For Kamiar, the most embarrassing moment of his school life was when his teacher called him a “retard” in front of the whole class, that burst out laughing. “When I asked him to explain the sum for the fourth time he said, ‘Are you a retard?’” he asked. “I could never like Mathematics after that.”
Caning and beatings may be old school by now as most institutions have a strict policy against physical abuse of students. Teachers do, however, still find ways to punish and abuse pupils. It is called silent abuse.
Teenage students from all grades and ages from different schools told The Express Tribune that this treatment is worse than physical abuse.
“Many teachers degrade students in front of the class,” said Natasha, a student at a mid-level private school chain. “I feel this is extremely hard for students to deal with at a psychological level.” Her geography teacher, for example, started deducting marks after Natasha turned down her offer to join after school tuitions. The teacher had tried her sell her services by saying that Natasha would get a better grade. “I feel that teachers are there to help rather than criticise students,” Natasha adds. “If they feel a student needs to improve there are better ways to work on it rather than mistreating them.”
At most schools a teacher is only allowed to either send the student out of class or take him or her to the principal’s office in the case of a major complaint. According to a private school principal, this is the system that is followed and at some point the student’s parents are called in or worst comes to worst, they are suspended for some time.
Knowingly or unknowingly, many teachers, including some famous names in the O’ and A’ Level circuit have acquired a reputation for having ‘tough’ personalities based on their denigrating remarks to students. The pupil who is singled out is embarrassed while the rest of the class laughs along. Nadir, an A’ Level student at a well known school in Clifton, told The Express Tribune that one teacher singles students out. “He calls students by insulting nicknames and passes humiliating comments that can really bring your confidence down,” he said.
Another student, Rubab, from a school with many franchise branches, talked about one teacher who kept telling her she was a “disgrace” for the whole school. Student Faraz, from the same chain of schools, asked, “How am I supposed to feel if a teacher, someone who should be motivating me and helping me, says that I do not stand a chance at having a bright future?”
Zehra Mohammad, a tenth grader, recalled a teacher who would shout at them for as little as sneezing or coughing in class. “No matter how tough you were you would cry,” she confided. Mariam recalled how a language teacher used to throw chalk pieces at any student who was found talking. “As much as we used to make fun of this odd habit of hers, it was completely humiliating when the chalk used to hit us unexpectedly.”
Osama, a tenth grade student at a private O’ Level school in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, said that one day during a free period, when the students were making a noise, a teacher in charge came inside the classroom and beat him up. “He boxed my back just to tell the whole class that if they don’t listen he would beat them like me” he said. When Osama told his mother, she wanted to talk to the school management, but he stopped her from doing so. “Two years would have gone down the drain,” he speculated out of fear. He was scared that the teacher’s attitude afterwards would ruin him. Moin, another student, said he had a teacher who would hit his face and back while muttering obscenities.
The jury is out on whether physical or verbal abuse actually works. After all, students today can be impossible to discipline because of overindulgent parents who do little but pay school tuition. Seemin Qamar, the head of the department of Psychology at St Joseph’s College, argued that teachers do it to push students to work harder. “Some students need it otherwise they wouldn’t listen to you and punishment or scolding just doesn’t work,” she said.
Another teacher justified this behavior by saying that some students are so stubborn and spoilt that they just laugh at you when you scold them. “So, we are strict sometimes and pass comments in order to show them their way,” she said. In her 11 years as a teacher, she has seen students completely cross their limits and even make up stories and complain against the teacher in school.
Dr Uzma Ambareen, a consultant psychiatrist, warns however, that teachers need to be aware of the impact they leave on the young men and women in their care. “If the teachers use [abuse] as a tool to correct students or to train their conduct, it usually doesn’t work then,” she said. In fact, it really lowers their self esteem and confidence.
Another theory is that the teacher is threatened by the students. According to Dr Rakshinda Talat Hussein, a retired professor of psychology from the University of Karachi, teachers can feel inferior if the students display more knowledge or ask certain questions. Such teachers then take out their own anger or misgivings because they have been taught or demeaned this way in their past. “We all know that punishment doesn’t work and a reward does and that is how all students are treated,” she said. “If a teacher picks on a student and that student retaliates, who is the winner, the student of course.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 4th, 2011.