By Pulkit Sharma
By focussing on the spark of divinity in each child, and refusing to take their shadow selves for the truth, a skilled teacher can draw out the best in each child, says Pulkit Sharma
It is every teacher’s nightmare. While she strives to teach her class the basics of grammar, except for an earnest few in the front seats, she has lost the attention of the class, many of who are talking among themselves, playing knots and crosses, idly doodling, or even, God forbid, making fun of her.
Usually at some point, the teacher loses her cool and lets fly at the students, or asks them to stand outside the class or on a bench. She is compelled to use her authority, and eventually the kids are cowed down into submission. But is this the only way to play out this scenario? Could there be a better way?
A punitive approach to disruptive behaviour has several pitfalls. Firstly, it generates a powerful negative vibration in the class which ultimately prompts students to behave even more badly. Even otherwise sensitive and well-behaved students get pulled into the negative vortex and act up. Secondly, although anger and rage make us feel powerful, they tend to exhaust and burn us out over time. When the teacher and students get trapped in a cycle of negative behaviour, they lose out a tremendous amount of energy that could have been used constructively in the learning process.
Thirdly, admonishing students for bad behaviour encourages what it seeks to suppress. Disruptive students often want attention and a feeling of power. The teacher’s confrontation can actually gratify this need for attention. Worst of all, in the crossfire of provocation and reaction, the potential positivity that exists in all students is not able to manifest itself.
According to Sri Aurobindo, the child is a soul meant to grow, and the purpose of education is to enable the child to find himself, and to nurture his physical, vital, emotional, intellectual and spiritual aspects to the finest level. The role of the teacher is to be a facilitator in this progress. But when both the teacher and the children give in to negative forces, instead of progressing and evolving, students regress.
Therefore, it is extremely important for teachers to think out of the box and manifest positivity in the classroom so that students can do what they are meant to do. Although this may seem idealistic and daunting, it is not impossible, as my work with various teachers and schools have proven. We have been able to think of some helpful practical interventions which I have outlined below.
Acknowledge positive behaviour frequently and powerfully
The default setting for all teachers is to reprimand or punish those students who have not followed instructions. Teachers rarely acknowledge and appreciate students who are following instructions. This small error makes the teacher give a lot of attention to recalcitrant students, and ignore those who are eager to learn and cooperate. This accentuates the negative vibration in the classroom, which eventually overpowers the positive vibration. Furthermore, students who create chaos feel powerful, while the ones who want to learn feel left out. Consequently, other students also feel pulled into the direction of chaos.
But if the teacher were to focus on desirable behaviour and appreciate those who display it while ignoring disruptive behaviour, the negative vibration will get replaced by a positive force. Receptive and co-operative students will feel stronger, and errant ones may feel motivated to change. This simple technique can transform a noisy classroom into a focussed one.
Situation: The teacher has instructed the class to sit silently for a few minutes and meditate but Raghav and Jiya are whispering and making gestures.
Usual response: The teacher targets the disruptive behaviour displayed by Raghav and Jiya and says: ‘Raghav and Jiya, pindrop silence. You have been told to meditate and therefore you must be quiet. By your whispers and gestures you are disturbing the entire class.’
Ideal response: The teacher targets the positive behaviour shown by the rest of the class and says: ‘Well done, class. Almost everyone is quiet and concentrating deeply. There is a peaceful silence ascending in the class. Maintain this poise and try to go deep with each breath and observe yourself.
Always search for the light in the shadow
According to The Mother, every child possesses the two opposites of each quality, just like each light has a shadow. If there is falsehood, wickedness, doubt, ignorance, jealousy and confusion in the mind of a child, somewhere deep within the self there also exists an immense potential for truth, goodness, faith, knowledge, generosity and clarity. When the shadow parts predominate a child’s existence, in many cases the teacher cannot see the light, and assumes that the shadow is the reality. Sri Aurobindo warns us that this is not the truth because the light is not contingent upon the shadow for its existence, but the shadow depends on the presence of light to be defined. The presence of extreme negativity is therefore an indication that there is hope for enormous positivity.
