Recently, a shocking news was flashed on news channels and headlines of newspapers about the murder of a 39 year old school teacher in the school premises by a Class 9th student in Chennai. This news has shocked everyone and all of us were given to a thought of ‘What’s wrong with our teenagers?’ What is that which is taking our students on the wrong track?; Why they are unable to differentiate between right and wrong?; Why they give up so easily to their impulses?; or What is that which is developing mental imbalances in our students? These questions require explorations in-depth. However, one of the important reasons behind all this is the pressure and stress exerted by the schools on students. This paper is the exploration of certain teacher related factors which impede learning and produce extreme level of stress and frustration among students.
There are many impediments to learning created by teachers, deliberately as well as undeliberately, in the classrooms. Teacher often do some mistakes that act as barriers to effective learning. For a teacher, it is important to know not only how learning takes place but also what can impede or block it. Teachers may unknowingly create many obstacles that can temporarily or permanent block students’ learning process. This paper discusses the faults of teachers that impede students’ learning.
Threats and Coercion
Threat is an enemy of any progress or promotion. A person who is always threatened or coerced to do something can never do well. It is the case with our children in classrooms. Children can show their excellence when their mind is free of teacher’s threats and when they are not forced to do the things. Teachers should not create any pressure on students. Without being coerced, students can always show better results and can learn in a natural way where there is no fear in mind. Coercion and threats are common in our schools and it creates major barriers to students’ learning. Coercive elements, whether in the form of grades, tests, or censures, are the single greatest impediments to creating high-quality education. Classroom threats “downshifts” the brain, rendering students virtually incapable of learning. The brain learns continually and consistently, without effort, in meaningful circumstances (Hart, 1983). In situations of threats and coercion, students’ mind gets diverted to threats instead of learning and thus loses interest in learning rather it becomes a burden.
Children with learning disability are most vulnerable to threats and coercion because every day they use to get continuous threats from teachers who generally have not identified these children. Perceived threats create stress in students resulting in negative effects- children acting out or withdrawing.
A teacher can realize this problem with her own experience. For example, a teacher should think how she would feel when there is a threatening critical authority figure who is always waiting to pounce on her every mistake.
Fear of shame
Teachers many a times use some derogatory remarks in classroom for slow learners or distracted children. These remarks create a feeling of shame. Shame is a cousin of coercion and also reduces the likelihood of learning. The “shame on you” or “duffer” or “good for nothing” are such remarks that teachers, parents, siblings, or peers pass on to a child. This hurts the self-esteem of students and kills their confidence. Without self-confidence, many students experience chronic school failures. These disappointments, in turn, beget more shame. When a child is being declared as a ‘failure’ in school, the likelihood of becoming a ‘failure’ as person increases in the future.
Corporal punishments may take other forms than striking or spanking a student. It is sometimes interpreted as any action that could cause emotional or physical damage to a student, such as, taping a student’s mouth or having a student stand with a book on head or making a child sitting in squat position. The courts of many countries in the world have put a complete ban on corporal punishment. The cruel and unreasonable punishments can ruin the whole childhood where a child suffers from trauma of being punished badly in front of peers. It can affect their participation and learning achievement in school. A child becomes severely reluctant to attend school and perceive school as a place of terror and fear.
Creating non-threatening learning environments
Experience acts as the organizing framework of the brain. Traumatic experiences activate hormones such as cortisol that in effect can give the brain a toxic bath. A traumatic experience becomes the most powerful architect of the child’s brain. This neurochemical wash decreases the number of synapses, or connections, that are so necessary for learning. High cortisol levels during a child’s early years increase activity in the brain structures that are involved in vigilance and arousal. Consequently, a traumatized brain has a hair-trigger set point that is easily activated whenever a child dreams of, thinks about, or is reminded of the original trauma or stress. Self-regulation and control are difficult for a child whose brain has been, or is being, flooded with stress hormones. It has also been found that the hippocampus, a memory-making part of the brain, is smaller in adults who were abused as children (Begley, 1997).
Other researchers have found that the human brain will “downshift” to more primitive structures when under stress. Goleman (1995) referred to this as a “neural hijacking.” When under stress, the brain is programmed to respond in two ways: fight or flee. In times of perceived or real danger, it makes sense that the brain would resort to simple, basic patterns of self-preservation; however when the brain is hijacked, it is at the expense of critical and careful thought.
For example, schools and youth agencies often use forms of threat that disconnect the child from learning. Doing so raises stress levels. In-school suspension for punishment purposes, use of ridicule, and teasing are kinds of “discipline” that may shut down learning. Creating lists of rules and consequences that tightly control student behaviour and choice defeats the community’s ability to build safe environments. Writing names on chalkboards and taking away points for misbehaviour may act as brain inhibitors. Sarcastic teacher comments delivered endlessly in power stances with pointed fingers, elevated voices, and red faces undermine learning.
Low expectations for children ultimately result in limited teacher effort to provide interesting or challenging experiences. Once the teacher decides that a child is not able, it gives him or her permission to limit experience. It may be that the teacher thinks appropriate experiences are being provided, but the reality is that he or she is insulating the child’s brain from the kinds of enriched experiences that are so desperately needed (Bockern and Wenger, 1999).
