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Why discipline is a bad word

By Anjuli Bhargava
December 07, 2015 12:12 IST
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Teachers find that they are walking on egg shells while dealing with indisciplined students.

Recently, a friend of mine quit her job as a senior teacher at one of Gurgaon's leading schools.

A career teacher, she had taken a break for some years while her children were young and she got back to teaching for the last four years or so.

When I asked her why she suddenly left, she said she couldn't cope with what she saw as the total lack of discipline among the students.

She was teaching maths to students of classes VIII and IX and she had tried her best to instill some sense of discipline and decorum in her lessons. But she found she simply couldn't do it because the school policy virtually forbade teachers from taking any strict measure against errant or misbehaved students.

She says it is as if there is a ban on instilling discipline.

At the school where she was teaching, teachers were asked to explain their actions -- instead of the students being asked to explain theirs.

Another friend who teaches in a much larger -- bit of a "factory" kind of school -- said that she faced a similar predicament when she found that a bunch of class XI boys had taken down the blades of the fans in the classroom and twisted them out of shape.

When she found out what happened, she identified the culprits and confronted them.

It became evident to her that they had no reason for their actions and it was done just for a lark.

Anger made her slap two of the boys across their faces -- something she says is a total no-no in today's day and age -- and she summoned the parents.

In her words, "Unlike some of these fancy, new-fangled schools, parents here still have some sense. They agreed that the boys behaviour could not be condoned and were happy that I had taken the action I had."

She said that privately one or two of the mothers said that she should have gone ahead and slapped all four boys rather than just two. But she knew that her school, too, was quite against any form of physical punishment.

And while she had done it in the boys' best interest, she herself may have been taken to task by the authorities had the parents reacted differently. She, however, personally still believes that a good slap never hurt any child -- he usually learnt more from it than months of explaining and pleading.

I spoke to a few other friends who are either teaching or involved in running a school and found the story was much the same.

Long gone are the days of spare the rod and spoil the child, but we seem to be tipping over to the other side.

Students are being treated with kid gloves and teachers find that they are treading on egg shells while dealing with students. Teachers cringe at taking action, even when convinced it is well deserved and the right step.

Why is this happening?

Of course, no one is advocating caning or the kind of punishments that boarding and missionary schools may have doled out in the past. But how will students be kept in check if they have no fear of consequences or, worse, if they know that they can get the teacher into trouble if they exaggerate a situation?

Academicians I spoke to said that there were three main factors.

One there was a dichotomy in the kind of schools -- the newer schools with more affluent parents were obsessed with molly-coddling their children and would simply not accept punishment as we knew it.

These schools are cagey even in telling parents where their children really stand academically or otherwise.

Teachers often gloss over areas where the child needs help because parents are quite unwilling to accept that their progeny are not perfect.

Two, there seems to be a trust deficit between teachers and parents.

Thanks to the growing number of incidents where the intent of teachers has been under cloud, a natural suspicion seems to have crept in.

Does he or she really want the best for my child or are they motivated by some other factor?

And, in some cases, parents don't actively support disciplining because they are defensive.

Their child's behaviour reflects poorly on their ability to bring them up.

The result of all this: a bunch of wary teachers who find their daily task increasingly uphill.

Lead image used for representational purposes only. Image: Kamal Kishore/Reuters

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Anjuli Bhargava
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