Therefore, when dealing with children who routinely create difficulties, the teacher needs to stop ruminating over the shadow parts, and consistently find corresponding light. If one were to keep faith and search for the light, sooner or later it will manifest.
Situation: Kiara often disturbs the class by cracking jokes in the middle of the lesson
Usual response: The teacher is hurt and forms a negative image of Kiara and always relates to her as a potential troublemaker.
Ideal response: The teacher can identify any good attribute or gesture made by Kiara and recall this image in her mind whenever she feels angry with her. This small exercise will make her deal constructively with Kiara, and will also send a strong positive vibration to her that her teacher appreciates and loves her. Sooner or later, Kiara is likely to respond back positively.
Make consistent efforts to understand the mind of the children
Negative behaviour does not develop in a vacuum but often is a consequence of traumatic experiences, emotional deprivation and suffering. When a child suffers from trauma, he loses faith in everyone and considers the world to be a cruel place. He feels vulnerable and in order to defend himself starts retaliating. This self-defence becomes a habit and the child uses it routinely without discrimination. Also, having suffered intensely the child develops an extreme self-centredness and feels justified in fulfilling his whims and fancies at the expense of others.
Such children often disrupt classrooms as they want to attack the authority of the teacher, and want the freedom to function according to their impulses. These children neither respond to punishments nor to rewards; the only way their teacher can reach out to them is through an empathetic dialogue. The teacher needs to talk to them individually and confidentially in order to encourage them to share their pain. When the child begins trusting the teacher, he will be able to remember, feel and express the pain in words and this will heal him. He will be able to once again develop basic trust and commit himself to the learning process. Although this approach may seem time-consuming and effortful, it is the only way to reach out to children who have strayed from the right path.
Situation: Yash teases and bullies children in his class and defies his teacher’s admonitions.
Usual response: The teacher feels angry and powerless and implements a harsh consequence to contain Yash’s behaviour.
Ideal response: The teacher can talk to Yash individually, expressing his conviction that Yash is a good child, and that he must have experienced intense pain to make him feel so angry. This will reassure Yash that the teacher is willing to understand him, and has a genuine concern. Consequently, Yash is likely to feel empowered to share his
pain with the teacher and start the recovery process.
Be the change that you want to see in the class
In our classrooms and school assemblies we often give long discourses to children in the hope that they will adopt and practise ideal behaviour. However, we rarely evaluate our own behaviour, and its departure from the ideal. As a result, our words carry no conviction and leave the children cold.
But when teachers inculcate the ideal within themselves, a powerful positive vibration spreads throughout the classroom which inspires children to internalise it. Also, when teachers practise what they preach, the students are readily convinced of the merit of that behaviour, and willingly adopt the discipline necessary to realise it.
The Mother believed that until the words are supported by an example, they have no value. Example is the most powerful instructor. If the teacher wants students to change, she must be willing to first bring this change within herself. If a teacher wants his students to develop undivided attention, he must exercise complete self-control so that he remains undisturbed under all circumstances. If the teacher wants students to be truthful, she must never lie. If the teacher wants the class to be peaceful, he must never lose his temper under any pretext. To instil punctuality, orderliness, ethical values, desire to learn and equanimity in the children, the teachers must work hard to imbibe these qualities within themselves.
Situation: Quite a few children in the classroom get easily distracted and find it difficult to focus on what they are supposed to do.
Usual response: The teacher gets disturbed and upbraids them for it. He lectures them on the value of concentration.
Ideal response: The teacher develops an intense concentration that enables him to focus on his work uninterruptedly. The children soon realise that they cannot disturb him, and start looking up to him as a role model.
A teacher must always remember that his students have a spark of divinity in them. It may be manifest in some, and veiled in others but it does exist. Therefore, the teacher must keep faith and refuse to be disturbed by what is essentially a transitory and superficial chaos. When the teacher holds his ground with an unshakable faith and keeps on searching for the light in darkness, the light will surely appear in all its radiance.
About the author : Pulkit Sharma is Clinical Psychologist and Spiritual Therapistat Imago- Centre for Self.
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