The recent cases of a college student committing suicide after some lecturers allegedly humiliated her, and a school student's death after her teacher who suspected her to have copied in an examination allegedly threatened her, have brought to focus the role of teachers.

Some teachers say they are in a fix. “People forget we are human. It is important to be sensitive to students' emotions, but teachers are expected to leave behind natural emotions such as anger,” says a higher secondary school teacher.

Acknowledging the need to be careful in their choice of words in class, some teachers say positive reinforcement is the only way out. “Corporal punishment is not allowed. You can't be sarcastic or harsh with students. Building camaraderie is the only possible solution. But it requires patience and time,” says another teacher, who takes mathematics for class X in a government school.

S. Mathialagan, who teaches at Hindu Higher Secondary School, says knowing students' background is key. “A lot of our students come from modest backgrounds. We need to know about their families and the issues they face,” he says.

Recalling an instance of a student absenting himself for the practical examination and revision tests, Mr. Mathialagan says enquiries revealed that the class XII student was living with his uncle and aunt, and had some problems with them. “It would have been inappropriate to just scold him for absenteeism.”

Observing that it is important to respect adolescents' self-esteem, he says: “Even if we want to question them or speak to them about a problem, we must do it separately and never in front of the class.” As the head of a Chennai Middle School puts it, “Students don't like it even if we ask them to keep quiet.Even our own children resist criticism or advice. It is important to win their trust and faith,” she says.

Parents have their share of concerns. V. Radhika, parent of a teenager, says her daughter's teacher does not treat all students the same way. “If the class topper is naughty in class, it is usually a request for silence. But my daughter has told me how she felt bad when the teacher said ‘All you do is talk in class. How will you ever pass?'”

Teachers feel parents also have a role. “They are lenient with children at home to make up for their busy schedules. They tell teachers to discipline them, and do so without being strict. How is it possible?” asks S. Radha, a class XI science teacher.

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Meera SrinivasanJune 28, 2012