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CLASSROOM STRUGGLE

To sir, with a shove

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Our newspapers are full of stories of schoolchildren being sadistically punished by teachers, to the point of emotional and physical scarring, even suicide. Many of these are true, and such teachers need to be punished. But it's not one-way traffic, as most of us believe. Teachers - and we're not talking college, but school - are under attack. The power equation has been subtly shifting in the classroom, particularly in so-called elite schools where students pay a bomb, are often treated as 'clients', and think they can get away with pretty much anything. Not only are the laws stacked against teachers, technology is now adding to their torment. Teachers find themselves being bullied and vilified, often for no fault of their own, on social networking sites and blogs. No wonder many of them are asking for video cameras to be installed in classrooms so that school authorities and parents can see for themselves what students are up to, and whether they're crossing the line that separates boisterousness and innocent mischief from unacceptable behaviour.

When a teacher asked Sunil, a Class 8 student of Government Model Senior Secondary School, Chandigarh, to show his homework notebook, he slapped the teacher in front of the entire class. A junior teacher at an elite school in Darjeeling is petrified of his students - Class 8 boys. "Every morning, I feel physically sick at the thought of being in the same room with that bunch of hooligans, " he says. "In one single 40-minute class, I have to deal with boys trying to slam the door on my face, put glue on my chair, spit in my water. Fortunately, I haven't been physically attacked yet. " A lady teacher in a Shimla school refuses to teach biology to seventhgraders. "They ask obscene questions and make me repeat details about the human reproductive system. One boy asked me if 'practical lessons' would help him understand the subject better. " Sixteen boys in a prestigious Chandigarh school posted obscene and lewd remarks about their math teacher after they scored zero in an exam. The school suspended all of them.

Classrooms are increasingly turning hazardous for teachers and such cases represent just a small proportion of a much larger problem affecting our education environment. During research for this article, teachers across the country - from Darjeeling to Shimla, Chennai to Mumbai, Lucknow to Kolkata - said they face abuse, vulgar behaviour, verbal and physical intimidation, and even sexual aggression in some form or the other almost every day. They all agreed that aggression against teachers is soaring and fuelling the phenomenon is pupils' awareness that in a politically correct world their tutors have only limited sanctions against them.

Not surprisingly, the trend is more defined in posh English-medium schools, where it is easy to see where the swagger of the students comes from. "It is true that aggression among students has increased, but it is primarily an upper middle-class, urban phenomenon. Students from poorer homes carry the aspirations of their families. These parents believe that the only way a child can get ahead in life is with the help and guidance of his or her teachers, " says social anthropologist Aarti Kawlra, a former teacher with the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Chennai, and IIT-Madras.

Generations of students have giggled their way through biology classes on the reproductive system, but the jokes now go beyond harmless banter. Technology has only fuelled the fire. The internet and mobile phones take insolence to another, more vicious, level. At a time when an anonymous status update on Facebook can be as public as pinning up an obscene caricature on a school notice board, teachers today deal with problems that they couldn't even imagine a decade ago.

INVERSION OF POWER

This was not how it was supposed to end up, though. It had all begun with a noble enterprise - to empower children and insulate them from savage assaults. "If teachers earlier could have tyrannical ambitions, a different power equation is settling in now. These days, we see a lot of defiant behaviour among students - in even the very young ones. Disrespect, cockiness, aggression, lack of sensitivity, tendency for physical abuse is common among junior school students, " says Kawlra, adding, "Some of the behaviour that teachers have to put up with in classrooms would be considered a crime outside the campus"

Attempting to explain a phenomenon she's still coming to grips with, Archana Singh, a counsellor in Delhi, says, "With teachers' authority being weakened, it has become possible for the young to bully us. We devised laws to protect 10-year-olds from being caned;now we let violent, disruptive 13-year-olds play the power game with their teachers. This inversion of power serves no one - not the children, who cannot learn in chaotic classes;not the parents, who spend good money to send their kids to prestigious schools; not the teachers, whose ability to teach and communicate are hampered in the oppressive environment. "

Abha Adams, who is on the board of directors of The Doon School, Dehradun, and Sri Ram School, Delhi, couldn't agree more. "In this world, where values have been 'inverted', where it is cool to be BAD and have an attitude, you are a nerd and a geek if you work hard. As schools, we do not adopt a policy of zero tolerance when it comes to disrespectful behaviour, violence and the abuse of social networking sites We are in big trouble if we do. Parents need to be on board on this. All too often we have situations where even the slightest reprimand brings parents rushing to the school to protest. "

While some teachers can handle unruly children, others just cave in under pressure. A chemistry teacher in a Mumbai school says he is teased by students because he has a speech problem and is not very good with English. "There are laws to take care of a disabled or weak child and ensure he is not tormented in school. But what about weak teachers?"

