Thursday 7 August 2014

Confusing kindness for tolerance

When one is a teacher, there are several nuggets of experience to chew and internalise and one such nugget is the act of being kind and free with the students. When it comes to interacting with students inside and outside the classroom, I make it a point not to be very strict or reprimand them for every single act of theirs. Even while teaching, my examples are drawn from everyday aspects of life that the students can relate and sympathise. And the smile - I almost always have a smile pasted on my face which tends to make the student comfortable while in the class and also during our different interactions.

BUT all the aforementioned attributes of mine are almost always mistaken to be signs of an informal person who has great tolerance towards anything including malpractice. Well, I have now started to wonder about the signals that I am sending across to the naive students.

The smile is always mistaken as a sign of extreme tolerance on my part and also the green signal to flout certain disciplinary boundaries. I understand that I cannot expect my students to observe every single thing that is normally expected of them like sitting quiet in class, fidgeting with mobiles and trying to do their homework when I am teaching. But my friendly behaviour and pleasant demeanour makes them think that they can get away with whatever they are doing.

My angst and dilemma is how I should conduct myself as a teacher. Should I be kind and compassionate and understand that they are after all children who pretend to be adults or should I be rigid and firm and never smile thus forcing them to be like captives of Femme Fatale Susan or should I learn to balance my thoughts and learn to ignore certain aspects of student behaviour.

I have taught before and on many occasions I undergo this sudden rush of meandering thoughts where I question my conduct and role as a teacher. After all these years of teaching, I still struggle to resist finding a middle path and stop myself from complaining as to how how my kindness is mistaken for tolerance by the students.


  1. I experienced that as a teacher too. It's hard to find balance. But, I think if you discipline as justly as possible, you'll earn the student's respect, even if you mostly smile other times. Good luck.

  2. I faced a similar problem when I was managing a team under me. I used to be nice and open with them and then they started taking that for granted. They stared considering me as someone who would be perfectly fine with anything they do.. I was 'fun' according to them.. slowly I started bringing in some discipline without getting aggressive and eventually they got the message...

  3. Maybe being firm from time to time will send the message across. I remember some teachers (just a few, maybe two or three) in my entire school life, who can be really called "teachers" They never picked up a ruler or a cane to punish but there was always that understanding between them and the students. Miss them.

  4. same pinch...i get this totally...and add to it the rumours swirling around (anonymously brought to my notice) that i am sweet on 'em because 1) i am sweet on girls- because i am a quasi-lecher 2) i am soft on guys- because i am a quasi-misogynist who hates girls...i mean everyone has their own opinion on why i am so understanding and supportive- they dont just get it that i went through hell from my teachers and i just want to be different to my students....

  5. Susan, you are very sweet. I can imagine how your students literally worship you.But, it is a very big BUT,we must take the middle path.We must be strict when the occasion demands.

  6. I think being firm and showing displeasure on some occasions will be enough to keep the young students in a better frame of mind. A mild disciplinary action is also required when there is malpractice. Young students need to know there are consequences of whatever good or bad they do. You are a sensitive soul and it's not as easy as it sounds but one lives and learns :-)



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