Monday, December 8, 2008

And one more thing...

The insights into my students’ lives that I am privy to through reading their written work never cease to amaze, shock, and often dishearten me.

In English, end-of-year exams are administered in 3 sections on three different days.

Paper One is based on Language. Here, spelling, grammar and reading comprehension are tested. Paper Two focuses on literature and students are asked questions about short stories and poetry that they studied over the year. Paper Three evaluates their writing skills through an essay, as well as transactional and functional writing tasks (letter-writing, dialogue, etc.). Students are provided with a range of essay topics, from which they can select one.

In Western teaching contexts, there is protocol for teachers who are confronted with personal disclosures of a serious nature made by students. If a student confides in a teacher that s/he is or has been abused, neglected, is involved in anything of an illegal nature, etc., or if the teacher has a reason to believe that any such thing may be taking place, we are legally obligated to report said information to the school social worker or the institution’s equivalent, so the matter can be handled by social or child services as need be.

At my school, and I would venture to say at the majority of other township schools, so lacking is funding that having something that even resembles a trained social worker is extremely unlikely. At our school one of our Heads of Department is responsible for addressing issues relating to students’ social welfare, bearing in mind that this is on top of her already very heavy teaching load. It is also doubtful that she is in any way technically qualified to perform such tasks, though not to undermine her ability to do so.

Of the close to 100 essays that I marked over the last month, I have read 5 essays that discuss incidences of abuse and rape by relatives, family friends (one of whom was named) and strangers, 4 about crimes being committed/witnessed, 3 about the death of a loved one, and one that described having sex with a well-known local rapper. This author of this last one is 16 years old. All are written in first person and vivid detail. It is not impossible that these may be works of fiction, although I am inclined to believe otherwise.

I discussed some of my findings with an English department colleague who empathized with the difficult situation we find ourselves in when we uncover revelations such as these. Unfortunately, unless a student actually verbally confides in a teacher that something is going on and that they want help or it is blatantly obvious that an intervention is needed, it is difficult for us as teachers and as a school to act. Most crushing is that because such occurrences and treatment are so common in students’ lives and in the experiences of those around them, many do not even think to reach out.

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