Exposing an injustice or an unnecessary practice may seem frivolous and puts the ‘informant’ in a bad light, but it usually brings about positive outcomes in the long run.
LET’S face it. Most of us teachers have at some point been unhappy with our bosses.We’ve said some unflattering things about their directives and the way they’ve run the school.
These expressions of dissatisfaction are usually done behind their backs, during a break, over a cup of coffee with colleagues in the school canteen or when you meet after a particularly stressful day.
Call it an airing of grievances, letting off steam, unwinding, or just de-stressing but we do it all the time. Perhaps it is even a little therapeutic.
Whenever teachers congregate the topic of conversation inevitably turns to school matters.
We talk about our classes, subjects, students and things that are going on in the school.
Someone may bring up the topic of a directive or instruction from the school authorities which has caused general dissatisfaction.
Soon everyone joins in and begins declaring how the move was a wrong one and how badly the proposal would affect teachers and schools.
Then, someone else who claims to be more knowledgeable about education policies speaks up on how our bosses have got it all “mixed up”, and are not handling things the way they should.
Either they have misread instructions from the “top”, or chosen to selectively ignore parts of it especially where it involves the welfare of teachers.
By now everyone is feeling a little indignant that they have to adhere to something that was never intended for them by those higher up in authority.
There is more venting, and more comments are made about incompetence and bad leadership and words like “megalomania” and “autocratic” are thrown in.
Although the teachers may feel a little better that everyone is now feeling as indignant as they are, they know that they will still need to adhere to the instructions.
After all, they tell themselves, it is no use protesting.
They know that their annual performance appraisals may be affected if they fail to comply.
At the back of their minds, they know of teachers who have been given raw deals, or even transferred out of the school because they were too outspoken about their feelings on certain directives from the authorities.
And then the news about the anonymous letter comes.
In bits and pieces and from hushed tones, the teachers get the news that someone has written a letter to the very “top” regarding the state of affairs in the school and implicating the school leaders.
Nobody knows for sure what the contents of the letter are, what really was said and the names that were mentioned.
Everyone however, wants to know. For one of the very rare times, teachers actually look forward to attending the “special emergency staff-meeting” that is announced.
There is much whispering and speculation about who the whistle-blower could be.
At the meeting, there is an air of excitement and anticipation.
Several emotional speeches are made, a few tears are shed and declarations of sincere intentions are made.
Teachers are reminded by those above them that it was only for the welfare of the school and the students that certain rules were enforced.
Forgiveness is sought for misinterpretation of intentions.
They are also willing to step down as the interest of the school is of utmost importance.
At such an expression of heartfelt sincerity, someone rises up and vehemently professes the full support and backing of the entire teaching staff for their superiors.
The person or persons who had written this letter ought to be ashamed of themselves, they say, for putting the school in such a bad light.
Other heads nod in agreement and voices are heard expressing disappointment against the action of the whistle-blower or informant.
Some of them are the same people who had protested the loudest against school policies during the “venting-of-feelings” session earlier.
While all this is happening and people are voicing their opinions, there would be a few who remain entirely clueless and completely unaware of what has been going on.
These would of course be the same teachers who were totally engrossed with their teaching duties that they had no time for what else was going on, or even for an independent opinion. But then again ignorance has its own set of blissful advantages.
What is ironic about the whole scene is how tables are sometimes so quickly turned when the whistle is blown. I have seen it happen many times and in different situations both inside and outside of the school setting.
Shifting the blame
Instead of focusing on the issue that has been brought to light and dealing with it, the attention is turned to the one who “told”.
Quite suddenly, the actual injustice or offence seems to be less serious than the act of exposing it.
The expressions of regret that are made by those directly involved are also often more about the fact they were found out, rather than a genuine feeling of remorse.
It has never ceased to amaze me how people can sometimes overlook or downplay the enormity of a transgression, and instead shift the blame on the one who has exposed it.
Perhaps it is a form of denial; The feeling that if something that is not quite right in the system is not spoken about, then it doesn’t exist.
There is a difference between exposing something that is fundamentally wrong and mere snitching.
At no point do we want to encourage tattling or telling tales either among our colleagues or our students.
But when there arises a situation where something is dreadfully wrong, when there is an injustice or abuse, then as educators, we need to be the first to come forward with the truth and encourage our students to do the same.
Over the years, many things about my students have come to light just because someone informed me.
There was a time many years ago when a student informed me about her classmates who were offering social escort services to older men in the neighbourhood.
I remember the girl who told about her friend who was being abused by her stepfather.
Then there was the boy who came forward and told us about the drugs and gang-recruitment activities that were going on in school. No, we don’t encourage our students to tell tales but we want them to be able to know when it is right to blow the whistle.
Even if motives for exposing or informing are sometimes selfishly motivated, it is the issue itself that is really important.
Once the truth of a situation has been established, and if something needs to be done to put it right, then we should get on with that task instead of focusing on the one who “told”.