Aditya Bhalerao was a 7th std student at Raiwadi ZP Primary School, Latur.
Tall and well-built, average in studies but a conscientious, hard-working and responsible student, Aditya underwent a change when he entered the 8th std.
He became stubborn and irritable.
It wasn’t all that strange, though. He was going through what most adolescents experience, in the transitional stage from childhood to adulthood. The physical changes that occur in girls may be more obvious, but hormones can play havoc with boys too. Adolescence calls for patience, understanding, and good advice.
Having known Aditya from the time he was six or seven, I noticed the change in his behaviour immediately. He had grown self-conscious – always grooming his hair, smiling at girls and making comments, and generally acting like some film hero. Other teachers, too, had noticed these things.
I tried talking to him several times. I even called his mother to school and asked her to pay more attention to him. ‘He is growing up,’ I told her. ‘He used to be a simple boy, but he’s started acting like a bully. You need to speak to him.’
On several occasions, I tried explaining to the boy that a real hero was a person with courage, who made a difference to society, and not someone who just wore expensive clothes and strutted about trying to impress girls.
I used to talk to my 7th and 8th std students about the concept of beauty in simplicity.
Aditya would pretend to listen, and would behave himself for a few days, then go back to his old ways.
His parents were both daily wage labourers who worked in the fields or at some construction site. There would be no food on the plate unless they worked every single day. Besides, his mother had to look after Aditya’s two siblings as well. She had no extra time to spare for Aditya.
Aditya’s behaviour started to become odder. Sometimes he would grow very quiet and recede into his shell, just staring vacantly, and showing no interest in what was happening in class. At other times, he acted euphorically – he would enter the class in great style, wearing dark glasses, and acting out in Hindi film hero mode.
Other teachers now started complaining about his behaviour. He would stare at girls and make remarks about them.
It is natural to feel physical attraction at this age, but I knew that the boy ought not o behave in a manner that could scare, upset or oppress the girls. I used to try to instill these values in my students.
Finally, I decided to have a serious chat with Aditya. I had learnt something unsavoury about his older brother – that he had been thrashed by the family members of a girl with whom he had tried to flirt. I didn’t want Aditya to find himself in a similar situation.
I told him, ‘I have received too many complaints about you from other teachers. I can understand that you are at an age where you feel attracted to girls, but it is wrong to stare at them and pass loud remarks. I know about your brother. Imagine what your parents must be going through. Now is the time to play sports, exercise and study. Do well in your exams and make something of your life. Your parents have great expectations from you.’
Our chat seemed to have made a difference. I kept him busy with lots of homework and essay writing. I made him read books and learn poems. He enjoyed playing word games. I used to teach him tricks which helped him learn languages easily.
One day, he came to school on a cycle. The students are not allowed to bring bicycles to school. As the school has no gate, we cannot guarantee the safety of the bicycles; also, the smaller children might try to climb on, and end up hurting themselves. Students who live some distance away are ferried to school and back by us teachers on our two-wheelers.
Despite knowing all this, Aditya brought the cycle to school.
He thought he would get a good scolding, but I praised him, instead. ‘Oh, great, you’ve got a cycle! Whose is it? Will you show me how to cycle?’ Aditya began chattering about it happily. We were standing in the playground. Other students started gathering around us.
There is a lesson about a cycle in their 6th std Marathi textbook, titled ‘Cycle Mhante, mi ahe na!’ (‘ “I am here!” Says the Cycle’.) I called all the 6th std students to the front and said, ‘Today, let’s learn this lesson from Aditya. He will tell us the names of all the different parts of the cycle, and how each part works.’
Aditya looked at me, taken aback. He was pleased I was treating him like an equal, like a teacher. He explained all the functions of the cycle very well, to the other students.
Once he had finished, I told the students all about how the cycle was invented, and how it evolved over time. We discussed its pros and cons: poor people can afford cycles; it does not require fuel and so it does not harm the environment; cycling is a good form of exercise.
Because of Aditya, the children learnt this lesson in a fun and practical way. This is what constructivism is all about.
Later, I explained to Aditya that he should take the cycle back home. ‘The other students will trouble you. They will want to ride it and play with it, besides the school has no gate, so someone might even steal it,’ I said.
Aditya understood. He didn’t ever bring it back to school.
Aditya had been behaving himself when a fellow student accused him of stealing his compass box. A distressed Aditya, feeling he was being targeted because of his previous “bad boy” reputation, kept telling everyone tearfully that he had not stolen it. Finally, I intervened and told him to forget about the incident if he was innocent.
The next day, I could tell from Aditya’s face that he was feeling wronged and hurt. Yet he went and spoke to the student who had accused him, in an attempt to clear the air. But the other boy shouted at him angrily and called him a thief. The tall and hefty Aditya burst into tears and rushed off home.
I was very worried about learning this. Taking along a couple of his friends and another teacher, I went to his house. He had locked himself in. We could hear him sobbing.
We kept banging on the door. ‘Open up, Aditya!’ we kept calling. ‘Please don’t cry. Tell us what happened,’ we urged.
After some 15 minutes, he opened the door. He hugged me and began to cry again. I held him close, comforted him, wiped his face, and gave him water to drink. ‘If you haven’t done anything wrong, there is no need to worry or feel bad. You must stay strong,’ I said.
I also told the other students never to accuse anyone unless they had proof. ‘It can badly affect sensitive people like Aditya,’ I explained.
Had I taken the accuser seriously and confronted Aditya, the boy might well have dropped out of school, abandoning his studies midway. Instead, I offered him my trust, love, and understanding.
Adolescents need extra care; they need to feel understood. They are easily hurt, quick to take offense. As a teacher, I am well aware of this.
In the 8th std, Aditya grew very close to me. He would fetch me a glass of water when I arrived at school, carry my bag, and he liked to be around me. He also began to concentrate more keenly on his studies.
All students need love, affection, and understanding from their teachers.
Aditya is now a 9th std student at the Maharashtra Vidyalaya High School in Khadi Center. Whether it be Teachers’ Day or Guru Poornima, he never forgets to wish me.
I am happy that I was able to help Aditya find himself.
Writer: Mangal Dongre, Teacher, Raiwadi ZP Primary School, Latur district
Editing and translation: samata.shiksha team