I feel very strongly about schools and teachers and their behavior and impact on children.
I have been brought up in Dubai and completed my schooling in an Indian Board school here. While the Indian Board is competitive, with a thorough syllabus, it also comes with a lot of pressure for the students. In fact not just the Indian Board, I find the entire schooling system in general, pressurizing.
School was more of a tension and forced day to day task for me that I was obliged to undertake. I don’t remember ever being happy going to school. My feelings were of fear if I didn’t go, because I would have to show the teacher a leave of absence note and I was scared to get caught if I lied about being sick, when in fact I just didn’t go because I didn’t feel like it.
My other tension would be the notes I would have to copy and complete that I would be missing for that day. Even if I stayed home and missed school by choice (or because my parents felt I need a break!), I would spend my entire day feeling guilty and would keep thinking what would be going on in class at that time and how much work I was missing. I would be more tensed by the end of the day and go to school next day feeling worse. My teachers were always stern and would somehow make me feel horrible about the work I had missed. They would not worry about my health, but just dump all the pending work on me.
I know I am projecting them as monsters here, and maybe they were not so bad. They were perhaps good people, with maybe lack of a genuine value of the word teacher. My definition of them here is purely from my emotional perspective – ‘The way I felt because of them’. I am not saying that they did these things rudely. But they were not caring either, and for someone sensitive like me, that is a big deal. I always felt threatened by them. Like they were waiting for an opportunity to pounce on me, to show me down, to make me feel incapable. So I was forever on the edge. I would just pray to get through each day without being called out by them for something. I would pray to keep me safe and strong each day to get through it.
During summer holidays or winter break, I used to be extremely stressed!
Holidays is a time for children to rest and take a break from the regular school and academic work. But no, our teachers gave us heap-loads of work even then. I wanted to just be lazy and do extracurricular activities during these holidays, along with visiting relatives, but would never be able to enjoy that because of the stress of all those worksheets and projects that I needed to do. I used to carry all my work in my suitcase during our family holiday! My perceived lack of creativity would make it even more difficult to do those projects calmly. The deadlines, the grading system for each and every task and the brutal feeling of being snatched off of my freedom, would leave me in tears by the end of every holiday. This would lead to my parents and sisters doing the projects for me, to help keep me calm. Hence, there was actually no learning that took place. The teachers would eventually not even care for some of these homework or projects, but they always scared us about checking it on the first day back to school.
They also loved creeping us out about exams. As far as I can remember, I have always feared exams. In fact it may be from kindergarten, which I did in India. The environment at school there was hardly child friendly. Their strict rules, and no talking or interacting within the classroom policy, was perhaps the first step to my development of school fear and gradual closure to my creative and imaginative side. As a defense mechanism, I learnt to always be on the good side of teachers. I thought being their pet would minimize the risk of being punished in class. Punished for talking in the classroom, for attempting to ask a doubt or comment on a topic, for coming in late to class someday, for not dressing up in a perfect uniform, for not completing a writing page, for not looking straight ahead during assembly time, for not carrying a certain kind of bag or wearing a certain shade of blue ribbons in my hair, or my hair being too long or too short, and the list goes on and on.
I doubt half these teachers or so called role models are even aware of what they have done to my childhood innocence. I think they can develop a growing child and enrich them with knowledge about the world, while also allowing them to find their own way and build their own self. But they seemed to have a model in their head of what a perfect child should be like and tried every day to mould each of us into that model. Anything different was considered taboo! This mindset of theirs got set into my mind too and I always made sure I hung out with those students who were good at academics, and were liked by the teachers. I counted the rest of the children as not worthy to befriend. Of course I was not aware of this trait of mine, until I grew up and met people from different walks of life, whom I liked and befriended without knowing what their grades were, or whether or not they were favorites with their teachers. It didn’t matter and I believe it shouldn’t matter. Can’t we be taught to be nice to all, be open to all, consider everyone an equal, and accept them for who they are?
We had the top 5 students in every class, and I was always under pressure to be among them. Every activity in class was a competition to being among those 5. While it is healthy to encourage students to aim high, how can you make the rest of them feel any less? There can only be 1 winner, which does not mean that the others are incompetent or incapable. But that is how the teachers portrayed it and now I realize how unfair it was. I would feel horrible if I ever came 6th in class. It was as bad as being the last on the list.
I don’t remember loving any of my teachers in any grade, and till today I am only happy to be done with school. I do not ever want to go back to my younger days, because they were the most stressful. I don’t even want to enter a school, or meet a student and discuss academics with them. I get scared even today, just thinking about school, or exams. I get nervous being in a school, being around a teacher, or reminiscing school days. I am scared to meet my old teachers, even though I am quite sure they would be proud to see how far I have come in life.
