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North West teacher fired for assaulting his superior fails in bid to retain his job — and win a R4.6m claim

10 October 2021 - 14:18
The Education Labour Relations Council has upheld the education department's decision to fire a North West teacher who assaulted his superior.
The Education Labour Relations Council has upheld the education department's decision to fire a North West teacher who assaulted his superior.
Image: SAMORN TARAPAN/123rf.com

An errant teacher who beat up his superior and slept during a workshop has failed in his bid to milk the taxpayers of R4.6m.

A ruling handed down by the Education Labour Relations Council this month in former North West teacher Sello Patrick Teffo’s case detailed his odd behaviour.

Teffo, who taught at Retlakgona Primary School, sought reinstatement — or 15 years’ salary in compensation. He taught at the school from 2011 until he was fired in March.

The incidents that led to his axing are bizarre but he blamed a “third force” for his shortcomings. The ruling details a catalogue of his flaws.

Teffo failed to provide complete records of pupils' progress and insight into their individual development and failed to administer a preparatory test for grade 7 pupils resulting in their poor performance.

He also failed to perform his administrative duties by not collecting fees from his pupils during fundraising activities, and did not meet the parents of pupils to discuss their children’s progress when they collected their reports.

In September 2019, Teffo assaulted William Modiroa, a senior education official, who had gone to the school to meet him and the school management. Topping the agenda of the meeting was Teffo’s poor performance and his “behaviour” at a programme support forum.

Teffo reportedly interrupted the session by leaving and returning. He told Modiroa that he was unsettled because “he was drinking water and wanted to relieve himself”.

His explanation for failing to meet the parents was because “the parents do not understand him because he only speaks English”.

This was despite having listed Northern Sotho and Setswana as some of his proficiencies when he got the job. Teffo also told Modiroa, at the meeting, that the reason his mark sheets were incomplete was because the pupils were not submitting tasks.

Modiroa told the arbitrator, Mmamahlola Rabyanyana, during the hearing that Teffo waited for him in the reception area after the meeting and confronted him, “screaming and pointing [a] finger at him”.

"[Teffo] kept approaching him and threw a fist at him. [He] grabbed him by the leg and he fell to the floor. As [Teffo] was on top him, [Teffo’s] supervisor ... and the principal came running and pulled [Teffo] off him ...”

Teffo’s former colleagues also painted a bleak picture of his performance. Boipelo Dijoe, the departmental head for maths and science: intermediate and senior phase, and Teffo’s former supervisor, testified that “his class was always noisy and disruptive. She would go check and found [Teffo] there not doing anything about the situation.

“Sometimes he would be outside the class,” the ruling reads.

Dijoe, who also witnessed the assault, said Teffo waited for  Modiroa “to come out of the principal’s office”.

“He beat Mr Modiroa with a fist on the face and grabbed him by the leg. Mr Modiroa fell. He went on top of Modiroa on the floor. They ran to rescue Mr Modiroa,” Dijoe testified.

“The principal pulled [Teffo] from Mr Modiroa and took him out of the building. He [Teffo] kept on shouting that he was going to kill Mr Modiroa. She did not see Mr Modiroa beating [Teffo].”

Teffo said a “third force” was  “behind learners running on the tables”. But Dijoe disputed the claim and said “the learners would run around in the class in his presence” and that “it was his teaching time and his responsibility to maintain order and educate the children”.

The principal, Rateo Mokoma, echoed Dijoe’s sentiments.

“He said that [Teffo] was not prepared for classes because he failed to submit lesson plans weekly or fortnightly in terms of his job description,” the ruling reads.

“[Teffo] did not have lesson plans by April. They were not even on soft copy. He denied that he discouraged learners to submit their activities. He could not do as he was the one accountable to the parents and department.” Mokoma said “it is pure lies that he instructed the learners to run on the tables”.  

Teffo fought back at the hearing, saying Modiroa punched him. He also testified that he always submitted class lessons plans but the head of department would take a week or two weeks to moderate them.

“Sometimes the printer would not be working, causing the delay. They used to edit lesson plans. The only time he was late to evaluate the learners was when he was away, in meetings, exams but would still catch up with the activities,” the ruling reads.

“He sought intervention from his immediate supervisor to motivate the learners to submit their work. The learners were discouraged by the principal not to submit hence there were blank spaces. He used previous question papers towards exams and gave activities which included 80% from previous exam paper for internal exam and less from activities of the learners’ book.”

He admitted that he had some challenges but he “would keep the learners to order”.

About the workshop forum, he said he remained seated until 12pm, recording all that was being said. After the break, he asked for a further 20 minutes. His group was speaking Tswana and as does not know the language, he was unable “to engage fully with the group”.

He also denied wrongdoing with regards to collecting the money, saying he had delegated the duty to collect the money to the class leader as he was reliable, but on the day he did not submit the money.

“When he asked the learner why he did not submit, he said he should ask the principal for the reason. He explained to the parents why the learners failed and congratulated those who performed well. There was no directive, circular or anything. It was their initiative.”

He then accused the principal of influencing pupils not to submit their tasks.

“This is because the principal wanted to kick him out from the school for his selfish reasons. The principal is selfish and irresponsible to sacrifice a teacher at the expense of the learners. The principal instructed the learners to run on the tables and he heard him instructing them so,” the ruling reads. “His class was not manageable but once he gave them work to do, they would do the work.”

He also claimed that he met the pupils' parents.

“Some parents were enlightened and others illiterate. He met those who performed badly (failed). He congratulated those who did well. He communicated with the parents in English. The issue of language is his constitutional right.”

But Rabyanyana was not convinced and found that Teffo had indeed committed the offences that he had been dismissed for.

“[Teffo]  is not remorseful, even during arbitration,” said Rabyanyana.

“[Teffo’s]  unrepentant attitude proves that he cannot be rehabilitated. There is no other sanction that can modify his behaviour or deter him from repeating the offence. The [education department] successfully proved on the balance of probabilities that dismissal sanction is appropriate and fair for the assault charge.”

Rabyanyana found that Teffo’s conduct had “seriously” impaired trust between him and his employer.

“He did not only fail [his employer] but the learners, dismally,” ruled Rabyanyana. “He cannot be entrusted with the care and education of learners he was employed for.

“As I have found that his interest is nothing else but the salary. This is demonstrated more clearly when he claims compensation R4.6m, equivalent to 15 years' salary with interest. He was not dismissed for submitting Setswana/N Sotho credentials at the time of his employment, despite according to him not knowing the language but this leaves a lot to be desired.”