By Neha Duggal:
The opportunity to fulfil expectations of others often makes students study day and night, be competitive, become teachers’ pets, and participate in extracurricular activities to become the well-known personalities of the school. But are these the only students that make up the school system? What about those students who are unable to express themselves through writing, or who are experiencing some kind of trauma at home, or those students who are struggling to find an identity for themselves? What about those who are stuck between the expectations of others, peer pressure, and attempting to fit in their growing environment?
As a 13-year-old, I was immigrating to the United States. I was not necessarily excited or depressed because of the lack of understanding of what to expect from the move that I was to make with my family. Having experienced domestic violence and alcoholism at home, I had lost interest in studies, leading to low grades and multiple red marks. While I was lost trying to understand the whole idea of moving out, I attempted to stay close to my, then, best friend; but only to my disappointment, she was busy with her new found friends. This is when I experienced the extent of bullying by peers and teachers. One day a couple of my classmates dropped by my house to give me my exam scores from the 9th grade first term; and to inform me of something my history teacher said about me, “If she cannot even pass a History exam here, how will she ever make it in America?” My teachers’ remarks about me in my absence were unethical and they provided an opportunity for my peers to bully me at home. Although I was thankful that I never had to go back to school again, I was hurt but with no place to express it. The question then is if the teacher had the right to judge me based on my exam scores without completely understanding the basis of the problem, did she have the right to discuss the same with my peers?
About 14 years later, I can tell you that I am currently a student working towards my Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. My experience in high school in a new country included nervousness, lack of confidence, fear of being criticized or judged, etc. I still did not fit in with others but I was in control of my education. I was appreciated for the work I was doing, had accomplishments and dreamed about higher education. It is clear that my teacher was saddened with my grade in her class; however, the role of a teacher includes being a mentor, a guide, providing support and a safe environment for the student who is struggling instead of judging or criticizing him or her. How many students are out there who were least interested in studies, were constantly criticized for getting low grades, and even punished? My question is, did anyone ever ask you about what is going on in your head? Why is it that you are struggling or if you needed special attention?
In the United States, students are given a chance to explore multiple study ethics, different classes of interest, competition but to the extent that is relevant to building their personality, and supportive staff such as Psychologists, Social Workers, Mandated Reporting, Counsellors to guide the lost, and others are employed. I am not saying the education system here is the best possible; believe me; it has its own negatives that can be discussed in another article. Why does the school system in India not support the mental health of the students? Yes, there are social rules about how much the teachers or the school should be involved in the domestic concerns of the child. If parents are the culprits of the abuse, then who is responsible for the child? When the same child (that no one supported) acts out the same way he/she observed in his/her home, he/she will then be labelled a “delinquent”. Is that how the children are protected or raised?
Our cultural expectations of ourselves and others limit us in taking the moral decision to speak up and protect people. Who designed this culture? Even as an adult, I continue to figure out who I am as a person, as an individual, as a citizen, as an immigrant who connects with both the cultures, as a friend, as a Domestic Violence advocate, and a prospective Psychologist who aims to support children, women and those who need the support. I am constantly growing as a person, but are the school systems and teachers doing the same? Tell me about your experience with the school systems. Who were the teachers that judged you or those who mentored you? What values and culture are you choosing? How would you like to change this system and what actions can you take?