I am scared to help a student do their homework, even if it is a relative. I am petrified of most authoritative figures in my life. Be it the seniors at work, elders in the family, or the Head of any group or anything I may be part of. I am scared of my gym instructor too! Because the stress of having to be right, or do my best, in any situation/task that can be scored is still there in me.
I recently did a Life Coaching program, and on the day of my final session, I fell sick. Eventually I realized (with guidance from the Life Coach) that it was my stress of exams, and having to get a report at the end of the term, that made me so sick that day. I got scared about what the final comments would be, and how I had fared overall, even though that was not expected, and there was no scoring, since it was all about enhancing my life and myself in a way that I want and that would benefit me. I loved the fact that there is no right or wrong to it.
I guess what I am trying to say here is that school, education, teachers, are a huge part of every child's life. They literally shape us up and form our foundation. If this foundation is filled with stress, feeling of inadequacy, and fear of being wrong, how can a child grow up with courage to take risks and explore the world? Can a child have peace of mind, and enjoy learning, which is what serves us as adults to move forward and succeed in life. I still relate reading a book to homework and stress, which is probably what keeps me behind at being up-to-date with my work today. If education is all about being a topper out of fear of being less able, or out of fear of failure, then education is actually closing many gates for the child. Should it be stopping us from going out in the world and seeing what is out there? It is actually sucking out the fun, joy and passion one has towards a field or subject. Children can be nurtured and taught positively. Yes discipline is important, but not by inculcating fear.
After I finished school, I had no clue which field I had an inclination or liking towards, because I always treated every subject as a battle that I had to win to survive. I didn’t have the time or perhaps the luxury to develop an interest in anything. I was just a bookworm, with no ambition other than scoring high on the next test. So I obviously had a difficult time choosing my career. Thankfully I had great guidance from counselors to help me with this task, and I finally decided to become a Speech Language Therapist. I went to India for graduation, as they have some very good colleges for this course, and I was afraid to go into a new country all alone at that age. While I was lucky to get into a highly reputed college, I again experienced being subjected to the mentality of acing exams and spending every minute in the library, as only that could provide me a bright future. Though my field is highly practical oriented, we were mostly soaked in theories and books, with very little emphasis on their practical application. So it was school all over again for me. I went through panic attacks, sleepless nights, sacrifice of several road trips, parties, and basically a very boring 4 years. Thankfully, I had an amazing support system in the form of my friends there, or else I don’t think I would have survived the course.
As a Speech Therapist today, my job also involves me going into schools for providing therapy. Yet every time I enter a school, I am overcome with a sense of nausea and extreme fear. All those years and memories of being afraid to stand up and give a wrong answer, or being punished or disheartened or looked down upon by my guides, comes swooping back to me. It still fills me up with tears and nervousness, and then pity for the children who are going through it now.
I was having a discussion with a friend recently, who is from Netherlands. She said that while she would not want to go back to school, she loved going there as a kid and often received appreciation and encouragement for every new skill that she acquired – even something simple like learning to tie shoe laces!
I do see a major change in the education system in schools with American or UK education systems, where children have freedom of speech, movement and interaction, and learning is made fun rather than torture. Schools are joyful rather than prison-like. Teachers are happy and encouraging. Sometimes I envy today's kids and feel like going back to school, and starting again in this new environment with a new aura, which may finally help me learn for the knowledge, and not to score a 100%. I may finally rid myself of this fear, and need to please, or living in fearful anticipation of my seniors. I may take up a task and give it my best, without having to be perfect. While it may be late for me, I do hope that the present and future generation of academics in every country, especially India, realize that perfection does not exist, and that every child is different and learns at a different pace, and should have the freedom to do so!
Ms Mehak Sharma - Speech Therapist, Dubai.
"This article has been written by a confident and promising young professional, after she identified during her Life Coaching with me, how much she is haunted by schools and teachers till date; how her fears are still ruling her life.
Our education systems have evolved over the years and are doing a great job, however there is a need for them to review themselves, and understand the deep and life-long impact they have on each growing child.
These children are our future. We need to be empowering them, rather than intimidating them. And yes, even parents play a major role in this."
Ms Rita Chadha
#FifthElement #LifeCoaching #LeadershipMentoring #GoBeyondYourself #BeUnstoppable #FengShuiConsultant
#FifthElement #LifeCoaching #LeadershipMentoring #GoBeyondYourself #BeUnstoppable #FengShuiConsultant