I first caught the news headline of the killing of the school teacher on my mobile web at an interminable traffic jam on my way back home. Painful though the news was, I did not think about it again for some time as the traffic started moving.

The news did not strike me even when my mother and my wife both checked with me if I had heard it on the radio while driving back. I was wondering why they were talking about it. Did it happen in my daughter's school? It could not have happened, I thought, as I remembered it was a boys' school. Only when my wife told me that it was MY school where the incident had happened, did the full import hit me.

The fact that this had happened in my school made it all the more difficult to digest. Memories came swimming as I saw the visuals of the school premises in the evening news bulletin — memories of a happy childhood in a school whose portals I had walked out of exactly 25 years ago. It could not have happened in this school, I thought. I could not help wondering that while I had got out of the school, it was very much a part of me. My instincts, values and whatever I stand for today were imbibed in those hallowed halls, classrooms and playfields.

Why did this have to happen? So what if a teacher is strict? Strict teachers too are part of children growing up. In fact, stricter teachers are the ones who offer many an anecdote that we carry to the grave. One had the most fun in school imitating a strict teacher admonishing a friend. Even now when we all meet, we talk only about such moments. Who remembers what happened in class or during lunch hours or PT periods? What we reminisce about when we meet old schoolmates are only these moments — about how Kishore was hauled up by the headmaster, how the PT master caught Sakthi who could not stop giggling during the assembly, how Keith was caught eating in class by our maths master. If you got caught, there were always consequences, but the affected parties were never aggrieved inordinately. The punishment was a badge of honour!

But I guess those days are over. Well-intentioned admonishments and corporal punishment administered at the right time are gone for ever. Today, a teacher is not supposed to pull up a student, let alone punish him. I guess there could be hell to pay if she did that. It is a pity that this teacher paid with her life.

With our society and schools having “evolved,” parents and teachers are supposed to handle kids only with kid gloves. You cannot be too harsh or physically punish. Society will look down on you if you are caught punishing a child. It is as though you have failed in your calling as a teacher or your duty as a parent.

We have to admit it is difficult. A teacher cannot ALWAYS have a kind word. One is not denying that kindness has its merits. But it cannot always be honey-dripping words that the teacher uses. Most errant students have to be dealt with in a matter-of-fact manner. Based on the situation, the teacher must be allowed to choose between positive and negative reinforcements.

My feeling is that the boy at St. Mary's would not have had a problem had he been simply shouted at or punished for whatever was his misdemeanour. He would have sulked for some time or would have worn his punishment happily as a trophy for a while among his peers. Since we as a society have removed the tools of matter-of-fact admonishments and corporal punishment from the poor teacher's hands, she had to record bad behaviour in the boy's school diary for his parents to take note and correct. We don't know the circumstances that prevailed in the boy's home. It may not have been conducive to such negative remarks is all that one can surmise.

Whatever it was, an irreparable loss has happened. Two children have lost their mother forever, the school has lost a good teacher and my school is in the news for all the wrong reasons.

As I close this, I cannot but help recall my School Anthem with a heavy heart. Somehow it sounds apt now.

God bless St.Mary's..

School that we love,

Stand beside her, and guide her

To do the right by the light from above.

In the classrooms, on the playfields,

Along the roadways where we roam,

God bless St. Mary's, our school, our home,

God bless St. Mary's, our school, our home.

May God bless the soul of the poor teacher and give comfort to the family members of both the teacher and the student. May the light from above guide them to face the difficult times ahead with fortitude.

(The writer is an alumnus of St. Mary's and his email ID is hemanth_kumarg@ yahoo.com)

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