salleh Buang formerly served the Attorney-General’s Chambers before he left for private practice, the corporate sector and the academia.