Teacher absenteeism in PNG is child abuse, says Abp. Stephen Reichert of Madang
11 SEPT 2013.
“Teachers who are absent from the classroom day after day, or even occasionally, are guilty of child abuse too. They are neglecting children put in their care. It is wrong. This is a serious matter since it can leave the little ones intellectually handicapped for life. Absentee teachers also betray the trust of the parents of their students.”
I write this letter to you, teachers in Catholic Agency Schools, to encourage you in your very important profession, which is to educate young boys and girls and form them as good Christians and citizens. You do this in the classroom but you also do it by the example of your own lives.
Children listen to you as you teach them. They do the assignments you give them. They gain valuable information about many things and they acquire skills that will help them be successful and happy in life. Work hard, prepare well and be a dedicated teacher in the classroom.
Young people observe you, their teacher, very carefully both in and out of the classroom seven days a week. They talk about you among themselves. After all they are trying to learn how they should behave as they grow up. So, obviously, your behaviour as a married man or woman, father and mother of a family, or as a single mature adult person, is of great importance. Strive to be the best person you can be and therefore a great example to the children you are teaching and forming for life.
Who is responsible for the education of children? This responsibility belongs primarily to the parents. We have to make sure that parents understand this so that they begin the education of their children in the family home when their children are still small. You teachers should remind parents of this when you gather them for meetings and when you have other occasions to speak to parents. I try to do this from time to time myself when I preach at Mass in church.
Later, as children grow up, their parents need help from others to provide a good education for their children. So we have schools where professionally trained teachers like yourselves assist parents in the education of their children. What a huge responsibility you teachers take upon yourselves. During those hours when the child is in the classroom you are almost like parents to them. You can do so much good, but if you are not dedicated, competent, patient and hard working you can do very much harm too.
Most of you are parents yourselves so you can set a good example for the parents of your students by the way you live your family life. Teach your own children as many things as you can in your family home, even before they begin school. They can already begin learning the ABCs, how to count, how to read and write, learn the names of different things around them, expand their vocabulary and their ability to speak English.
More important still, you should teach your children how to behave properly, what is right and wrong, how to respect and treat others in a good, loving and honest way. Of course, your personal good behaviour in your own home, as well as how you relate to others in the community, is a very important lesson for your children to follow. Your students and their parents benefit from your good example too. Your good Christian behaviour will also be a good example for everyone in your local community.
Correct your children when they do wrong things but do not lose your temper and discipline them with angry words and violent actions. If you correct your own children and your students in school in a patient and sensible way, without resorting to cursing, insults and violence, you will be a great model in the community where there is so much violence, harsh behaviour and angry insulting language, which only makes things worse.
Remember this and think about it, your children, even those two, three, four and five years old, are learning how to behave by seeing how you act in the different things that happen every day in the family and the community. Children learn how to love one another from their loving parents who have created a loving, peaceful and happy Christian family environment. They learn honesty from honest parents. They learn respect for other by seeing this value put into practice by their parents. The boys learn respect for their sisters and other girls by seeing the respect and love the father and husband has for his wife and mother of the family. Of course, bad example is as powerful as good example when it comes to what children learn from adults. Too many children go down the wrong path because they follow the example of adults who are behaving badly.
Most important of all is the spiritual development of children. From a very early age, begin to teach your children about God, the Ten Commandments, the stories of the Bible, the Old and New Testaments. Teach them about Jesus Christ and the Good News he came to proclaim to all people of every age, about his death and Resurrection. Teach them about the Holy Spirit. Instruct them about the Mass and Holy Communion. Teach them about what is said in the Nicene Creed, which we pray together every Sunday at Mass. Teach them about the Seven Sacraments. Tell them about the Blessed Mother Mary and the saints. Teach them how to pray. Make sure you have family prayer in your home. Take your children with you to Mass every Sunday and have them sit beside you in the church. Do all these things in your family and be a good example for your students and the parents of the children you teach in school too. You are very careful to provide enough food for your own children to eat, clothing to wear, a good house to live in. You care for them when they get sick. You work very hard to make sure they have all their physical needs. You often make big sacrifices to do this. Be willing to work hard and make sacrifices so that your children have everything they need to grow spiritually too. Be a good and active member of the church where you worship.
So many times I have witnessed young men and women, now grown up, seeking out one of their former teachers and, with loving words, thanking this man or woman who was such a help to them when they were young. This must be the greatest reward a teacher can receive, to see their students develop into good, mature, successful and happy people, who appreciate what their teacher did for them when they were young. Seeing a young man or woman, now an adult, thanking their former teacher for what he or she did for them is indeed a beautiful sight.
During the last meeting of the Catholic Bishops Conference, which was held at Alexishafen in April, the bishops discussed child protection and the appropriate care of children. The negative side of this is child abuse, which is a serious problem in PNG. We issued a pastoral letter about these things. I am attaching the pastoral letter so each of you have a copy of it. As teachers, you are with children every day so you should read this pastoral letter carefully.
For a teacher, the worst form of child abuse is sexual abuse of a student, sexual words and suggestions, inappropriate touches and even sexual intercourse with a minor, that is, a young person up to the age of eighteen. PNG has very strong laws about sexual abuse of a minor. The worst cases can land a person in prison for very many years.
Corporal punishment is not allowed in schools. Hitting a child and any other forms of physical punishment to inflict physical pain on a student for some bad behaviour is child abuse. As dedicated and mature professional teachers, you need to develop patient and sensible ways to discipline children who misbehave. You will be considered a wise teacher worthy of great respect if you become skilled at successfully disciplining children in a calm and peaceful way.
Calling a child names, describing a child as ignorant, rubbish or using other insulting and harsh words and embarrassing a child in front of others is wrong. Insulting the child’s family as a way to punish a student is wrong-headed and not acceptable. Doing such things is child abuse, emotional abuse of the little one, which is done to hurt a child who is misbehaving. It is wrong. Again, develop sensible and loving ways to correct your students.
Teachers who are absent from the classroom day after day, or even occasionally, are guilty of child abuse too. They are neglecting children put in their care. It is wrong. This is a serious matter since it can leave the little ones intellectually handicapped for life. Absentee teachers also betray the trust of the parents of their students.
That is all I want to say to you for now. You are such important people in the life of children and in the community too. Be proud of your profession and strive to be the best teacher possible. God bless you all.
Sincerely in Christ,
Archbishop Stephen Reichert OFM Cap.
Archbishop of Madang
27 August 2013