Naureen Aqueel

Handle with care!

Posted on: March 1, 2008

An edited versioon of this was published in The News, Educationzine, March 1, 2008.

Childhood is one of the most innocent periods of an individual’s life. For those who are already raising their eyebrows at reading the word ‘innocent’ associated with children, it should suffice to say that the children whom they call ‘little devils’ are in fact at a crucial stage of their lives when consistent planning and effort can help mould them into ‘little angels’.

But the difference is indeed of that consistent planning and effort. What kind of approach is adopted has a major effect on what the turnout is. Teachers, in addition to parents, play a very important role here. They can either build a child’s life or ruin it. It is obvious then that being a teacher is no piece of cake. This role carries with it immense responsibility. Teachers not only have to teach their subjects, they also have to master the art of dealing with children, and that includes controlling their anger and not succumbing to emotions of frustration, desperation or hopelessness.

Knowing how to deal with children, how to react to misbehaviour and knowing when to be stern and when to be soft requires considerable wisdom and understanding. Teachers must know that a soft approach is, in most cases, the best method to adopt. In the few cases that require being stern, it must be clear that that does not involve inflicting physical pain on the child.

Our schools are replete with examples of corporal punishment. One case in point is the recent alarming death of 14-year-old Mudassar Aslam after physical beating by his teacher. Such examples indeed point to a very dark side of the educational system.

Corporal punishment is in no way the answer to misconduct. Students’ behaviour cannot be moulded by harsh penalties meted out to them by teachers. Such measures usually produce fear due to which certain behaviours maybe repressed for sometime but find an outlet some other time. In some cases, this practice also produces rebellion. Research has shown that corporal punishment is associated with an increase in violence and other crimes, depression, alienation and lowered achievement. It also lowers the self-esteem of the child and severely disrupts the learning process.

An interesting analogy can help make clear which approach to teaching and influencing student behaviour is better. When a freshly moulded clay pot is wet and soft, how does one handle it? Surely, anyone that touches it and does not want to ruin the intricate way in which it is moulded handles it with extreme care. They may touch it delicately on the areas needing improvement, being extremely careful not to disturb the other areas. Children too are in this moulding stage. They need to be handled with extreme care. It is their experiences at this stage of life that will shape their personalities in the future. And it is teachers who hold this in their hands.

Love and gentleness have always been more effective than harshness and aggression. Children can learn a lot more if a soft approach is adopted. However, it must be clear that this soft approach must also be principled, since being gentle does not mean compromising on rules and principles. Teachers can be firm in matters of discipline. But then, being firm does not mean being harsh. Inflicting physical pain on the student is thus not acceptable.

A wise man once said: “We can achieve through gentleness much more than with severity. Can’t we see that water grinds away hard rocks?”

Inflicting physical pain on the child is indeed a very negative method of influencing behaviour, which may not even be effective. It is thus very important that teachers realise the impact their actions can have on children and that they adopt a soft, but principled, approach that helps influence the child’s behaviour in a positive and constructive way.

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