Amidst my conversation with a Kindergarten Teacher, I saw her swing swiftly, landing it on the cheek of little Ayan. His mistake – he was being a little noisy. More often than not, the chitter chatter of tiny tots doesn’t qualify as ‘Noise’. Yet, this is a practice best suited to teachers who find it rather easy to silence their classrooms.
In my teaching profession, I had probably felt this tied and helpless for the first time. “No!” I told myself. “This is a new role. You need to build relationships. Think rationally, think long term. This isn’t the time to be emotional.”
On the other hand, I couldn’t myself think that if continued, this practice was going to leave a scarring mark on children as old as Ayan. I wasn’t willing to be responsible for that scar. Even though I had a number of reasons to keep mum about it and focus on building relationships with the school, I knew that nothing was above the child.
Baby steps to solve this issue went in vain. During my first official meeting with the School Leader, I spoke at length about the ill-effects of the now rampant corporal punishment. The SL, to my surprise, challenged that there wasn’t a better way to discipline children.
Over the following days, I talked to various people on the importance of joy in a classroom. Some understood it; some, like the school leader, challenged it; some others pretended to get it. But no one wanted to do anything about it. Various organizations working in these schools agreed that corporal punishment was a huge issue. But they refrained from talking about it because of its apparent ‘sensitivity’.
Bogged down by the failure to address this issue, I questioned myself if this was really such a big deal? As a child, I faced a fair share of punishment too. I turned out fine. As I thought about it, Ayan’s face popped into my mind. Tears flowing down his innocent little face, begging his teacher to let him go as she swung her hand to hit him repeatedly. I saw the effects of the punishment on him unfold before my eyes.
For many days, Ayan had stopped responding altogether. He would sit in a corner, wouldn’t open his bag. The only time he would be seen doing anything else other than sitting with a blank stare is when his mom work come to school during lunch. Imagine being yelled at and hit every day, for hours together.
Ayan made realize that the key to making a difference was to build a strong proof point. One that shows me that eradication corporal punishment is needed and is possible; and one that would show teachers that corporal punishment isn’t the end game and there are many other successful ways one can manage a classroom.
It was ambitious to do, but I picked a teacher most infamous for his corporal punishment practices to show the working of my proof point. This teacher was the most brutal and consistent punisher. Following hours of conversations with him, I conducted a series of demo classes with him where I helped co-plan and co-teach his classes. This was my sole priority for an entire month.
At the end of almost a month, my proof point was ready. I witnessed a sharp transformation in the teacher who once knew no other means to catch the attention of the class than the use of corporal punishment. He, on the other hand, couldn’t believe that he became a proof to the fact that corporal punishment can be eradicated!
Today, this teacher is an ambassador of the Anti-Corporal Punishment Squad. He has gone on to lead sessions on positive classroom management – drawing from his experience of being a teacher who heavily depended on the rod. This was a small step but it gave me immense hope. In the school I work, 35% of the teachers have completely stopped practicing corporal punishment.
Ayan now participates in class, responds to teachers, proactively greets them and most importantly, experiences joy in class! This is what happens when students stop fearing being punished and are allowed to learn through patience and care.
But this 35% only accounts for 9 such teachers. There’s still a long way to go before this practice stops across schools in India. Till then, I will hold on to this little evidence which in itself came through a long, arduous journey. In the end, it’s always important to work towards spreading joy in the classroom, rather than fear of the rod.
By Sagarika Sharma, Assistant School Leader, Bangalore
Mantra4Change and Teach For India have partnered to empower schools in 4 cities across India through the Assistant School Leader / Cluster Transformation Lead Program. Mantra4Change is the knowledge and implementation partner in this program and works to support the change leaders.