Like it or Not This is the Way Things Are: Indian Children, Discipline & English.

Via on Jul 31, 2012
Schools boys

Taking the wooden rod from my hand the little girl says, “No, mam. To the student. You use.”

Pretending for a moment that the desk is the student she gives me a demo.

Indeed teaching English in a foreign country is an experience.

Since 2004 I have taught English on a voluntary basis in a private school in Mysore, India. It is part my seva and gives me a lot of joy. I truly feel in a small way I am contributing to their future.

In India, the educational system is fiercely competitive with quotas (limited seats) and many children may not get the chance for an education beyond the twelfth standard (North American’s equivalent of twelfth grade).

Getting ready to teach!

As a teacher walking into their classroom I have a few strikes against me.

First, as a foreigner I am an analogy. Certainly in the beginning I am not sure if they’re listening or checking out my apparel. The body language, facial expressions and nuances are a great distraction. Second, if they use inappropriate words in their own language I am none the wiser.

So I prepare myself with a lesson in grammar, which is not as a dumb as an idea as it may sound. English idioms and phrases (those which we usually take for granted) make little sense and defy many of the rules of English grammar.

Expressions like, “falling in love,” “more or less” and “some like it hot” are just a few of the oddities. One student asked me, “Miss, what is hot?” Difficult to explain for sure—hot what? Hot outside? Hot sauce? Hot people? What are “hot” people…horny people? And believe me if you’re talking to a seven-year-old you might not want to head in that direction.

To be on the safe side a very nice lesson in English lyrics will suffice. Before starting, however, two little girls approach me about the words “brave” and “beauty.”

Girls from the 5th standard in Mysore

“Madam.” they said. “Much confusion is there.”

With 62 other heads bobbing up and down in the classroom, I am told “strength is there” by one of the teachers.

Their classroom is an archaic assembly of wooden benches and attached table tops. An orange drape covers the window to shield the sun. In the centre of the room a rickety fan wobbles sideways. The children laugh at me when I look at it.

“Are these the words?” I ask, pointing to the board.

They nodded eagerly with, “Yes, miss, yes, miss, yes miss” echoing around the room. In India, “madam,” “miss” or “auntie” is the protocol. “Hey you,” Morton” or “Heather” are not. Only the bold and namely the boys go for that. If their teacher catches them, a slap on their head corrects it.

In India, this is tolerated. The year I conducted a two-year project on Yoga for children in Indian schools I observed teachers slapping the children.

“It’s allowed,” I was told. On the surface I nodded, but this is not tolerated in the West.

“Hitting? Now, this is archaic.”

It was exactly the same in Korea. They welcomed hitting as a method to gain control of the children. After teaching I returned to the office where five little Korean kids stood with their arms over their heads. As I excused myself to get around them, the school’s supervisor, with her degree in fashion design, looked pretty smug about the whole thing.

A Korean father also told me, “And if my kid gets out of control just give him a slap.”

In India it’s not different. What surprised me is the way the students approve of it. When we started the lesson, one little girl got up from her seat to pass me a stick lying on the table.

I only looked at her blankly. She decided to help me out by taking my hand and placing it onto my palm.

“Here, madam…you use it…” Seeing that I was still confused she offered a demonstration.

“Like this, Madam!” and she slapped it on the desk. Tap, tap, tap.

Instinctively, I grabbed the stick from her and hit the table. Maybe it did work to quiet the class down.

“No, mam. To the student. You use,” she said.

I became silent. Now the girl looked confused as I put the stick down.

Another child piped up, “You beat.”

Looking at a sea of 124 black eyes, I wanted to hug them not beat them.

If I were a sick person I might even take advantage of the situation but I’m not. As my thoughts overpowered what was happening I did not notice one girl had slipped out to call for a teacher.

An Indian teacher entered the classroom and shouted, Silence!” The children hovered at their desks but one boy did not stop. She went over and slapped him. He shut up.

“You take the lesson?” she asked.

“Yes.” I said meekly.

“Okay,” she replied and left.

I returned to the blackboard and pointed to the words, “beau-ty” and “brave.”

The lesson continued.

Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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About Heather Morton

Heather Morton currently teaches classes and retreats internationally including in India. She became known for her work on yoga backbends by producing Freedom of the Body DVD ; an instructional practice video on backbending. Since its conception it has continued to reach students all over the globe. For 15 years, Heather directed The Yoga Way (TYW); a Toronto yoga school she founded offering structured yoga programs and no drop-ins. Over the last 17 years she has returned 17 times to India to study yoga under her teachers including Shri K. Pattabhi Jois and Yogacharya Venkatesha in Mysore. Coming to yoga, however, was not her original aspiration after starting what looked like a promising modelling career. Heather left Canada to live and work in South Korea; a pivotal shift in search of 'herself'. After extensive travelling and teaching, Heather returned to Canada to study yoga and founded TYW. As a post-graduate student she also conducted ethnographic research on Yoga for children in Mysore and obtained a Masters of Education. Heather has been featured in The Globe & Mail, Toronto Life Magazine and other media sources. In between teaching, practice and motherhood she writes for YogaLife, HelloYoga and MindBodyGreen. Find her on facebook.

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5 Responses to “Like it or Not This is the Way Things Are: Indian Children, Discipline & English.”

  1. Mamaste says:

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  2. Heather Morton Heather says:

    Hi…..Thanks! The more it reaches the better….

  3. Shay Dewey shaydewey says:

    Great article, I remember in my school growing up the teachers hit kids, though not in the face. I had to look it up to see if the laws had recently changed, corporal punishment is allowed in 19 of the states here in the U.S.

    • Heather Morton Heather says:

      Yikes…and people think the world has changed…..thank you for commenting. Today at the school I had a really good conversation with one of the Indian teachers. She told me how much India is still a male dominated society (more issues to deal with)!!!

      As well, these children are first generation learners…not only of English but being able to have an education. Whether it goes beyond the final grade or not…is questionable….Still, I also have to say that I have observed the teachers themselves at the school at not tyrants….but with 62 children per class and not much support from parents it is VERY difficult.

      I DO not support this form of discipline…but I have witnessed their helplessness..And there were times many of them asked me how we discipline in "my' country. Looking back they were probably looking for some good advice.

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