IT is that time of the year again. I am referring to Teachers Day, celebrated two days ago. This year, besides revelling in the joyous occasion, my thoughts kept returning to the word “kind”. I can't help thinking how much sweeter school would be if we could just be a little kinder.
Not everyone may agree, but I sincerely believe children need so much for their teachers to be kind to them.
When I was a young teacher, fresh out of university, I entertained the erroneous belief that being very, very strict was equivalent to having excellent classroom management skills. At the slightest provocation, therefore, I would raise my voice by several decibels. I also regularly threw students out of my class if I caught them not paying attention. I made it a point not to tolerate a single rude act or word from my students.
Although I was never nasty or maniacal about it, I was still, nonetheless, a teacher not to be taken lightly. As a newly qualified teacher, I believed then that it was absolutely necessary for me to regularly display a strict, no-nonsense approach.
But, as the first two years passed and my experience with disciplining grew, I began to gravitate towards being my natural self. To establish my credibility as a teacher, I didn't need to put on my “be-careful-who-you're-dealing-with” act as much as I used to before.
Becoming a mother further softened my rough edges. Soon, I found myself settling more comfortably into the act of managing to be firm, yet kind. It all came naturally.
Initially, I was a little wary of the dividends that came my way, but soon I came to realise that students did respond more positively to change if they are taken aside and spoken to kindly. It was not a random occurrence.
There is a distinct correlation between teacher kindness and improved student behaviour. The simple act of taking personal interest in a child reaped better results than all my cumulative acts of shouting and scolding.
Simple acts of praise and encouragement, even a little smile, went further in gaining me emotional mileage than the odd insult hurled at them.
I have since been practising acts of kindness towards my students for so long that I get genuinely distressed when I hear colleagues scold and berate a child loudly at school. Yes, it grates on my nerves; it makes me squirm inside.
But even as I find myself cringing inwardly, I have to understand that each teacher will have his day and have his way. As some of them put it, “With certain children, especially those who are stubborn and die-hard types, there is simply no other way to put them in their place but with a sound scolding or the whack of a cane”.
Nevertheless, when someone asks me, “Why are you so kind to them?” I find myself responding: “Why not?” It's the human side of teaching and learning that I care about most.
Besides, my approach has worked in my favour, largely due to the personality I have and the way I am able to reach my students where it matters most – the heart. It took me a while to get to where I am now but I am very comfortable with whom I've become.
So, on a day set aside for teachers to let their hair down and be acknowledged openly for their contributions, I'd like to think that we'd be doing ourselves a favour if we could allot some time to reflect on the kind of person we are at school.
As individuals entrusted with educating the children of others, how do we play our roles? Are we getting somewhere meaningful with the children who look up to us? Are we making the difference we should be making?
Many of my colleagues today are jaded, having lost all illusions about the job. Talk about how “noble” the job is and they snort derisively. Life for them is simply entering and leaving classrooms, doing what they can and thinking no further than that.
Their approach towards their students is an automatic, knee-jerk reflex kind of thing. “You do my work, you benefit. You don't, you pay. But, don't expect me to lose sleep over you.” They don't believe in emotional investments. While they do work, they don't over-reach themselves.
They may or may not realise that they are working below their true potential. For them, it's obligatory to go through the motions. Call it general malaise or what you will, uplifting words about the teaching profession will not affect the way they feel or how they go about doing their job.
Some of them make great chat buddies but, please, leave their professional lives alone. Believe me, I've learned to do so. As I said, each teacher has his way. Live and let live, and you live well.
But then, I am heartened to add that in every school I've taught at so far, I have also met and worked with individuals who are truly marvellous teachers. Their dedication and hard work are a blessing to those whom they teach.
Respected by one and all, they devote their lives to the act of selfless giving. They are also great team players, working for the common good instead of being selfish and self-contained. Commitment, for them, is passion. You either have it or not.
And this I know: Nothing others say will deter them from the path they have chosen to take. Some students will take their gift of teaching for granted. Others, who appreciate the difference, will return to wish them well.
The rewards they receive may well be intangible, but these are people who have decided to be good teachers. Like diamonds, good teachers leave a lasting impression.
To them and to all those who have chosen to commit themselves to the selfless act of educating others, Happy Teachers Day!
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