Wednesday, 24 August 2011

School: There are reasons I don't miss it

For the most part of my life, I was on the sunny side of school. I loved it, never missed a day. School was friends, and amazing teachers. School was community singing and football in the rain. When you're on that bright and happy side of school, the ugly part of it never comes into view. It's like standing on a stage with the lights on you. You can never see what's just beyond the brightness.

But when you grow up a little, and you see school for what it is, you realise things that make the people you adored look ugly. The teachers that put you in line when you went for a field trip, the ones that encouraged you to sing out loud even when they knew you were tone deaf, the teachers that pushed you to submit the essay you were shy about, those very same teachers grow up too. And when you get to high school, it feels like a whole other ball game.

Even when the game changed, I adapted to the rules. So despite everything that happened, I just barely made it through school, walking that fine line between the bright side and the dark. But even as I was doing this, I could see out of the corner of my eye the terrifying reality that school was, and I chose to ignore it.

No more. All those feelings I am going to pour out here. Whether anyone listens or not, because the anger that I feel today is vehement and sometimes even vengeful. I wish I could go back and do what I could have done then about making that dark side disappear; not that it could ever be accomplished so easily.

I remember in 10th standard, all the "smart kids" used to automatically get a ten on ten for internals. Why? Well, the teachers figured that the smart-kids were more likely to score a hundred percent on the board exam so why deprive them of that by cutting internal marks? Most of the smart-kids deserved those marks; they submitted their projects on time, they took efforts to study for tests, the did most things they were supposed to do. But in the event they didn't, they were never penalised. They got away with bunking one of those tests or submitting a paper late. What about the others? They were the ones who really needed those extra internal marks. They were the ones who should have been given wider room, but instead they were the ones who got picked on the most by the teachers. Just because they weren't good at exams, or good at cutting and pasting and making a stellar project. No, it didn't matter if they were good at anything else. It didn't matter if they were kindhearted. All that mattered was that they weren't getting the marks, and so they were going to be branded.

It's all about reputation in school. When a group of teachers get together in the Staff Room, even the ones that liked you will end up hating you if a few of them do. I'm sure they talk about other things too, but they sure do talk about us kids. And they don't talk nicely too often. If you have a bad reputation, it spreads like wildfire within that Staff Room and then every little thing you do or say adds on to the story, however harmless or offhand it was. I know those kids, the ones they talk about. I was one of them too. And probably, the only reason i got away with it was because I wrote my exams well. I know the ones that weren't so good at school, who were always talked about as "bad kids". Stereotyped before they even have a chance to change their images. Grouped at an age where they are changing all the time. Even when the TRY to change for the better, the stereotypes stick and the changes are nullified.

What angers me the most is how they wring you dry in school. They've seen you from such a young age, towards the end they know most of your strengths and weaknesses. They will use you until they need you no more for your strengths. If you're a basketball player, they will send you for every tournament. If you play the guitar, you will participate in every important stage performance. Are you a good orator? Get set to attend every debate and public speaking event that matters. But even if you're good at all of those combined, if you don't have the marks, don't expect much special treatment. On the other hand, if you have the marks, you'd probably get to go for all those events with half the talent. In the speeches, the big-shots will talk about how they encourage talent and push students to go beyond their abilities. If only you knew how much they could lie. Sure, on paper it all looks great. Sure, when you put up a thousand cultural events in a year, you look like an incredible school. But what goes on behind each show is what determines the quality of a school, and what goes on behind is oft not the stuff for the big inspiring speeches.

I was one of those, you know. Attended almost every inter-school fest, went for a bunch of basketball tournaments, student council member and a myriad other things. There was a point when I was fed up of it all. It was in my twelfth standard, and I sat down, re-prioritised and decided that half the things I did in school, and for my school, were things I could do without. When I confronted the school with my issues, I was told I had no school spirit, that I was putting myself before the school and this was a bad thing. I was told that it was disappointing to see a "student like me" back out of school activities so that I could sit down and study and figure out what I wanted to do in life. Yes, that was what I was told. After the eleven years of doing all sorts of things for my school, for a year when I needed a break, my teachers attempted to pressure me into continuing what I had been doing all those years. It was only then that I realised that the school didn't really care where I'd be in the next two years, whether I'd be able to go to a good college, whether I was too stressed and needed a break. All they wanted was their half of the story sorted. I was extremely lucky to have parents that saw my best interests and gave me their full support. Not all of us are that lucky. Most of us assume that our teachers too, have our best interests at heart. How wrong I was.

What is worse, and I've seen this happen to people I know, is when teachers don't give due credit to the efforts of students who work hard. I know someone who was consistently failing in math. So for two months, this kid got himself enrolled in a tuition class, attended most of his classes, studied his ass off. I know this because I saw him study every day, and he really wanted to, for once, just be reasonable at math. His tuition sir told him that he'd get an 80 plus; but despite all this effort, the kid got a 60 percent average. He passed. And even though, he thought he had done better, he was still relieved. The next day, he gets called by his teacher. Why? Because it was "suspicious" that he got such good marks and they thought he'd cheated. This was augmented by one of his friends getting around the same marks as him (the explanation to which was that the both of them were studying together the day before the exam). But no, the "obvious" solution to the conundrum was that the two of them had cheated on the exam! What incentive does a child have to ever study for an exam again? How could teachers make such a blatant accusation without even an ounce of thought? This brings us again to the role branding has in school. The boys were known to be "trouble makers" so without any investigation it could be concluded they were in the wrong.

