Recently, a close friend gave me the book Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. Reading through this delightful little tome and its description of a unique elementary school, my thoughts drifted back to my own time at a certain school.
This school wasn’t unique like the school in the book, Tomoe. During the years I spent there, my personality changed — from vivacious girl to reticent teen with little or nothing to say. I did have plenty to say…but I was afraid of saying it, afraid of saying anything. My teachers saw what they thought was a blip in my personality. They believed I was different. A bit like Totto-Chan.
Through the years, there were incidents, words of humiliation in front of the entire class, and not-so-subtle attempts to destroy my confidence that had been created by an elementary school in Los Angeles. For one, returning to India at the age of seven and joining an Indian school had been a cultural shock. For someone who had garnered excellent reports before then, this Indian school was quick to categorise me a dunce.
Right to the age of 17, there were personal remarks and sarcasm. Children, right through their teenage years, are impressionable. My parents thought of switching schools, but that also meant adapting to a new environment, new faces, and it was likely that any transfer would mean further difficulties. It was easy to feel over ‘at the window’ (An expression from the book, meaning out in the cold.)
Now, after regaining confidence and composure, and faith in myself, looking back is easy. Aspiring to be a writer meant cutting remarks, such as ‘oh, keep doing that. You’re not going to get anywhere’, and ‘you’re an absolute good for nothing, do you know that?’ These were comments by teachers. A dream of becoming an astronaut lead a certain teacher, who taught business studies, to look at me as if I were a retard, and remark, ‘Do you think you can ever do that?’ at one point I thought these words were true.
Being strict and giving constructive criticism is absolutely justifiable. However, petty meanness and rude comments are unacceptable. To be able to teach is a gift. It is a cure if you treat it as a job without the passion it calls for. A child’s personality is malleable, and correcting faults requires care. It is convenient to blame the child for everything. How easy it would be to call them lazy and irresponsible, and spoilt! All you have to do is say that the child misunderstood everything. Isn’t it?
Like Totto-Chan, some children think differently. No two students are exactly alike. Good teachers know that, and bring out the best in them.