Four years ago, on Teacher's Day, when my Facebook was flooded with people praising and owing everything in life to their teachers, I couldn't identify with any of those feelings. Simply because I could barely think of an instance when a teacher had said something kind to me or changed my life for the better. And so, I decided to write a note on Facebook about it - about how, if it weren't for my family and friends, I wouldn't have been able to get through school life. I also wrote about some of the horrible instances of harassment and victimization that I had to witness and go through because of a few teachers.
Four years later, now, this same school that I went to in Kerala is in the news for suspending two students because they were seen hugging in school. The boy and the girl with the support of their families have been very rightly fighting for their rights.
I left this school in 2006, and to think that these incidents of harassment continue to date is shocking and beyond justification. There needs to be serious introspection by the school management and authorities on the kind of faculty that exists, and on the new and incoming faculty as well. Ironically, this school is in a place not too far away from the ashram
of Mata Amritanandamayi Devi who is popularly known worldwide as the ''hugging saint''. The world already lacks love and peace, let's not suck out even the last bit that's left.
On social media and elsewhere, there has been a lot said about the school itself. But we fail to see that this is not a school-specific issue, it is a teacher-specific issue. The more we talk about shaming the school, the real culprit, at least in my opinion, is getting away. People have pointed out the girl student involved is missing from any discussion because she is too traumatized to appear on TV to talk about her case and defend herself. I can't even imagine what the child must be going through and hope and wish she's getting all the support she can. However, aren't we all missing another person too? - the teacher? The teacher who just couldn't let go of an incident which she reported after which the students and their parents formally apologized; the teacher who was willing to go to any extent to make sure the students would not get a second chance and would be expelled from school. If this teacher still thinks that she is not wrong, then she shouldn't have a problem to come forward and express her strong view on any platform. She too could use a mask, if privacy is a concern.
Every time I think about some of my teachers, I have nothing but disregard for them. Here is one of the incidents of harassment that I experienced in school. During an annual school inspection (teaching observation), the inspector (sent by the school management) at the end of the class, in the absence of the teacher, asked us for our feedback on the quality of teaching of that specific teacher. I stood up and told him that there's a lot to say but I would say it only if he guaranteed complete confidentiality. He quickly agreed, and I reported the substandard quality of teaching by that teacher. The inspector wasted no time in reporting me and a few friends who seconded my opinion to the then school principal. The principal, who also breached all levels of student confidentiality, mentioned my name to the concerned teacher, defeating the whole point of a teaching inspection. All hell broke loose, and I can confidently say that the teacher, and all the other teachers who she mentioned this to, made sure that my school life remained a nightmare till the very end. The corollary to getting in the bad books of teachers is that they automatically influence your peers to go against you too.
Coming back to the ongoing incident, in a sudden twist of events, overnight the school has announced that it will ''relook'' at the ongoing case of the girl and the boy student who have been suspended from school since July 2017 and has agreed to meet the boy and his parents on the January 3. But too many questions remain unanswered.
Does this mean the school will reinstate the boy? Does this also mean that they will adjust for the lack of attendance for the boy as the CBSE requires the student to have at least 75% attendance to be eligible to appear for the exams?
What about the girl? Even if the school agrees to let her back in, will she ever be able to have a normal school life? What rehabilitation methods would the school undertake to make sure she can at least have the strength to complete her school year? What about all the missed lessons? Will any teacher kindly volunteer to provide extra classes?
This incident has thrown light on several facts. A teacher can easily make or break a student. In a world where everyone is going through serious issues like insecurity, anxiety and depression, an educator must be extremely cautious when dealing with students, especially teenagers, who are going through various emotions and are trying to figure out themselves in addition to dealing with the stress of getting into a good university. These students should be handled with a lot of love, care and clear and timely guidance. I urge parents to come forward and speak up for their children when they go through any kind of harassment or victimization.
And to these teachers - do us all a favour and let the students live. Only when you give respect can you expect it in return. To the students - don't let any of that hate coming your way break you, instead let it make you stronger. More power to you!(Rhea Elizabeth George is an Assistant Professor in Economics.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.