A small boy came and handed me a folded paper. Before I could say or ask anything, he had disappeared. When I opened the sheet, it was filled with Hindi words in zigzag lines. The dancing letters were talking about the emotions of a boy who would always sit in last row. It was not just a few words but his mode of expressing himself, about all the teachers who have taught him so far. Here’s the English version:
I have been trying to ask many things since a long time. I have a lot of questions. Gathering all the courage I have, I am writing this letter. Teachers, have you ever tried to ask me why I can’t read? Do you know why I sit on the last bench everyday, unmistakably? Do you know why I can’t add two numbers, or three for that matter? Do you understand the reasons why I am not good at studies? Do you feel what I feel when you blame me? What about my Kabaddi performances? I am undoubtedly the best there. Why don’t you praise me for that? Why am I always the one to be punished in front of the entire class. You call me dumb, each time for an unfinished task without asking why I didn’t do it. I can’t understand concepts as easily as your brightest students but I’ve tried to clear my doubts. You have shut me up because I am a backbencher saying that I don’t deserve to ask anything. Teachers, I’ll wait for that fine day when you ask me to ask a question.
The boy from the corner desk at the back.
This may not be only one child’s story. It could be of all the kids sitting in corner desks in different parts of the country. A lot of them might experience the pain of being called ‘dumb’ day after day. Not surprisingly, this category is made on the basis of marks they secure in exams. Those grades and numbers have become the parameters of judging how bright is a student and hence, we can’t completely blame them for running in the race to gain marks. Those who can’t keep pace, eventually become the corner desk kids. They are bullied and harassed not only by their peers but also by teachers, seniors and even by parents at home. They get the least positive attention both at school and at home.
But don’t you think that every kid is different. Each one of them has their own pace to learn. The learning styles as well as the way they remember things is also distinct. Comparing them with the one labelled brightest in the class, results in low self-esteem as well as lack of confidence in them. In future, it becomes problematic for them to even do simple tasks. They tend to panic and live in fear. It’s a teacher’s responsibility to identify their needs and teach them accordingly without harassing them. If a child is struggling to learn addition, it simply means he/she needs more guidance, not that they can’t learn. They may be called slow learners, but not dumb people. We need to provide them with more support and an open space.
In my three months of working in different roles with school kids, one of them being that of a teacher, here’s what I’ve learnt about what a teacher should do:
- Prepare curriculum according to the learning levels of kids: If we will include everything under the sun in curriculum, making it heavier than the kid’s weight, they may not be able to grasp it. Plus, it will increase the mental pressure on them, leading to depression and sometimes, social anxiety.
- Giving space: Teachers should encourage flexible classrooms, give enough physical and mental space with a comfortable environment which allows individuals to express themselves better. Otherwise, many talents will die within the students, instead of getting an opportunity to show it to the world.
- Avoid traditional methods of teaching: Kids always get attracted to new ways and tools to teach. Teachers need to continuously come up with creative methods of teaching, and not just stick to chalk and blackboard.
- Making study fun: Everything can be made interesting. It should be the center around which the content revolves. It’s the first step to get the kids intrigued and for that, teachers should design fun activities to indulge them so that students get motivated to take part.
- Mental health: Schools have been declared “Punishment Free Zones”. No teacher can physically harass a student but what about the mental health. Bullying and harassing a child in front of his/her peers and creating constant academic pressure adversely effects the mental health of a student.
- The need for a counselor: Each school needs someone to counsel children, or a professional psychologist to take care of them. They are in an age where they need someone to help them understand themselves better, to talk openly and freely about their thoughts.
Most importantly, let’s avoid using the word ‘dumb’ and try to understand their potential which only needs a spark to blossom. Meanwhile, I’ll be waiting for more letters from my students where they could express themselves without fear…