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Mwalimu Ngugi Asks if Presence of Teachers in Schools Breeds Contempt

Law number 16 of Robert Greene book “48 Laws of Power”, advises leaders to ‘use absence to increase respect and honour’.

Grene’s philosophy is in tandem with the common English saying which states that, familiarity brings contempt.

Greene cautions leaders to make calculated absence in institutions they head so as to retain, or even strengthen their standing in society.

Indeed, it’s an irrefutable fact that a man/woman misses what he/she loves while away from it. The longer it stays away from you, the more you yearn for it.

In cognisance of this fact, some leaders creatively make technical disappearance so as to boost their standing in the society.

Contributing to the topic on importance of “heavy” absence among leaders, writer Steve Rasnic has pointed out that the strongest ‘presence is so often an absence’.

Probably this explains why many leaders, including respected educators, tend to uphold the principle of prolonged absence and apply it in institutions they are managing.

Many heads, who avoid one on one interaction with students and teachers, are informed by this paradigm.

They fear that saturates interaction with students and their peers may lead to diminishing respect which subsequently leads to erosion of their status as leaders.

Educators who religiously subscribe to this school of thought eventually create in them an aura of mystery around them making them feared, or probably revered.

It is this same reason that makes lead educators shun their classroom roles as the art of teaching and learning abhors absence.

There are some educators who justify their absence by referring to the principle of ‘social distance’ which basically cautions teachers to maintain reasonable distance between them and their juniors. This is done so as to maintain minimum contacts between the two parties.

A minimum social contact between lead educators and teachers or learners presumably enhances respect between the two parties.

Indeed, some heads of institutions believe that even much visits in the staffroom may lead to excessive exposure of the leader which may irredeemably reduce the leader’s influence over his/her peers.

This position is further supported by Comte de Bussy, who has asserted that absence is to love what wind is to fire; ‘when big it extinguishes, when small it enkindles the great’.

Many leaders continuously seek relevance and sense of control. Strategic doses of absence make them get the much needed relevance and attention from their charges.

In one of my many tete a tete with my good friend, and former Olkejuado High school mate, Oseur Lekasi (currently Entarara Secondary School Principal), he told me he believes there are certain critical roles in school that he cannot be assisted in doing. Obviously, I can’t agree with him more.

Only presence and in fact plenty of presence can make lead educators perform certain critical roles in school, and especially the teaching roles.

Effective teaching is directly proportional to increased contact time between the teacher and learners.

This must be done even if presence may precipitate familiarity. In my view, successful heads are equally successful teachers. Schools are citadels of education, I have always believed.

There can be no education to write about if there is no teaching. The number one teacher is the head of institution.

Personally, I have always believed in running a school like a family. Our families require more and more presence of the leader.

Jesse Jackson, another prominent figure, avers that ‘your children need your presence more than your presents.

Because I am guided by the slogan – the child comes first – this makes my presence in school consistently perennial.

I think presence can be missed, and actually yearned for if it’s enveloped by purpose and friendliness.

Coolsmart has observed that absence sharpens love, presence strengthens it.My experience informs me that more stay with children punctuated with eating and drinking together enhances the bond between educators and students.

It builds trust and children feel secure, and taken care of. Genuine and quality presence of educators does not erode honour or respect.

To the contrary, it cultivates harmonious co-existence and gives children more time to study their role models.

One writer once wrote, ‘One of the best feeling in the world is knowing that your presence, and absence both mean something to someone.’

This explains why I constantly remind my students about the theory of presence and absence.

I do that to show them that the absence  of a good teacher is felt in the opposite way as his/her presence.

The emphasis here is on presence. Chronic absentee teachers do not connect with pupils. They are not change agents nor are they role models.

Someone said give the gift of your absence to those who do not appreciate your presence. According to me, it’s only unappreciated presence that should be shunned.

Good presence will forever stimulate hunger for more, and more presence.

James Ngugi, formerly Enkii Boys Secondary School Principal (Kajiado County), teaches Kiswahili, History and government at Kiirua Boys, Meru County.





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