The real lesson you learn from school teachers

Published: March 25, 2012

The right of respect is truly mutual, regardless of age - or who the teacher or student is.

It starts with a ruler. It is tapped against the black board in a repetitive, sardonic manner. The class is silent. Someone was talking before but now isn’t. We sit uncomfortably, confused about the almost mocking drumming of the ruler. There’s a scowl on the teacher’s face but it isn’t translated into an actual response.

This was in the eighth grade. The teacher didn’t like us. It wasn’t because we were ‘bad’ children, or someone skipped their homework… She just didn’t care. At least that’s what we thought when we were 13 years old.

Never mind that we studied about the lack of teachers in our country, how lucky we were to have a school or a shot at higher education. All we cared about then, was how little the teachers we did have acted like the teachers they were. It wasn’t that they didn’t know their subject or we couldn’t achieve good grades – it was just their mode of teaching…it seemed heartless. Teach. Maybe yell. Then go home.

But what does it mean to be a good teacher?

It means not to be like that teacher who launches into tirades about how students are the plague of Pakistan when someone mispronounces their Urdu vocabulary. It means not humiliating a girl for failing her math test. It means not yelling about tuition teachers being the root of all evil and then privately telling a student doing poorly in class that she could come to him for help at his own tuition centre.

These instances have added up over the years and are now reflected in the half-hearted attitudes of students. Someone mentioned the story of a fourth grade science teacher bullying her kids.

“Oh she’s THAT type, you know, the ones who think ‘danday kay saaath parhana’ (to teach with a stick) is the way to go.”

And the worst insult which is increasingly hurled as the students get older: “They’re just housewives in it for the pay.”

Sounds childish? Perhaps. But the opinions of these kids matter. They matter because they lead to certain actions, for example, the surge in tuitions.

You are a brilliant school teacher if your students do not go for tuitions. It’s not just for the exam notes, mind you.

“I don’t know, I can ask anything I want from my tuition teacher and because there is no time limit you get more work done.”

Someone pointed out that it’s just “a better environment.” What does that mean? They shrug. It’s just…conducive to learning.

One word gets thrown around a lot – respect. Many a rowdy class gets yelled at for not having enough of it. But some think that it’s the other way around.

“My teacher spends hours talking about respect, but if there’s no difference in the way she handles an eight-year-old versus an 18-year-old, then what’s the point?”

Respect is mutual but when it isn’t netted out, or when near-adults aren’t treated like they should be, “I honestly couldn’t care less” becomes the statement of the day.

This is not a whiny post about awful childhood and current teachers. If anything, I have had some brilliant teachers and they have made me love even the traditionally loathed subjects of Mathematics or Pakistan Studies.

Your best childhood teachers are the ones who nurture you, and the best current teachers are the ones who give you enough credit to think and stand for yourself. They do exist and they do make a difference. It’s just strange how the really bad ones stick out so much. Like the memory of kids standing in a playground eating Cocomos, whispering angrily about how their fourth grade history teacher had temper issues and how they wished she’d get to know them better.

The trouble is that as you get older and the same thing repeats itself, the whispering isn’t so quiet anymore, and the insults become crueller, and more demeaning. The right of respect is truly mutual, regardless of age – or who the teacher or student is.

Read more by Meiryum here.

Meiryum Ali

Meiryum Ali

A freshman at an ivy league school who writes a weekly national column in The Express Tribune called "Khayaban-e-Nowhere".

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

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