Last week I introduced you to the character of Mr. Joe Louis Clark in the 1989 Hollywood film, Lean on Me. This character was done great justice by the mercurial American actor, Morgan Freeman who plays, the tough talking and acting school principal. Mr Clark was charged with revamping the academic and disciplinary fortunes of a school that had been written off the charts of excellence.
As I watched the film, I saw many similarities with schools in Rwanda where discipline is still a big issue. Many a time, teachers seem clueless when it comes to ensuring that students are well mannered and focused on their academics. I thus picked several lessons that I am sure if teachers here employed, a difference could be realised. The lessons are not only for head teachers but also for teachers in general.
The school had been run over by vagabonds who engaged in gang violence and drug abuse. The students were so unruly that teachers lived in fear and some were even assaulted for trying to enforce discipline. In came the no-nonsense Mr. Clark who started by calling a staff meeting where he pointed out to his staff that they had only a year to turn things round.
Mr Clark kicked off his duties by expelling all the drug dealers and users in the school. The lesson here is that some students are a cancer to the well being of a school and need to be kicked out to save the school. He pointed out that one bad apple can spoil the whole cart as he explained to parents whose children had been expelled.
He then gave a second chance to a student who expressed remorse for his drug use habits. However, this was not after he had given him a serious lecture about the dangers of drugs. He even dared the boy to commit suicide since drugs were a slow version of the same. Mr Clark told the boy, “The problem with you teenagers is that you know nothing but you think you are smarter than those of us who have been there before.”
Mr Clark was also very strict when it came to students’ dress code arguing that being well dressed amounted to self-respect. He insisted that all students had to learn the school anthem and should be ready to sing it at any time. Mr Clark even paid attention to apparently minor issues like the appropriate sitting posture of a student.
Mr Clark made it a point to learn most of the students’ names. I have pointed out before how the small trick of knowing students’ names, goes a long way in easing the work of a teacher as far as students’ discipline is concerned. He even occasionally played and joked with his students. In one scene he lets off a student he found imitating him.
More importantly, he offered an ear to students with personal problems. I loved the part in the film where he visited the home of a student who was having personal problems and had a chat with the student’s mother. At the school assemblies, he always talked tough but made it a point to say inspiring words to his students.
As far as the teachers were concerned, Mr Clark questioned whether they took time to prepare for their lessons and if at all they paid extra attention to the weaker students in class. At the same time, he commended those teachers who worked hard.
Each morning before heading to his office, Mr Clark made it a point to walk by the classrooms. Many head teachers I know simply walk to their offices and then tell their secretaries to chase away students, parents and teachers, ostensibly because they are very busy.
The best quote I got from Mr Clark in the movie was, “This is an institution of learning, if you can’t control it how can you teach?” Discipline is the key to academic success.