by Aubrey Makhubedu (National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa)
My participation in the School Related Gender Based Violence (SRGBV) project helped me to face my own challenges as a school manager.
Violence experienced by school managers renders many schools dysfunctional in terms of ensuring that learning and teaching takes place in a safe environment. Emotionally wounded school management are unable to support teachers, and teachers who are supposed to be in loco parents to learners are not able to do this because they themselves require help.
School managers are supposed to be supported by the department of education, but I was to find no support. There is meant to be collaboration between the Departments of Social Development, Police, Justice and Education but in reality collaboration does not exist. School governing bodies do not know how to support learners and teachers who are faced with life threatening situations. SRGBV continues to increase in our schools. The voices of learners and teachers are marginalized.
The employee wellness program offered by the department of education is not accessible to all educators who need it, anywhere in the country. Department officials are unable to reach every school to offer workshops. Until there is more support in place, we will continue to have a high number of managers who are emotionally wounded, and school managers will remain under pressure and undermined.
When I was appointed as a school manager, I thought being young would give me the motivation to work hard at Mahlareng high school, a school of 800 learners. Unfortunately, it brought emotional trauma, psychological diseases and poor self- esteem into my life. I am now serving six years in the institution but emotional abuse, assault and victimization are the order of the day.
Two years after being appointed as manager, a teacher came to my office to discuss his absenteeism. Emotions were high and the teacher ended up assaulting me in front of two other teachers.
The matter was reported to the authorities and the teacher was fined R10,000, after one of the teachers who had been present wrote a witness statement. The second teacher refused to write a statement.
To my surprise all the other teachers contributed donations to assist the teacher to pay his R10,000 fine. I was left alone, scared and without counselling. I had to go back to school to work with the same teacher.
Three months down the line I called another teacher to my office to discuss his absenteeism. He also assaulted me in the passage of the admin block. I reported this to the Department. The teacher was advised by his union to resign before the matter was transferred to the Dispute Management Unit.
I was left alone again, without support, without counselling.
I had no one to talk to, no place to go, no one wanted to listen to my challenges. I trusted no one in the institution, the department, and even in my own family.
I thought this was the end of emotional abuse, but four months down the line my office was burned down. Not a single teacher said anything when investigators interviewed staff members. I was drained emotionally and physically.
While I was trying to recollect myself, a grade 8 learner came to my office, to report how her male science teacher had kissed her in the science laboratory. According to department policies this is serious misconduct. To my surprise, although the deputy head reported this matter to the department, an agreement was reached between the grandmother of the young girl and the teacher. Money was exchanged between the teacher and the grandmother. The child received no support or counselling. The teacher returned to school to continue his job as though nothing had happened. This incident made me further distrust my fellow teachers.
After all of these experiences I felt there was no one who was listening to me. I felt like I was living WITH THIS BROKEN SOUL. Fortunately, I was able to speak to my family. My sister who is a medical doctor arranged for me to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital for three months. During the time I spent there I was assisted with skills to cope with situations I found myself in. The sessions with psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and occupational therapists helped in developing my ability to survive in any working place.
I realised that one must be able to share with other people facing similar challenges.This helps to overcome one’s fears.Short courses can help one to cope with the situation one finds himself or herself in. Courses can help – on things like setting boundaries, being assertive, self-acceptance, moving forward, letting go of the past, understanding your weakness, different types of management styles, a healthy eating life style, separating negative and positive thoughts, working on self confidence and self-esteem, exercising.
Telling your family how you are feeling about the situation you find yourself in also helps. This journey is sometimes a painful one, but at the end of the tunnel there will be a light.
May the painful voices of younger managers be HEARD by everyone. Let us take a stand to end SRGBV IN OUR SCHOOL.
To know more about the initiative: https://genderatwork.org/education-unions-take-action-to-end-srgbv/.
The views, opinions and words written in the article are solely those of the author. The article reflects the author’s journey, view point and progress in their own words.