Here's another one. A teacher catches a boy for eating in class. He barely hears her, and continues to eat. The whole class starts laughing. In her anger she pulls up another boy, and chucks him out of class. The reason: he was tapping his fingers on the table. So he gets sent to the H.O.D. and she insults him, humiliates him, for tapping his fingers on the table. The kid tells her that it's a habit he has because he's been learning drums for many years and the action is subconscious. She just shouts at him some more and subsequently bans him from drumming at the next stage performance. She bans him, and not a single other one of his peers (who I'm sure would have cause an equal, if not more amount of "trouble") from doing the one thing he is passionate about. I cannot FATHOM how this was a way of constructive punishment. Discouraging a child's passion is the last thing a teacher should have done.

There are so many such cases, where teachers group children into easy-to-remember groups and treat them differently depending on which one they fall into. I have seen and heard of children being banned from exams, told not to attend class, humiliated; and more often than not, these were the kids that needed the most help in academics, the ones that really needed a TEACHER.

Victimising teenagers that do not fit the stereotype of the "ideal student" is one of the biggest mistakes a school and its teachers can make. We complain about teenagers starting to drink early, smoke even earlier. We blame parents, the media, society, the west. Do we ever look into ourselves and see the imprint WE leave on these youths? Do we consider the immense power we have to inspire and do we use this for their betterment? What I see, too often to stomach, is that more and more teachers are losing their drive to be true educators. Instead they follow the herd, they make steroetypes, they brand and exclude.

Such grave injustice is being done! And why are these students being subject to such treatment by people who should be their ROLE MODELS AND HEROES? It is beyond me how myopic these teachers have become over the years. At a time when students are getting more and more difficult to understand and communicate with, how does it help to corner these kids and make them even more miserable than they already are? Teachers, how are you able to say with honesty that you are actively helping children grow and become good human beings when many of you are driven by feelings not-so-noble? Honestly, why be teachers if you don't have the patience or the passion to be an educator?

I implore you, reader (if you have read all the way up to here), in your small way, to appreciate those kids that are left behind in the rat race whose starting gun is sounding earlier and earlier every year. Please don't push them to the sidelines just because they cannot excel in "what matters". Whether you are a parent, a brother, a sister, a friend, a teacher or a grandparent, let them know that it is okay to have a tough time in school. Give them that push; it could mean the world to them. I remember some teachers being taken to watch Taare Zameen Par back when it was still fresh. It seems we have forgotten the lessons of that story far too soon. I hope that the move to remove the immense weightage marks and exams have in a student's life is accelerated. I hope that it snowballs into a much needed change in our system.

Most of all, I hope that teachers and schools put the heart back in to learning. Because I see less and less confidence in that possibility everyday. Even as I apologise for all the bitterness that flows through this post, I urge you to not take lightly the effect these people, these "sensible adults" have on children. As personal as this post is, it also makes an appeal for a fairer, more forgiving, more encouraging schooling system that will ignite potential instead of extinguish it.


  1. The kids that got the perfect tens, they were usually the ones that went home everyday, methodically went through the timetable and did all their homework. They were the ones, when asked to submit an paper, did the research, wrote it up (for the rest of the class to copy). They were the ones that started slogging away at the books weeks before exams just so that they could get above average scores. They were cut some slack because, they had near-perfect track records.
    The ones who hastily scribbled in their homework during recess, remembered that there was a paper to be submitted only on the bus ride to school, they were the ones who made it okay for the ‘padipists’ to slip up once a blue moon.I should know, I was one of them.
    As far as I remember,genuine effort and hard work was always rewarded in school. When one of the typically academically backward kids scored better than expected, the teachers would always shower praise on them. The ones that were bad at tests, but good at projects, they used to get pretty decent internals as well.
    Gossipy teachers, that’s a statistical certainty. But those that do tell tales will not, or rather should not affect any teacher who really knows you and likes you. And why bother with those who willingly form opinions solely based on second hand stories, there will always be a few of *those* people anywhere you go.
    It’s not a perfect system, but it’s still not the terrifying reality you paint it out to be.

  2. Mari I agree with you a large portion but I also a deny a lot too.

    The thing about school is there are THE-SNOBS, THE-WANNA-BEES*, ALL-ROUNDERS, BOTTOM-FEEDERS.

    As a child I looked upto all-rounders despised the-snobs and pitied the–bottom-feeder.

    Each category brings on itself a series of events that later are blamed on the people who may have tilted their head to the direction of the branding. And some deserve it too. I maybe saying this as a wanna-bee myself. Snobs got pulled up by teachers, the All-Rounders got their load of work, the-wanna-bees got no spotlights and the bottom-feeders were left where they were.

    This sounds insensitive when it comes to a child but once we cross into high-school we are assumed to be more mature a complete fallacy. We just appear to be. And thus we get start getting branded once our cuteness of a child becomes the arrogance of a teenager (I don't blame teens I blame puberty). And some establish the fact that most wanna-bees and bottom-feeders don't get chance to be in the spot-light because they don't want to. But does that mean they can't be trained into accepting the stage rather-than be frightened of it.
    The grapevine is a symbiotic animal devouring the communication tree. This is where the gossiping becomes a thing of entertainment to a bunch of semi-competent drones.

    Like you said I have seen a child’s sparkle disappear from his eyes after a blame game from the teacher. It may be unintentional but I agree it looks cruel. From a teacher’s point of view who have seen batches after batches of students, stereotyping and snapping at students are the means they adopt due to lack of the interest and even out of fatigue.
    ‘Expectations’ one of the fucked up piece of word in the English language. This the reason most of mental stress and other psychological problems occur. Not only teachers even friends, relatives, etc are prone to this insane tradition of expecting a result because once he did it. And even if he reached the top he would be asked to climb higher because we left some space at the top. Now that is cruelty. And you mentioned people being thrown under the bus because of expectations. Well close your eyes and pray that it may not happen again.

    But Ignorance shall always be a cure to all this.

    P.S Pardon me if offended you in anyway. I mixed up a lot of topics up there