Being a school warden – creating opportunities for self-reflection

This is the first of a three-part series exploring unwritten responsibilities of a school warden, written by a teacher, who doubles up as a school warden.

Introduction

The appointment of a teacher to become a warden is often a dreaded affair. It is a job position that needs to be filled but no one really wants. It impinges on personal time and space while the allowance is abysmal. For some bizarre reasons the victim-candidate is always teachers although there is a circular that allows administration to appoint non-academic staff to be one. Collaterally, the already difficult task of a teacher is compounded by the roles and responsibilities of the warden. Succinctly, it is a job not every teacher can commit fully and do successfully. 

However, the job does bring a few perks if the teacher is able to execute his or her task effectively. Among them would be from convenient accommodation (apply to those who live in the warden’s residence located in the school), expedited administration matters to commanding the respect from the hostel students (which eases behavior management). Regardless, being a warden is treacherous and requires one to be resolute, cool-headed and tactful along the way.

Laying the Foundation: Opportunities for self-reflection

The teenage phase is a transitional stage where individuals are still: discovering who they are, exploring possibilities and testing their limits. These circumstances can put a teenager in a ‘break or make’ conundrum – either they find the right friends and environment to grow successfully as an individual or otherwise. In fact, students who live in a hostel are exposed to both possibilities. With the lack of supervision, enforcement and the failure to instill proper values and iron-clad discipline, the hostel students’ upbringing will be compromised. Rampant unruly behaviours and discipline problems can be expected that inevitably result to; difficulty in fulfilling the institutional mission and vision. As mentioned before, not every teacher is meant to be a warden and succeed. Some wardens are just there for the sake of being there with no drive, no spirit and when the month is due, they collect their meager allowance of RM250.

Speaking from experience, this stage where teen students are left unchecked (if you may forgive the term), interventions are very difficult to administer. Some behaviours have already fossilized and been assumed ‘right’ by them. It is quite common to find students smoking secretly in a hostel. However, for students to smoke leisurely in their rooms or dorms without fear of getting caught and throwing cigarette butts at obvious places, that is entirely another matter. A stern remedy would probably prove effective, nonetheless Newton’s third law states that to every action, there is an equal and opposite force. In other words, a sudden and strict action to address misbehaviours will utterly fail. Instead, a softer approach can be considered – persuasion. A choice especially suitable when fighting a battle alone and as a greenhorn.

Aristotle indicates that persuasion works best if one appeals to reason, emotion and morality. Bear in mind, the employment of these three tactics should be done simultaneously. Introduction of disciplinary repercussion and stern action or advice must be justified for students to see reason. A change in routine or way of life is often met with negative reactions. Thus, reason is a way to recalibrate their thinking and behaviour. Furthermore, always remind the students that every action taken is to help them rather than mere punishment or scolding. Emotional and morality can be addressed through counseling and religious programmes that promote good values and impact them spiritually. These programmes must be constantly conducted to see any real effect. However, effort involving fellow teachers can be contentious because hostel matters requires ‘going the extra mile’ which not everyone is willing to. Here, a warden needs to be tactful and creative in getting help and getting people on board with your effort. 

After getting the persuasive initiatives up and running, one can then introduce limits to misbehaviours. Setting up some ground rules and do not compromise on them. Bear in mind that students will test these rules whether consciously or otherwise. At this point, whatever punishment a warden has promised earlier, he or she must deliver or risk being ridiculed and mocked. So, think about the action that can be taken within the given authority or consult with the administration and hash out the severity of a punishment and warnings before it is carried out. Of course, sympathy or compassion will cause hesitation in delivering the punishment, but it must be done. Consider it as a part of the education process for that said student – accepting in life every action has consequences and ‘you’ have a choice. Just that from a psychological aspect, the student being punished must know how he or she is wrong. So rationalising about it afterwards will provide proper closure to the student.   Believe it or not, punished students will come to term with it (or at least try) while others will come to respect the warden.

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