SERVICE INDUSTRY?


In an era when education has become a most lucrative business and where students - some of whom pay Rs 25, 000 a month apart from other fees - have metamorphosed from pupils to well-paying clients, teachers are increasingly resigned to various forms of bullying. Many say they look at it as an occupational hazard. "People pay huge sums of money, sometimes in lakhs, to get their children admitted to good schools. Therefore, both students and parents treat the school as their fiefdom - they are paying for a service and expect to be kept satisfied, " says a senior teacher at the reputed Calcutta Boys' School in Kolkata.

Kabir K Mustafi, eminent educationist and former principal of Bishop Cotton's School, Shimla, believes that educational institutions - particularly private schools - are bending backwards to accommodate students, and a large part of it is because of the 'client factor' in the great industry that education has turned into. "A common insult is adolescents telling teachers that they carry more money in their pocket than what the teacher earns in a month. "

Not surprisingly, while students get away with gross indiscipline, teachers are frequently pulled up, sometimes even suspended or sacked for 'insulting' those they teach. Issuing warnings for minor things like not completing work, bringing contraband to school, being disrespectful to elders are now fraught with danger. "School boards and principals are left with scant option but to acknowledge the powerful parent - the political heavyweight, the alumni body chief, the local police officer, the municipal commissioner, even the hardware store owner - and carry on with the job as usual, " says Mustafi.

FEAR FACTOR

But with a growing number of student suicides - as many as 16, 000 school and college students have killed themselves in the last three years - and the fear of being taken to court by well-connected parents, many teachers now think twice before even asking a student to step out of class for making noise. "We hardly have any means available to discipline an unruly child. Parents want their children handled with kid gloves no matter what mistake they make. On one occasion, a parent told me in front of the child that I deliberately wanted to fail him, " says a teacher of Modern School, Delhi.

Tolerance levels among students are spiralling downwards. Francis Fanthome, chief executive and secretary, Council For Indian School Certificate Examinations, says, "Today, society is not patient enough to let people's personalities mature over time. Consequently, there is little time for teachers, students and parents to blend a partnership with the school. Each exploits the other given the first opportunity. "

The government hasn't made it any easier for teachers either. Jyotsna Brar, principal, Welham Girls High School, Dehradun, says, "The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 says that schools cannot cause 'mental harassment' to students, but it does not qualify what 'mental harassment' can mean. Moreover, schools are also not to expel any child up to Class 8. This can mean more problems for schools in the future. "

One of the greatest fears, though, is of sexual abuse charges being thrown at unsuspecting teachers. It's a career killer. A teacher at a Mumbai-based IB (international baccalaureate) school admits that all a student needs to do is accuse a teacher of touching him/her inappropriately. "I have seen teachers being asked to resign because a student accused them of making sexual overtures, " she says. "In one case, a girl, barely 11, had sent a provocative e-mail to a particular teacher. When the teacher replied to her, telling her to be patient and consider the repercussions of such communication, the girl complained to her parents. Though the matter was hushed up, the teacher was asked to leave. "

PARENT-TEACHER SPLIT


Those in the education industry believe that a large part of this problem stems from the disregard parents now have for teachers. "When I was young, " says one teacher at Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, Delhi, "I once went to my father and told him that my teacher had caned me for no reason. My dad insisted I must have been at fault. " While that sort of unquestioned authority may be taking things too far, classroom aggression is also directly linked to parents' criticism of teachers in front of their children. If teaching is a service to be bought - and provided well - what need is there for the service provider to be put on a pedestal.

Sometimes, the constant demand on institutions to be politically correct actually ends up backfiring on the parents. Mustafi says: "You can't call a spade a spade in case rakes and trowels are offended. Interestingly, in this time of political correctness, parents are frequently at the short end of the stick. One-to-one parent-teacher interactions are often nightmarish because of the way the kids are virtually stripped down in front of the parents, and parents attacked and shamed in front of their children. "

ROLE OF A TEACHER TODAY

So, just how are teachers meant to ensure discipline? After all, they can't count on the one big thing that saw them through earlier - respect for their authority. That principle has been eroded. Kawlra says rampant indiscipline has begun reflecting on behavioural patterns of an undermined teaching community. "Teachers play it safe - just coming to class, dishing out lessons and leaving. They are reluctant to enforce discipline lest they become the subject of malicious allegations from pupils. Everyone is frightened of getting involved and is worried about misrepresentations. "

Equating the classroom environment to a war zone, Kawlra adds, "The state, legal and watchdog bodies have swooped into our classrooms, hallways and locker rooms like vultures along with surveillance technologies to monitor teachers - the newly defined criminals of our society. What we need to answer is why has the school become a war zone?" Welham's Brar sees ominous signs in where the modern classroom is headed. "Teachers are at a premium today. No one wants to join the school-teaching profession except those with few other choices. And men do not want this job at all. Are we soon going to have a whole generation of boys and girls never taught by a man through their school years, with their only male role model being that strange figure called the PT instructor?" Not a happy thought that. These, certainly, are difficult days for the master class.

