Integrity lost and yet to be found - The scourge in private education

BY: Evelyn Agyepong
Library photo
Library photo

Having been in the education system in the UK for more than 24 years (22 of which was a teacher in various roles), I was used to working with certain expectations of professional behaviours; which no one ever even questioned.

There was an unspoken understanding that as a teacher, you could change jobs for a whole gamut of reasons, so long as you gave notice and worked through the period of your notice.

This allowed your employer to find a suitable replacement, prepare the children appropriately for a new teacher and perform the requisite 'exit interviews' in readiness for your replacement.

So, if you were job hunting, there was always the understanding that your potential employer will take up references from your current employer.

This meant that you worked professionally to the end and didn't 'burn bridges', meaning you transitioned from one job to the next smoothly and with the ability to communicate with your ex-employers and colleagues.

This of course, with the caveat (in law) that your employer couldn't lie about you when giving references! Otherwise you could sue them for defamation.

Imagine my shock when I realised that despite this being policy in most private schools here, teachers don't seem to follow these guidelines and could/ do leave their jobs with no notice and apparently walk into other jobs with ease.

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This raises major concerns with me.

Will you as the administrator of an institution employ a new member of staff without taking up references from their previous employer? Surely, the way they arrive to take up your position is the way they will leave you!

As a teacher, do you not form any relationships with children? Which makes it always challenging to move on! I know I have stayed at places of work a little longer at times because I had concerns about leaving my classes in the lurch just before they took examinations.

This also raises a much larger discourse.

For example, what happens to those individuals who abuse their positions as teachers and just move from one job to another? I know I could not forgive myself if I knew I had employed someone who abused pupils in my care.

How do we train our teachers in such a way that they understand professional behaviours? How do we propagate integrity in the very young minds that we are moulding if we ourselves intrinsically lack that very characteristic?

I do not advocate importing (wholesale) systems which are used elsewhere such as the UK, US, Finland or Mauritius.

I do, however, feel that basic professional behaviour ought to be part of the training of teachers.

It should be imbibed and not just be a paper task to allow one to pass a course.

Let's imagine a future where a teacher knows that when they move to a new job, their past history will follow them by way of a reference.

I am positive that there will be an improvement in practice and 'integrity' will be learnt and adhered to.

I implore all school administrators to develop the habit of checking references and qualifications for all staff in their institutions.

The future will become brighter for all, especially our most valued possession, the children in our charge.

This change has to be a collective agreement by all involved.

The writer is an educator, social commentator and a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) advocate