By Markson Omagor
Uncle James Mudidi as he was fondly called by his students at St’ Peters College Tororo spent 23 years of service as head teacher of Tororo College without a major strike.
The 78 year old Educationist retired from active teaching service in 1998 and is now into private business.
eastnews.co.ug looked him up to ask among other things the tricks he used to manage such a big school without students ever going into a major strike.
He looked very healthy and strong when our Reporter caught up with him at his residence at Hospital Clause in Tororo Municipality where he lives with his lovely wife.
Qn 1 JS: Tell us about yourself
Mudidi: My place of birth is Chelekura in Palisa District. I did all my primary education in catholic founded schools within Palisa district and eventually joined Tororo College.
Tororo College is a significant school in my life because it’s where I sat for my Junior Secondary Education in the early 50s and Senior Secondary Education in the late 50s.
I eventually went to St Mary’s Kisubi for my A level before proceeding to Makerere University.
After completing my university education, I was posted back to Tororo College as a teacher where I taught for about 5 years before receiving my first appointment as a head teacher to Sebei College Tegeres in Sebei district.
In 1975, I was brought back to Tororo college as a head teacher.
I headed Tororo College for about 23 years from 1975 to 1998 when I eventually retired from active teaching service.
So, I consider Tororo College a very significant place in my life because it’s where I grew up professionally, where I got married and all my children were brought up and schooled.
Qn2 JS: How were you able to Manage this school for 23 years good years without major strikes
Mudidi: Just like I had earlier said, I first taught at Tororo College and it’s from here that I got my first promotion as head teacher.
So, when I was posted back from Sebei College to head Tororo College in 1975, I found it a familiar ground. All that I needed to do was to put up administrative infrastructures for good management of the school. These structures are the same in every school but the difference between a successful and unsuccessful manager is that unsuccessful manager deviates from the set plans.
When you become the head of a school, you have to put in place both infrastructures by identifying the main cardinal areas of the management of the school.
First and foremost, you have to put infrastructure to manage the staff. The staffs are very intelligent people with different opinions. What is expected from the staff are their inputs as teachers but at the same time, they also expect better welfare and attention from the school. So those things must be addressed while you insist on teachers to implement the curriculum and teaching program of the school as guided by the Ministry of education.
At the same time, you should be cognant of the teachers’ welfare and this is where the problem normally comes from. Some head teachers tend to concentrate too much on the professional side by ensuring teachers are teaching and end up forgetting addressing the welfare question.
From time to time, you need to meet teachers and agree on critical areas of their welfare so that you address them.
In my case, if you want to draw from experience, I did realize because I went through those difficult times when the school was in turmoil.
The times of Iddi Amin were not very easy times. Salaries were not enough, the commodities were scarce. Everything was from government. As head teachers, we realized that if we entirely relied on government grants or salaries, we may not get what we want and teachers were running away due to hardships. We therefore decided to come up with the idea of Parents Teachers Association (PTA) to save the situation.
We called in parents and the idea was spread all over the country and parents accepted to contribute something to supplement the teachers’ pay.
So whatever contribution we got, we improved on the teachers’ welfare.
The welfare part of it motivates the teachers to work and once you have addressed it, then you can request them to implement the curriculum.
In the management of teachers, I think the critical area to motivate a teacher is to address the welfare so that you move together with a teacher as a satisfied person.
But when a teacher is disgruntled, it becomes difficult to manage them.
The second critical area is managing the student. The most important tool to manage students is through the school rules.
You have to put in place effective school rules and ensure the rules are properly publicized and students understand them. But more importantly, you must make sure these rules are enforced by putting in place effective infrastructures at dormitory and school levels.
Here, give the students a challenge to implement the school rules by appointing them at the leadership positions such as school prefects, house prefect or school council.
The structures you put in school leadership is to primarily help you as the head teacher to enforce the school regulations.
Once you have delegated the staffs and students to enforce the rules, you follow it up with communication.
Encourage students to be as open and truthful as possible. If they say Mr. head master, the food is not good today, listen and talk to them .if the teaching programs are not effected in classes, come and tell the head master. And when it comes to you as the head teacher, make sure you act on it immediately.
Apart from the academic needs, the students also have their welfare side like feeding that must be addressed. Others include co-curricular activities like visits etc.
Another critical area of managing a school is the budget.
Some of our colleagues especially those who came after our generation do not manage the school budgets very well.
A true school budget is carefully drawn to address all the major areas of the management of the school i.e academics, welfare and teaching needs.
Once the budget is drawn and approved by the Board of governors, it must be adhered to. The moment you use school funds outside the budget, you are bound to run into trouble because you will touch some are that are essential.
