Friday, June 21, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Are the kids alright?

Update : 29 Sep 2015, 07:36 PM

One of the first lessons I learned during day-one of professional development was on “kids we love the most,” a euphemism for “those” kids -- the “problem kids,” the “headaches,” the “pain in the rear end” kids. However, the earnest workshop leader vehemently denied the existence of such school-children. “No child is a problem child,” he told the ballroom full of educators. “If you work with them enough, they do become the kids you love the most.”

Many schools in America have, in the past decades, adopted a growth mindset within the classroom. Focus on two “glows” and a “grow.” Lead with two positives and a negative. When giving feedback, frame your statement with “I like how you did this. Next time try …” instead of marking up a student’s work with Xs and zeroes. When a student shuts down in class because she’s tired, or does not “feel like working,” get down to her level and prompt her to engage in class because it’s the right thing to do. Make it about purpose, not power.

This is wildly different from how defiance was met in my private school back in Dhaka. Defiance was met with raised voices, the banging of a duster on the teacher’s desk, finger-pointing, even the occasional banishment to the back of the room where the student in question had to stand holding his ears. The intention was to humiliate, to “teach these kids a lesson,” by using intimidation to cull defiance. There were no private conversations about the repercussions of said behaviour, no phone call home to loop parents in on the consequences.

Given that each classroom had 35 bodies, and most lessons were taught out of a text-book verbatim, it is no surprise that two-thirds of the said 35 bodies found ways to distract themselves -- some dozed, others doodled on the backs of their textbooks. Some amped up their disdain for school rules by indiscreetly texting in class. Some talked back to the teachers, bringing up how their parents’ money paid for the teacher’s salary. Others sniggered and egged-on the bad ‘uns.

What ensued was a culture of kids nobody loved the most. They fell under the radar, scraped by in classes, perhaps yearning for attention but knowing not how to seek it. They acted up, or dozed off, and the whole while teachers read out of textbooks and banged dusters on desks when the tissues flying across the room and the chair scraping on the linoleum floor got too much to handle.

To claim that classroom defiance is not an issue in our traditional society, where children know to respect their elders, is false. Children are children are children. They oppose authority. Their adolescent minds want to tap pencils on desks and stare out the window and text their boyfriend of the day. They need structure, and they need to be told what to do and how to do it before they are held accountable for meeting expectations. After all, one can hardly be blamed for not upholding standards they didn’t know they had to uphold.

While teaching kids we love the most, how to respect elders is one step on the road to positive student culture, it is not the end-all be-all. School administrations need to be cognisant of how to build engagement and intervene with behaviourally and academically challenging students so that all avenues for defiance are eliminated before one settles on plain old disrespect.

It is not enough to assume that culture can fill the gap. It is not enough to assume that decades of tradition will miraculously seep into the (non) porous minds of our adolescents, will imprint on their (highly impressionable) brains and remain internalised for the rest of their formal education. To assume that would be ludicrous.

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