My physical education teacher in school (let’s call him Mr. H) has influenced me more than any other teacher in my life. He was a short stout guy who did weight lifting. He talked less. Smiled rarely. Mr. H was a solemn creature with a rectangular face. He walked around swaying the chord which otherwise hangs the whistle from his neck. It was his favourite choice of weapon for misbehaving kids. All students were scared of it. I love sports. Some of my fondest memories of school involve playing with my friends during the games period. I was good at most of it. So, I had regular interaction with Mr. H and was in his good books. He was the one who taught me how to hold a table tennis bat and how to play Volleyball. We did not have great facilities in our school. But he made sure we got the best exposure by sending us to various events in the city.
I remember one particular incident which is still crystal clear in my head. It was just another day at school. We were in are classrooms getting ready for the morning prayer. For some unknown reason, I had a sudden urge to let everyone know that we had to stand up for morning prayer. Hence, I yelled, extremely loud, at top of my voice, to do so. I was just another teenager with raging hormones and mood swings, so don’t blame me. Apparently, it is not good to shout in classrooms. Thanks to my lucky stars, Mr. H was right outside our class. He slowly walked in and scanned the whole classroom. He demanded who did it. Dead silence. He demanded again. Still nothing. He waited for few minutes and gave an ultimatum – if by afternoon the culprit doesn’t come to me, no games period for this class for the whole year.
If he had sentenced us to death, we would have been happier. But no games period, that was crazy! I did not want to be the reason for my class’s misfortune. But I was scared of the consequences if I confessed. To tell or not to tell! After a lot of thought, I went to his room with teary eyes and pounding heart. With incoherent sentences, I blurted out that it was me. Mr. H looked at me with an expression of a blank wall. He nodded and asked me to go back to my classroom. With bated breath, I waited for the inevitable. He came in to the class and asked me to stand up. “This is it!” I thought. The idea of being humiliated in front of my classmates was heartbreaking. But the unexpected happened. He told that he was happy that I came to him on my own and confessed. He gave me a warning and let me go.
Cut to the present, I am a teacher. Exams are on full swing. And it is such a farce! To give a little background – I teach in a part of the world where examinations exist to make parents and government officials happy. How much a student scores in the exam is the only thing that matters. School wants to portray good performance by its students for their own needs which is self-centered. Hence there is no resistance when students cheat in their exams. Rather there is encouragement. And this makes students disinvested in learning because they are spoon-fed answers since the beginning. They know that listening to the teacher is a waste of time. Because they would pass exams one way or the other. End result – no learning. I am forced to turn a blind eye to all of this. But at what cost?
What can I do now? I am in an ethical dilemma. Doing the right thing means to go against everything and everyone. The marks that they get here does not have any value in the future. But as a teacher it is my responsibility to make them understand that it is not okay to cheat. I fear if it continues they would never learn to work towards a goal, fail in the process and try again. To be true to yourself. To do the right thing.
So here I am correcting papers. All papers look the same and have picture perfect answers. Answers every teacher would dream of. But not me. I am searching for places where I can reduce marks and rob them from their perfect scores. I think of the 13-year-old me walking up to Mr. H. I wonder what made him do it. Answers are hard to come by.