To be honest, when I heard about Goal 16, I wasn’t exactly keen on writing about my personal failure. We experience lots of small failures which we believe are not worth mentioning. If we really fail, sharing such experience may be as painful as going through it. However, when putting my thoughts together, I realized that talking about my failures can, in fact, be therapeutic.
This happened a few years ago when I was teaching private ‘evening’ courses full time. I worked with students of all ages and teaching kids was particularly enjoyable. But it was also challenging. Those kids had their compulsory lessons at school and then, when all the other kids went home, they had another lesson of English. My job was to teach them the language and entertain them at the same time. And I had to entertain them well because they paid tuition fees. I didn’t evaluate my students with marks; I gave them small things (pictures, cards, pencils) to motivate them. We usually played games and sang songs. Most kids loved the lessons and they carried on attending them for many years on.
Helen (not her real name), a very intelligent 12-year old girl, was a little boisterous, but otherwise she was OK. Normally, she was lively and responded well; on some days, however, she could be very disruptive. Her parents told me that she had even had to change her primary school because she was a terrible troublemaker.
Once, we were sitting in a circle on the floor, doing a matching activity using little word cards. When one of the students had matched a few pairs, Helen suddenly mixed them all up. I told her not to do it but she wouldn’t stop. Then, when the activity was nearly finished, she grabbed the cards and threw them in the air with a crazy smile. She actually spoilt the work of all the other kids. I reacted spontaneously – I gave her a little slap on the cheek… All the kids went silent and I suddenly realized what I had done. I said immediately that I’d like her to talk to her parents about the incident. I sent her to her desk and I actually don’t remember what happened next in the lesson. I just remember walking out of the school totally desperate and depressed. I felt really guilty and was afraid of the consequences. On my way home I happened to meet my colleague and friend so I could confide in her. She was very supportive and understanding.
Well, believe it or not, this story has a happy ending. Helen never did anything like that again. I felt we even got on better with each other. We probably realized that we had both crossed an imaginary border. She never told her parents about the incident because she felt as guilty as I did. Now, when she is already a grown-up person, she always greets me with a broad smile on her face.
I’d like to stress that this is by no means an excuse for what I did. I still feel a little guilty now, many years later. But the truth is that I have never been in a similar situation again since then and I believe that it’s mainly because I realized and ‘processed’ my failure. I can control the classroom much more effectively and I hardly lose temper because I can foresee trouble or deal with it immediately. Back then I let things go too far; instead I should have stopped the activity, taken her out of the class and talked to her. I didn’t want to sacrifice a nice activity, but I actually sacrificed the whole lesson in the end, and much more.
To conclude with, I believe it is not acceptable to use physical force when dealing with children (let alone students), even though they may seem to deserve it now and then. I would only use physical force if I wanted to protect a student against another or if I wanted to prevent something really dangerous from happening. Otherwise violence has no place in modern society.