Back in the day, teachers were a yard stick for measuring good morals in society. They were hailed as role models and society held them in high esteem. It was a sense of pride to be referred to as a teacher-a profession many took up as a calling to serve society.
However, critics say some of the teachers today are a contrast when it comes to upholding the cherished values of the profession. Teacher absenteeism and drunkenness, among other vices are a real threat to the quality of education.
Last month, 32 teachers in Nyagatare District in the Eastern Province were accused of professional misconduct. 14 asked to be given one more chance, while 12 were accused of graver misconduct and taken to court.
According to district authorities, the teachers failed to meet expectations and some head teachers were accused of mismanagement of school funds, while some were accused of misconduct that involved alcohol consumption, absenteeism, use of bad language, negative remarks during evaluation, poor time management, and shabbiness, among others.
The district mayor, George Mupenzi, said the affected teachers had been warned several times about their behaviour but they failed to heed the warnings.
Authorities believe that a teacher's role is to effectively deliver knowledge and keep a conducive atmosphere for learning; however, this can easily be affected if teachers' conduct is not appropriate, making it easy for students to go astray.
It is argued that there are ways in which teachers' conduct and attitude negatively impacts the academic performance and overall wellbeing of the students.
Why code of conduct should be observed
Claudine Nzitabakuze, the head of Teacher Education Management and Professionalism department at Rwanda Education Board (REB), says teachers are like any other civil servants when it comes to sanctions and the district as their immediate supervisor/employer can enforce any lawful sanctions.
He says that it's vital for each and every school to have a code of conduct, for teachers to follow the rules, norms and responsibilities. Failure to comply should lead to necessary consequences.
Paul Oga, the Dean of Students at Green Hills Academy, says that teachers need to be professional and work hard; teaching is a high calling from God that requires being a role model and passing on knowledge to students.
He points out that if a teacher misinforms students and gives them 'waste', they will also produce the waste.
Oga notes that for instance, teachers can't come to class drunk, unkempt or unprepared with no lesson plan; this is an indicator that whatever will be delivered to the students will not be of quality or effective.
"It's important that each and every teacher leads by example as a good role model. Good conduct from teachers means they care and take their jobs seriously and have the need to see their students succeed," he says.
William Wasswa, the director of quality assurance at ESSA-Nyarugunga Secondary School in Kicukiro District, says teachers should align their personal objectives with those of the school and students and other stakeholders in the education system or establishment.
"Teachers nurture tomorrow's leaders and if not taught well, with hard work and discipline, then all will be lost.
"What kind of future human resource base or workforce are they going to produce?" he wonders.
He, however, adds that he thinks and believes that a good teacher motivates students to work hard by leading by example.
Teachers are role models
Paul Swaga, an English instructor at Akilah Institute believes that teachers are supposed to play a cardinal role in shaping the minds of young people, and this requires teachers to act as role models in all aspects.
He notes that demonstrating integrity and promoting accountability in all school activities is important.
"As education torch bearers, we cannot show our learners the right way by doing wrong things.
"Young people are not supposed to see contradictions in the way we conduct ourselves, yet we try to preach values to them," Swaga says.
According to Character Education, an advocacy group based in Washington that fosters character education; the psychological classroom environment is just as important as the physical one. Instructors/teachers who exhibit calm and rational behaviour can help maintain a supportive environment that encourages learning.
It indicates further that positive actions from teachers support a happy learning experience, affect problem-solving and decision-making, lead to better performance and improved social environments, and help each student achieve set goals to perform at the best of their ability.
Frank Mandela, a teacher and parent, says teachers are role models, when their conduct is poor, even the students will act the same, thinking it is okay.
Mandela notes that lack of respect for time can also be a huge hindrance to learning. Students' academic results will deteriorate due to absenteeism of their teachers, or poor discipline caused by teachers' misconduct, such as showing up drunk.
"The thing that teachers should be aware of is that students can be quick to 'learn' and demonstrate teachers' behaviour in general, therefore, being mindful as a teacher is vital," he says.
Because students normally have two major influences in their life, Marie Ann Uwamahoro, a parent and member of the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) at GS Rugando School, says that parents should also be role models and set a good example for their children.
"It all starts at home; children will always want to be like their parents, therefore, it's important for parents to be good role models to their children. By doing that, students will exhibit such behaviour at school and their academic performance will improve," she says.
She adds that when a teacher's behaviour is not professional, they are in no position to motivate students.
"When learners are motivated, they perform better academically and socially. In case a teacher isn't in a position to do this, the learners won't make any progress as far as learning is concerned," Uwamahoro says.
Making a change
According to Faustin Halelimana, the secretary general, Rwanda Teachers Union, each and every educationist should be aware that there is a law governing all civil servants in Rwanda, and a special law governing teachers, therefore, any misbehaviour will lead them to face the law.
He says that when it comes to teachers conduct; in case of misconduct, serious disciplinary action should be taken.
According to research, motivation is the fuel on which education runs. Students who feel motivated and proud of their actions will engage in more positive behaviour and achieve better results.
For students to follow a code of conduct provided by the school, such as dress code, time management and many others, Uwamahoro says they have to follow examples of those who set the rules.
"When students strictly observe the rules set, it helps lead students towards success. All this helps schools in general to run with a fundamental understanding of expectations between teachers and learners," she adds.
Students share their views
Fabrice Niyomugabo, S3 student
Students are affected the most when teachers portray certain bad behaviour. For instance, the way they dress or present themselves is part of teaching, if this is weakened in any way, the whole process is affected.
Erick Shema, S2 student, GS Rugando
It is easier to learn when a teacher is at their best behaviour. If a teacher is an alcoholic, I believe the content passed to students will be tainted. This is wrong because in the end, it's our future that is being interfered with.
Fiona Imbabazi, S6 leaver
Some male teachers favour girls, in fact, some go ahead to give them credit in exams yet they don't deserve it, possibly with expectations of a 'relationship'. These girls think that this is the way to be better in life, and end up expecting favours all their life.
Isaiah Niyonkuru, S3 student
I think each school should have a dress code for teachers, in some cases, female teachers dress inappropriately. Personally, I believe this can influence female students to do the same, especially at the adolescent stage.