With inputs from Anahita Mukherji in Mumbai;Pervez Iqbal Siddiqui in Lucknow;Jaideep Deogharia in Ranchi;Pooja Kashyap in Patna;Amit Sharma, Shimona Kanwar and Naresh Kumar Sharma in Chandigarh;Sruthy Ullas in Bangalore;and Somdatta Basu and Debashis Konar in Kolkata

Reader's opinion (18)

Rupali Apr 25th, 2011 at 00:13 AM

To curb unruly behavior of students, classrooms/lectures be monitored wit cameras. 3 indisciplined acts of students, forego; on the 4th one, teachers shud tak stern action. Classroom recording can help teachers& also parents in spreading awareness of deir kid's behavior toward teachers &also society

Kaisar DopaishiDec 26th, 2010 at 18:10 PM

I really would like to know if this is statistical evidence to prove that this is what GENERALLY students in this 21st century do, in most our schools across the country? or are these examples of some students in most of the schools or some of the schools???

Arun KrishnanDec 20th, 2010 at 20:41 PM

The pampered lot of kids, Coming out of this sort of education system shall not survive the world .. for the world is not going to be sweet to them .. be cautious .. parents ..

Mahesh SawantDec 3rd, 2010 at 14:19 PM

Good Article.Must read for all parents and teachers.

Virein Kumar YadlapalliDec 2nd, 2010 at 11:51 AM

Compared to days when current 25+ was in school, media role in highlighting such nuances was limited. Today, everything is being highlighted and children stand good chance in taking negative out of this reporting. While the article is good, responsible media reporting will help better the situation!

Soumyajit DasNov 30th, 2010 at 22:54 PM

Putting a video camera in class is a good steep forward. It isbetter to have evidence.

Ajay Nov 30th, 2010 at 16:42 PM

This article shows the 'other' side about students bullying teachers. But this would be a negligent percentage of schools in India. So this article is more of an exception than the rule.

Ramya S NairNov 30th, 2010 at 15:53 PM

The article truly reflects what goes on in the name of child rights and protection in most of schools today.
My mother teaches in one of the top schools in bangalore.
Children as small as in Class 3rd and 4th are so downright nasty that she has been mulling over resignation from the day she joined.

Keshav GulatiDec 3rd, 2010 at 15:40 PM

well..u know if u get upset and effected by children as small as 3rd grade...whatever they may b doing, u might as well resign your post as teacher cus u r not at all good at it

Sagar SumanNov 30th, 2010 at 13:44 PM

The inference from this article is that today the whole teacher's community is under radar because of few bad teachers causing the students to suicide and also the aggression shown by the students and parents are solely the effect of media coverage portaying the whole Teachers community as a villain

Ganesh ParameswaranNov 29th, 2010 at 18:43 PM

I had not read Crest before. Now I will regularly read. It was a great piece of news reporting.

Ujas DoshiNov 29th, 2010 at 17:38 PM

Nice article. Every parent must read this. If a parent likes to sympathize with children for any harm to their child, they shud know the other part of the story as well...

S Nov 29th, 2010 at 04:55 AM

Today's world is unfortunately one of spare the rod and spoil the child. Some amount of discipline is required in everyone's lives, unfortunately society has forgottent hat.

Geetha ManianNov 28th, 2010 at 20:38 PM

An innocent lie landed me in a soup decades back in my school followed by a good deal of caning by my teacher.It was a turning point in my life where both my teacher and my non interfering parents instilled good values. Present times it is the marks which carry more value than human values.

Mallika AgarwalaNov 28th, 2010 at 15:41 PM

very insightful article...one of the best Crest covers I have read...keep such covers coming...great work!

Kabir MustafiNov 28th, 2010 at 12:39 PM

When children turn vicious it is categorical that they are victims themselves of emotional and physical abandonment, to fear then hatred; of infidelity, violence, humiliation, neglect, indifference. But we can heal. At home, together. In school, in small surrogacy groups of great busy-ness.

Aun AjaniNov 27th, 2010 at 21:07 PM

Definitely this trend is catching up these days. But we have to understand that at the tender age of 12- 15, children are agile. They must be treated in a very different way or else they will become rebels and will resort to the wrong ways. Teachers must understand that times have changed.

Uma NairNov 27th, 2010 at 11:04 AM

This is a brilliant take in treacherous times.But,as a teacher with 31 years behind me,teaching robust boys ,times have changed.Dialogue and communication are the hallmark of today's world.We also have to be firm and let them know,that respect and performance matters.Human connectivity defines us..

 
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