behaviour, education

Who stole the Alum cube from the Physics Lab?

Teaching the tenth standard is a sort of a challenge for any teacher, not just because of the heavy portions and limited time available, but because of the age factor of the children they have to deal with.  The students are thirteen plus, some are even seventeen, having failed in the lower classes. In between the tight rope walking of finishing the portions, assigning and correcting a series of  tests, the teachers seldom have time to pay special attention to any one child.  Added to this situation suppose a teacher happens to have one of the notorious unruly boys in her class ..God save her!  This is the exactly the case of Pawan, the seventeen year old, most notorious boy in the tenth grade of our school.

Pawan was one such child whom I never taught till the tenth grade. He was very well built for his age almost looked like a college boy.  I had just finished two weeks teaching this class without any event ,  when one of my girl student’s mother came with a  complaint  that her daughter was constantly being harassed by Pawan in the recess or in the play ground.  For such problems our school had a simple solution.  Pawan was shifted to another division which was two floors above the girl’s division and now I was not his teacher any more. As years rolled by, there was a constant mention of his name in the staff room, by all the teachers about his latest outrageous acts. He was average in studies and managed to reach the tenth grade.

Some of you may be surprised to hear but the fact is, the moment  children reach the 10th grade,  all of them start showing  a little bit of  attitude and special behaviour. They knew that they would be out of the school and try to take a little extra liberty.  They tell some teachers, “Madam, please give us a free period, or like “Madam is it OK if don’t take down the notes” The young teachers who had just joined, find it difficult to handle the class.  Now Pawan became the leader of the class to start voicing their non cooperation and got all the attention of the class.  Most of the teachers chose the easy way—ignored them, avoided confrontation and went ahead with their teaching.

One day I was in the Physics Lab as usual, correcting some test papers while Pawan’s class was doing the physics experiments.  The experiment was, finding the specific gravity using alum and kerosene. Every student was given a beaker of kerosene, a small cube piece of alum tied in a string and the spring balance   etc.  The Physics teacher who was conducting was a senior most, brilliant, intelligent teacher but with a very bad temper.  The entire school student population was afraid of his temper. As the experiment was simple the students finished their experiment and some of them went away to their class. Some still stayed in the Lab chit- chatting.  The peon was collecting all the apparatus back, the pieces of alum and the beaker of kerosene.   The alum piece was missing from Pawan’s table. When the peon asked him he said that he had already placed the alum back on the peon’s table.  The peon did not believe him. He came to the Physics teacher and reported the deed.

The teacher reached the student and demanded, “Where is alum? Tell me the truth” Pawan stood like a rock and replied in a most rude manner, “I told you that I had returned the alum.  Why should I take your stupid alum” Watching   a friction developing, more students came from outside and gathered around the two. This teacher was small built, hardly reaching the shoulder of Pawan. But as usual his temper flared up and he shouted, “I know you very well. You are one of the rowdy students and everyone knows it.  Return my alum just now” Now Pawan was like a wild animal digging its heels ready to enter a fight and he shouted back, “Mind your language you old man. Because you are a teacher you think you can say anything and get away with it?”

Seeing the trouble escalating, I got up and moved towards them, concerned more about the blood pressure of my coteacher than Pawan.  The teacher, boiling with rage, showering all types of curses on Pawan, lifted his hand to slap him. In a flash Pawan caught the teacher’s hand in an iron grip.  Now it was the teacher who was struggling to free his hand and Pawan was talking in teasing tone, “Now do whatever you want!. Let us see who is stronger” I rushed close to them and said in my usual firm soft voice, “Pawan take your hands off, just now” He turned and looked at me.  As he turned and saw me standing there he was a bit unnerved. Then he started saying, “But Madam, he …..” I said firmly again, “Pawan first   take your hands off from the teacher just now” He released his grip. I requested   my co teacher to go to his table and I said that I would deal with Pawan.

