First day at work. Headmistress assigns me duty at the staircase during the recess at a school I teach English at. Bell rings, the recess time is over and kids should return to classes.
I stand there waiting to halt any potential fights or acts of indiscipline. There is a jam on the staircase leading to classes so some girls continue talking in their circle. I look at them, smile, and think of my friends. My sweet thoughts are interrupted by the loud shriek of my headmistress screaming into my ears asking why I haven’t ask these girls to break it off and go back to classes.
Before I could tell her that they were just waiting for the block on the stairs to resolve and therefore continued talking like any normal person would, she herself marches forward and with the same shrill tone screams at them to go to their classes. The girls nod and leave. I wince and do the same.
Right at this very moment, I finally understood why we fail to produce good students who seek learning and gain wisdom from their lives the way they are supposed to. It’s because we turn their schooling into a prison sentence. Every single aspect of their 6 hours spent daily at the institution assumes them as lowly savages who need to be tamed and disciplined in every possible way to turn them into civilized beings.
The irony of the matter is, the treatment with which they expect to turn these kids from savages to self-respecting individuals is the prime cause that makes them more of that same savage in the first place. Drawing from my own experience of schooling and now seeing the young kids at the school I teach, I really believe that not just the core pedagogy, but all the rituals attached to the notion of education plays a crucial role in repelling young minds away from the joys of learning.
Let’s start with the simplest of all- the uniforms and the bags. As I stand outside my class putting my stuff in the lockers after the classes, I see a long queue of tired, sleepy, frustrated kids carrying the bags on their shoulders dragging their feet to their vans. How
does one even expect them to be excited to come to school if that’s what they are subjected to everyday for 6 hours? I can make my peace with the ugly uniforms; but there is a simple solution to the bag problem and half of the world already knows it: lockers. The teachers already have it so why can’t students?
Then, there is the issue of constant bickering and nagging to ‘walk in the line’, ‘don’t stand in the corridors’, and countless other similar pronouncements made copiously every day. I know most people would find this argument invalid on the basis such as ‘there needs to be a certain decorum in school’, or the classic ‘rules are made for our own good’; but here’s the thing: there’s something about these wonderful rules which is not working because despite all the training in discipline and propriety given at school, our kids are getting more rebellious and boisterous than ever.
My argument is simple: the rules are fine, there is nothing wrong with having some code of conduct established in an institute of formal education; but the problem lies in the implementation of these rules.
When you assume all teenagers to be devoid of any modicum of pride and self-respect and treat them like a trainer treats a wild animal in order to domesticate it, you mis-assume the most fundamental rule of human interaction: what you give is what you get.
If you cannot treat the young adults with respect and worth, then don’t be surprised when they rebel and not study for their exams or indulge in questionable habits.
Now, if you are thinking that I am talking like that because I didn’t have to deal with them, then you are wrong. I have just started teaching and from day one, I resolved to myself that I won’t treat my kids the way my teachers treated me. I talk to them with respect even when it’s the hardest thing on earth; even when they talk while I am teaching or stand in the corridors when I have entered the class, I don’t thrash their egos.
I simply assert myself in a manner that I would like to be addressed in if they were in that place. And it works, it really does. When the kids know that you respect them as human beings and understand them, they treat you with more civility and better, they want to attend your classes and learn from you. In the end, isn’t that all that matters?