Teachers walking a tightrope today

CHENNAI, MARCH. 24. The headmistress used to be a dynamic, positive leader three months ago before an incident in her school turned her into a shadow of her former self.

A student committed suicide. A suicide note pointed to spurned love, claims the headmistress. Under the media glare, the blame fell on a harsh teacher who "scolded" the teenager.

Today, the school is crippled. Teachers, who took the trouble of holding special classes on weekends, are too scared to bother. "We don't tell the girls to work hard and study any more," says one teacher. "It is difficult to feel a sense of involvement in our work, when we are being blamed for everything — neither the students nor the government took our side."

The authority of the teacher has been thoroughly undermined, says the headmistress in a feeble voice. Several teachers in private and Government schools across the city feel the same. With increasing incidence of student suicides, the teacher is often the first scapegoat.

Educationist S. Swaminatha Pillai says every teacher is walking a tightrope. "With single or double children families, parents are pampering their children. Every want of the child is catered to. But at school, the child is one of 40 boys and girls. The teacher cannot be as sensitive as a parent. Moreover, the teacher is constantly under pressure — to finish the portions, to bow to the wants of the management, to deliver cent per cent results... "

And the teacher begins to feel the heat.

Take Lalitha Swaminathan, a Hindi teacher at Modern Senior Secondary School, Nanganallur. "Our position is critical. We read reports about a teacher being arrested because a child she punished jumped off the roof. When we were children and punished at school, our parents questioned us and chastened us. That doesn't seem to be the case now. On the other hand, if we, as teachers, are lenient, children turn undisciplined and unruly. The present day situation is loaded against us."

Psychologist Shantha Joseph looks at the larger picture. While condoning punishment, she says, "It is okay for teachers to punish a child provided he learns that what he did was wrong and that he must correct himself. That must be the goal of punishment," she says.

Mass punishments, however, don't work. "An imposition might be humiliating to one child, but another might go through with it to get the teacher off his back. A teacher must be a good judge of individual temperaments," she says.

She recognises that the pressure on children to succeed academically, is what often drives them over the edge. "But for that our education system must change.

Schools must realise they are not assembly lines, to put all children through the same grind once they reach a particular age," she adds. It is only then that the pressure will ease off teachers.

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