It is important for a teacher to understand and manage self-emotion as well as that of students because learning to a great extent depends on emotions. Humans are also emotional beings; therefore, it can be understood that information sent and received is embedded in an emotional framework. In his best-selling book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Goleman (1995) suggested that the intellect cannot work at its best without emotional intelligence, which he defined as knowing and managing the emotions of self and others:
“In the dance of feeling and thought the emotional faculty guides our moment-to-moment decisions, working hand-in-hand with the rational mind, enabling — or disabling-thought itself.”
As a result, Goleman stated that it is imperative that we build schools that care about and teach emotional literacy:
“In a time when too many children lack the capacity to handle their upsets, to listen or focus, to rein in impulse, to feel responsible for their work or care about learning, anything that will buttress these skills will help in their education” Although any number of commercial programs and materials are available to teach emotional intelligence, “there is perhaps no subject where the quality of the teacher matters so much, since how a teacher handles her class is in itself a model … in emotional competence — or the lack thereof. Whenever a teacher responds to one student, twenty or thirty others learn a lesson” (ibid, p. 279).
Threats, coercion, pressure, punishments, mocking, bullying etc creates stress among students. Some of the stressors are:
- Not feeling safe in school environment
- Fear of punishments or scolds from teachers
- Fear of being mocked in the classroom by other students
- Fear of being labeled as poor in class tests/ project works/ assignments
- Bully at school or in the neighborhood
- Peer who snubs or makes fun of child (even a “friend” of the child)
- Conflict with a teacher, even when caused by the child’s disobedience
- Conflict with a sibling
- Conflict with a parent, even when initially caused by the child’s disobedience, especially when or if the child feels that he or she is under “performance-based acceptance” (PBA). A child feels this when an authority figure fails to “separate the sin from the sinner” (when they criticize the child instead of the negative behavior).
Lack of support and understanding on part of the teachers can produce stress in student that in turn can produce emotional responses such as anxiety, anger, discouragement, hopelessness, low-self-esteem, lack of motivation or interests.
These emotional problems do sabotage to the normal life of a child. It harms the body and produces some physical disturbances such as insomnia, frequent urination, headache, breathlessness/asthma like symptoms, bed-wetting, lack of focus or ability to remember things, obsessive-compulsive behaviour, increased heart rate etc.
These physical symptoms can impede learning by affecting focus and motivation. They can also function as good tests or indicators of stress in the life of your child.
When a child suffers from the above-mentioned emotional and physical problems, he/she easily accepts negative behaviour such as anti-social behaviour, argumentativeness, violent behaviour, suicidal actions, vandalism, disobedience, etc.
Teachers play an important role in a child’s life. Whatever happens in schools affects a child equally as that at home. Therefore, it is important that a child get a good experience in the school/ classroom that can develop his self-esteem and motivation rather than destroying his enthusiasm to study or to enjoy life. Teacher should be a good friend to all her students and should completely shun the nature of being rude and sarcastic. She should become a counselor, a guide and above all a friend to children. With the positive behaviour in class, a teacher can herself see a difference in child’s behaviour, confidence, attitude, ability to learn, and overall happiness. Remember, a child is a child. He cannot even realize what is going wrong with him and can only feel the difficulties that keep on collecting in the sub-conscious mind. He/she cannot even find out the real cause of their problems. Also, a child fails to convey his/her problems to the parents as he/she is not even knowing the cause. Parents might not be aware of the kind of environment the child is facing in the school. When a child faces a continuous discouragement, he/she accepts that the problem is within them and that they are not wanted at all. Therefore, being a teacher you should not let your student shatter. Teacher’s behaviour lays the foundation of the pillar of child’s career and life itself. Identify the learning impediments yourself that you create in your classroom knowingly or unknowingly for your students and bring change in your behaviour towards your students. Remember, the most important characteristic of a teacher is patience. With patience, you can make a big difference in a child’s life and he will always recall your contribution to his success.
School is a place of joy and healthy way of learning. Threats, negative remarks, labeling, coercion, pressure, exploitation, bullying, mocking, violence, and negative punishments find no place in an ideal school. These impediments negatively impact the child’s mind where he/she fails to take a right decision and turns aggressive and violent, if not withdrawn. Teachers can play an important role in preparing worthy global citizens who can give their valuable contributions to the global society. This can be done by exhibiting positive behavior and dignity towards students which is the best way of preventing them to turn into juveniles.
Begley, S. (1997). How to build a baby’s brain (Special issue). Newsweek .
Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam.
Hart, L. (1983). Human brain and human learning. White Plains, NY: Longman.
Van, S & Wenger, L. (1999). Educational best practice or malpractice. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 7(4).
 A teacher was stabbed to death in the classroom of a private school of Chennai here on Thursday, allegedly by a 15-year-old student who was upset at being repeatedly reprimanded by her for not doing well in studies. The murder happened around 10.50 a.m. According to Fr. Bosco Periyanayagam, a member of the school committee, the boy ran ahead of others into the classroom, where Ms. Maheswari was sitting in a chair waiting for the students. After approaching her on the pretext of wanting to drop rubbish into the bin, he took out a knife wrapped in a paper and attacked her. (News from The Hindu, Edition: February 9th, 2012).