What makes for a manageable class?

Is the need to discipline inversely proportionate to ‘love for learning’?

Sharmila Govande

Rohan always forgets to write the date and name on his worksheets. The teacher has to constantly remind him to do so.
Sarah always misplaces or forgets to pack a notebook or a textbook.
Nikhil is unable to sit in one place for a long time. He wanders around the class and causes distraction to his teachers and other classmates.
Mihir is slow in his work and leaves it incomplete almost every day.
Neeta is unable to comprehend what is being taught in class and often has a blank look whenever a question is asked.

Given our system of more than 25 children in each class, it can indeed be frustrating, tiring, and overwhelming for a teacher who has to manage many such ever increasing problems in class and has to also complete her lesson plan. The teacher uses various techniques ranging from rewards to punishments, positive strokes to threats to manage her class and achieve the targets for the day. Sometimes teachers, unable to handle the pressure, also resort to the use of inappropriate words, shouting and even spanking.

A few days ago my son who had just returned home from school said to me in an angry voice while taking off his shoes, “Mama, I do not like school and I do not like my lace shoes.” On probing further, he shared that his teacher had been reminding him to tie his laces properly and on that day she had lost her cool and had told him to wear strap shoes, if he was unable to tie the laces. He was upset that she said this in front of the class and also because the teacher always hurried them up and hence his laces always got undone after some time.

I asked myself, “What would make a teacher react this way?” Being a teacher myself, I realized that it must not be easy on the teacher. I had also lost my cool a couple of times. It had taken great willpower to not let those impolite, inappropriate words slip from my mouth. While I was able to empathize with the teacher, I also thought about one of my classes where I never had any disciplining or class management issues. This class was our first batch of primary school students. There were eight children in the class and their age ranged from 5 years to 7 years. This was a highly dynamic group with a mix of high performing students and children with learning difficulties. In fact, one child hadn’t been to school before and had to yet learn the alphabet. Initially, we all were worried about how this group would function and whether we would be able to create wonders with this group.

Many factors proved to have a positive impact on the children. They had the luxury of an entire bungalow with sufficient outdoor space all to themselves. The entire group went to school together along with their teacher. The two class teachers spent the entire day with just this group. A few specialist teachers took classes in the presence of the class teachers. The class had a well-balanced routine that included indoor and outdoor sessions. Creative mediums such as music, dance, and drawing shared an equal status along with academic subjects.

However, the most important factor was the relationship that each child shared with their teacher. A relationship of trust and mutual respect among the teachers and the children set the high pace of learning. The teachers treated each and every child as a separate entity and believed that each had different needs that could be fulfilled together as one group. Every child’s behaviour was cherished and lauded. They received ample opportunity to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes.

I taught math and life skills to this class. As a specialist, I spent about an hour and a half, three times every week. The children displayed multiple levels of grasping and understanding. I believed that the children would develop a love for math only if they understood it and could relate it to real life. While they picked up skills in counting, skip counting, place value, addition, subtraction through many activities both at school and at home (as homework), I introduced them to the world of symbols in the life skills class. Through activities such as treasure hunt, scavenger hunts, memory games and puzzles, they found the connection between symbols and their meanings. They realized that numbers too were symbolic representation of the actual amount/quantity. ‘Love for the subject’ thus played an important role in the level of understanding and in a heightened eagerness to master a task. These children soon were ready for challenge through multiplication, division and fractions. The language teachers for both English and Hindi also focused on creating a love for the subject and understanding the logic behind letters and vowels. My son, who was part of the class, developed a love for the Hindi teacher as well as the language and within a few months picked up the letters, vowels, and the varnamala.

In a stress free environment, the children were taught to voice their questions, explore their curiosity, experience joy through learning and more importantly to believe that learning is for their own growth and development. The children had this amazing schooling experience just for one year as they had to shift to another place the following year. They had to cope with more children, smaller classrooms, less outdoor space and a more formal schooling experience in the new premises. However, with the strong foundation set in the previous year, the children coped very well.

Today, five of the eight children from that group including my son have joined other schools, some owing to relocation and some owing to parental pressure of studying in a mainstream school. Their parents recognize and praise the efforts of the school and the feedback I receive from the parents has strengthened my belief to ‘treat children as intelligent individuals capable of taking decisions and responsibility and they will surely develop a love for learning’.

The author is a social development professional with over thirteen years of experience in working with children and young adults. She took to teaching after she met with an accident in 2010. She taught math and social studies at a primary school in Mysore for three years before joining an MA in Education programme at Azim Premji University (APU). Currently a student at APU, she juggles her time between studying, teacher training, helping children with learning difficulties and looking after her children. She can be reached at sharmilagovande@gmail.com.