Firstly I asked all other boys, to go to their classes.  Actually seeing, me half of them had already vanished.  Now Pawan started uneasily shifting his feet and muttered something, as I just stood   looking at him.  Then I asked him, “Pawan is this the way you behave with a teacher? If you had not taken the alum, you can politely tell that you have not done it. If still the teacher does not believe you, agree to pay the money for the alum as per the school rule (payment of damage in the lab). But the true fact is, that the alum given to you is not on your table, while all other equipment of the experiment is very much sitting on your table” He was now confused a bit. Then he said “Madam, today it is not the first time. Every  time I come for experiments,  this Sir always finds some reason and shouts at me and complains that I had taken a lens or some pins. He just now called me a thief.  right in front of you. Why should I steal an alum piece Madam?  Then, how can he raise his hand on me? Even my parents never raised their hand on me any time” The bell rang and the Physics teacher went away to his class.  I told   Pawan, “Please come meet me here in the lab, after the school gets over”. I got up and went to my class.

At the end of the day, he came hesitantly and now he looked very nervous and meek. I asked him to sit on a lab stool and started asking him various questions. I knew that Pawan belong to an affluent family and they had some business back ground.  He told me that he was a very late born son for his parents, and his other siblings were 15 to 20 years older than him. So he was well pampered in the house. Hence he was used to   have his way and there was no need for him to raise his voice for anything.  They never complained   even when he failed.

But after failing for two years consecutively in the school, he became the butt of mockery of not only his class students, but his teachers also. His massive stature and growth was another reason for everyone to tease him. After some time, he started back answering the teacher behaving rudely and started disturbing the class.   The fact as I understood, was that this ridicule he suffered day after day, had gone deeply in to his psyche. He decided not to respect the teachers who don’t respect him.  He begun replying rudely to the teacher when they rebuked him. Surprisingly he found that the class mates sort of enjoyed his rude behaviour and he became the centre of attention which he enjoyed. He mentioned a few instances and in specific a tough clash with the PT teacher who refused to take him in the cricket team in spite of his being an excellent bowler.  The teacher had said that he cannot take a rowdy in the team as the entire school team might get disqualify because of his behaviour.

Few days later, one of our old retired teachers, Mrs.Rane came to the staff room. She had come to school for some of her pending pension job and then wanted to meet her old friends.  Someone talked to her about Pawan and his rude behaviour. To everyone’s surprise she said that she had taught Pawan from 3rd to 5th grade and he was a good boy. As everyone started complaining, the retired teacher said patiently and wisely, “Many times, we do the mistake of punishing the student for lack of completing the home work etc, by using very harsh words.  We should remember that children are very sensitive and hurting their pride hurts them deeply.  We always have to deal with them firmly but with respect as an individual, especially the adolescents.  When you label them as the “rowdy”, it ingrains their tendency to misbehave ever deeper into their identity.

Pawan’s words and complaints came back to me..

“You’re not allowed to be in team with Rajesh. You boss him too much.”

“You must always sit closest to my desk.”

“You’re never again to go near the library at recess.”

Then one teacher said, “Madam If we don’t punish one student, how do we control the class? If we are soft with one student, then one by one all of them would stop doing homework. How can we control the class?”

Mrs. Rane explained patiently, “We have to talk to the children firmly but without abusive labels. Make it clear that he cannot repeat the behaviour and it will not be tolerated. But never raise your voice. The softer your voice is, the more it makes the mark. If all of you decide and show some respect and some recognition to Pawan hereafter, he would definitely behave better. The truth is that difficult students need to feel like regular students before they can start behaving like regular students.”

  • If you are a teacher and  how would you deal with an unruly child in your class, disturbing the class every time? Do you think giving a good amount of punishment like detention class, depriving him from school sports etc would work? Does your labeling them and treating them as a “problem student” end up acting like a prophecy they’re quick to fulfill?
  • If you are a parent, and your own child back answers you, throws temper tantrums when you try to restrain what will you do? Do you end up giving umpteen lectures, scoldings, and reprimands that only leave your child more defensive, defiant and resentful …. unable to see even a iota of truth in your reprimands?

Would you like to know did the teachers handle him?  Did he ever change his behaviour? Find out in the next blog.



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