As an effective leader, you must have good communication skills which come out especially when you are addressing assemblies and running staff meetings. If your communication skills are poor, sometime you may not be able to pass the message.
The other factor is public relations.
You should strike a good public relations with your immediate neighborhood and with the parents body for protection.
My own experience in Tororo College is that because I had some good relations with the school’s neighbors, whenever we had those tough times like overthrow of governments, the villagers didn’t break into the school to steal but they instead guarded the school’s property.
Then public relations with parents as stake holders.
When a parent came with a problem especially relating to fees payment, you should be able to address it by giving them more time to look for money.
Qn3JS: What is your biggest success as head teacher of Tororo College?
Mudidi: We had a challenge to celebrate the school’s golden jubilee in 1991.
The old boys came to me and said our school is now 51 years and we think it’s important we celebrate. It was a colossal undertaking. We sat down, mobilized structures, contacts and prepared.
Am very proud to announce that we had a very successful golden jubilee celebration of the school which was presided over by President Yoweri Museveni as the guest of honor.
My other achievement was to successfully manage the brains that included the teachers and students.
So for all those years, am very happy that as a team with my staff, we managed to minimize unrest except for a few minor cases.
But by and large, we minimized unrest in school in terms of strikes. We did this not as Mudidi alone but in collaboration with my staff.
Because of the enabling environment, I can proudly say that we helped very many people through the school into high areas of public management. Some are now great academicians, outstanding politicians, professors, and good administrators at different levels.
Qn4 JS: What was your most difficult moment and what did you learn from it?
Mudidi: Smiles and takes a pause. Okay, I can say, tried but I didn’t achieve much in trying to facelift the school.
The school was getting very old and needed a lot of face lift.
The first time I tried, I appealed to the Ministry to release special funds in vain. They promised but didn’t release anything. We turned to parents to give some assistance. We did something small but not much.
So I didn’t succeed much in face lifting the school.
I can’t think of another failure, maybe I over stayed in power for 2 years causing laughter.
Qn5 JS: From your experience and perspective, how do you assess Tororo College of today to that under your leadership in terms of performance, enrollment and discipline.
Mudidi: Am not ashamed to say that immediately I left, the school ran into the period of turmoil, serious instability, indiscipline and riots.
My former house at the college and that of the head teacher who followed me was torched. I don’t know what the problem was. By the time government intervened, some harm had been done. It followed another succession which didn’t also work out quite well when my former deputy was brought back as head teacher.
Then there was a gentle man from West Nile who unfortunately passed away after 2 years. So the school experienced a lot of instabilities and turmoil just after my departure. It even became unpopular. But when they brought back one of my former teachers Mr Olokojo Francis some years back who is now heading the school, I can confidently say sanity has returned.
Am proud and happy about what he is doing in Tororo College that caused stability at the school.
Mr Olokojo has done a lot of renovations including on structures I left behind, teaching programs are very effective and results are coming out very well almost like my days.
Qn6.JS: You are considered one of the greatest and most successful head teachers in this country. What advice would give to those who would love to follow on your footsteps?
Mudidi: I agree with you. Someone I don’t know sneaked my name to the President and I was recognized with a medal for my excellent work. Am grateful to his Excellency for recognizing me and my service. Everybody has his or her own ways of doing things. But for my case, I believe great leadership lies on humility. Humility means being approachable, accessible, being able to talk to others, befriending, and understanding to everyone especially those you lead.
During my time at Tororo College, at times I was forced to box stubborn and indisciplined students who were brought to my office because that was the way they reformed.
Qn7 JS: According to your opinion, why is performance in traditional government schools declining today.
Mudidi: Well, the best traditional government schools of our times have today been overtaken by privately owned institutions. I think the main problem is finance. The motivation of teachers is very low especially in upcountry schools as compared to their counterparts in central where parents supplement teachers’ pay. Financial problems are the ones making government schools go down because what teachers are getting is not even a living wage.
A private school manages its own funds, knows what to give a teacher to perform to his or her best. I don’t see any hope that government schools going back to the glory of the early days because wages are not going up.
The teacher’s input is what makes the school great because they are the ones who shape discipline, pass knowledge and make the school tick.
Secondly, capitation grants to schools are too little. It can’t do much. So a poor head teacher must hustle to make ends meet leaving them to wallow in debts for survival.
Qn8. JS: How are you finding retirement?
With retirement, you need to plan 5 years earlier. Some people wait until the time of retirement then they start struggling to make ends meet.
Retiring from living in a government house to a rental house can be a catastrophe.
For my case since I had stayed in Tororo for a long time and more known than in my ancestral village in Pallisa, I started planning for retirement much earlier when I was still strong and relevant.
I bought this plot and started slowly constructing my home.