Sunday May 13, 2012
TEACHER TALK By MALLIKA VASUGI
Teachers often have a trying time dealing with vulnerable teens. Their charges can sometimes be downright rude seeking individuality, yet there are other times when they cry for attention.
WITH the constant shift in interactions between students and colleagues, it is probably an oversight to sometimes forget the age group of the person or persons we are dealing with at the precise moment.
One minute you are in the staffroom enjoying some celebrity scandal suitable for an “adults only” audience, and the next minute, you are dealing with a tiff between your students, or providing advice for a “crushed” teenage heart.
Teachers often do such an admirable job of accommodating communication between generations that at times, they appear to be hosting a children’s programme and chairing an international conference concurrently.
However, there are times when we slip up and quite forgivably so, given the continuous nature and frequency of switching between conversations.
There is usually no in-between period of readjusting our mental frame to suit the audience that presently seeks our attention.
And this is when we sometimes forget. We forget that the gawky teenager whining about his classmates or the teenage girl with a crush on every male teacher, is after all still a teenager.
A person in a transitory period of his life, having recently left childhood and is now on an uncertain (and sometimes frightening) journey towards adulthood.
A person in search of self-identity; constantly dealing between the need to cling on and the need to let go.
I have found it necessary to stop and remind myself of this truth.
That my students are not the adults in the staffroom whose mutual idiosyncrasies we can choose to ignore if we want to .
These are people who are at a vulnerable stage in their lives.
As teachers, our words may make a difference in the way they perceive themselves and direct their life’s path.
They seek individuality and yet crave conformity. They want private space, but cry for attention.
Whether we like it or not, teachers are caught in this rite of passage in their students’ lives.
The things we say or do may creep surreptitiously into our students and form a significant part of their outlook in life.
Disciplinary action is necessary against rudeness, flagrant disregard of school rules and deliberate disrespect.
However, there are also minor offences that do not warrant a formal written warning but are exceedingly annoying.
Students saunter into classes without acknowledging the teacher’s presence or give a less-than-polite reply to a routine question.
There are times when teachers are tempted to use harsh words in response to this obvious lack of respect for authority.
I remember using caustic remarks to ‘put a student in his place’ only to wonder later if those words were necessary or justified as they were just adolescents.
I constantly remind myself that the swagger, extreme pretentiousness, boasting or even snitching about other classmates is often a cry for attention, a need to project their identity and a real attempt at building a sense of self-worth.
Certain forms of behaviour among my students such as the need to appear attractive before the opposite sex both amuse and annoy me until I remember that even this is part of their growing up.
While it may have been momentarily gratifying to see the deflated look on a cocky student after a sharp rejoinder, I feel uncomfortable reflecting that the student was part adult-part child, and my role was to educate, not show who was smarter.
The balance between being firm without appearing weak is probably not easy to achieve but totally necessary in the classroom.
Perhaps remembering our own teenage years and what we went through with our teachers may help us in dealing with our present students.
We may have not come away completely unscathed but thankfully for most of us, there were not enough cynical adult lips that dangerously inhibited our transition from child to adult.
There were also teachers who remembered that we were not yet adults and supported rather than ridiculed us.
And because it is so easy to forget these things, we need to remind ourselves from time to time that if we have to pass judgments on our students, our decisions have to be based on a set of rules which are different from the ones we apply to people who are already adults.
It is not fair to make the usual adult demands of maturity on those who are not yet adults.