Spare the Rod and Hold the Line

12 Dec

Poonam and Stella. I will tell you the stories of both these students. Of different ages, across different times. And countries.


Poonam was a classmate at primary school. She was a happy, healthy, glowing child. My best friend for a few years in fact. We were both chatterboxes. Possibly natural leaders. And yet, she would be punished often for disrupting the class. In another school, she would have been hit harder. In ours, admonishment was kneeling, a smack on the palm with a scale, or sending a child out of the classroom. All these years as I learnt to teach, and then help others reflect on education, I have wondered: If she had been humiliated less for her exuberance, would she have outperformed me academically? Is there a connection? Studies say there is – better learning outcomes depend on the state of mind of the learner.


Stella was my student at a community college course in London. She had a masters degree from her country in eastern Europe but could not be employed as her language skills needed rework. For some reason, the degree from her own country was not worth much either, probably since she needed to re-learn the terminology in the country in which she sought employment. She was bright, and needed to prove it. Sasha, in the same class, was not bright at all – had difficulties. And still needed to prove that she was smarter than Stella. It was a challenging class to teach. Aggravating even. The good news was that I was trained, and supported in dealing with this aggression.


Firm but fair. All of us teachers have been taught that (I hope). And yet, a class of young children insistent on fighting each other, or kicking the wall or whatever young people do these days will need intervention. The nature of the intervention is what teachers design and deliver. This is what steadily builds the ethos of the school, and indeed must be drawn from the stated values of the school. And must be consistently practiced by all the teachers. With kindness, with patience. Hold the line, do not cross it.


The classroom culture, the behaviours in the corridors, the pride with which the students represent the school are all trained by teachers. They must bear responsibility for the habits they foster – by demonstration and by example. Building these habits is why we send our children to school. If children misbehave in class, is it not the fault of the teachers who brought them up? Even if we don’t blamestorm, is it not the responsibility of teachers to encourage discipline?


Teachers themselves bemoan the fact that they find it impossible to control certain aggressive students, especially since they are not able to beat or cane them anymore. It is not that all teachers want to hit their children, but the fact that they cannot has made it more difficult for them to impose discipline in the classrooms – they say. The curtailing of their powers has made them human beings with limits and limitations, thus their aura and influence is curtailed. It is true that students turn around and ask – ‘what will he/she do? If I misbehave, what can the teacher do? Shout at us – let them shout..” These statements, the concept of caning a child and the shouting at children all come from the zone of escalation. Teachers must, however difficult it is, hold the line of civility.




This article was published in Times of India Blogs on December 11, 2012 and is linked here and


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