ONE of my students walked into class one evening, looking rather upset.
Later, when I prodded her for the reason behind her frown in place of her usual cheerful smile, she told me what had happened earlier that day in school.
Apparently, she was upset with one of her teachers who had reprimanded her for “talking back”. She was supposed to keep quiet and not utter a word in class.
According to her, the teacher had been teaching a certain topic that day. My student, curious that she was, asked her teacher something related to the topic that was being taught.
In the most unexpected turn of events, the teacher allegedly yelled at my student for being disrespectful.
I soon found out that this particular teacher expected all her students to never question her, because apparently, questioning her was akin to “talking back” as a student would be deemed rude if he/she would dare do so.
As I was listening to the poor girl who, in my opinion, did nothing wrong, I was taken back to more than a decade ago when I was her age and received a good scolding for trying to “act smart” with a teacher back in school.
I had had a fairly solid grasp of the language ever since I was in school. It was probably due to my keen interest in writing, which had helped me improve my English syntax and vocabulary.
Needless to say, English used to be my favourite subject in school from the very beginning. I got along quite well with my English teacher and I never once crossed her. But one fine day, she wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t make it to class that week, and was replaced by another teacher for the entire duration.
Unfortunately, the temporary teacher absolutely detested me because I had stepped on her toes on the very first day of her replacement work.
I cannot for the life of me remember what it was about, but she had made a very obvious mistake with something in her lesson that day. Trying to be as least disrespectful as I possibly could, I slowly raised my hand and corrected her mistake.
I must admit that I was hoping she would have said: “Oh my! I didn’t realise!” and quickly correct her mistake on the blackboard. Instead, her face turned into a terrifying shade of red and she screeched at the top of her lungs.
She accused me of being a “smarty pants” and told me (yes, in front of the entire class) that I should learn how to hold my tongue because she’s the teacher, and hence, will always be in the right, and that I’m the student and I should never, ever, open my mouth to disagree with anything the teachers say.
I honestly thought that this method of teaching and learning had ended during my era in school, but I am quite disturbed to learn that nothing has changed.
The incident with my student was only one that I’ve chosen to highlight to you.
Many of my students have complained to me that their teachers in school force them to never question or “talk back” to their teachers.
As an educator myself, I am in complete disfavour of this method.
Look at the irony of the situation here: we expect our college/university students to be able to think critically and question anything that is out of the ordinary in the name of education, and achieving maturity in thought.
Yet, in school, we silence them with accusations of disrespect and a lack of good manners.
How are students going to learn to think out of the box if we do not give them a chance to develop their minds?
How are students going to learn to act in a mature manner if we do not give them the chance to build their interpersonal skills?
It’s our duty as educators to shape the minds of the young to be full-fledged adults in future. It begins with a two-way communication in class, and not an authoritarian-like approach to teaching.
The writer, a lecturer at Sunway College, is a Malaysian-born Eurasian with Scottish/Japanese/Indian lineage. She believes in a tomorrow where there is no existence of racism and hatred.