Emotional Intelligence | Stevehein.com


Education, Motivation, Punishment, Rebelliousness, Defiance

Dec 2006 Note - This is from something that happened in Quito, Ecuador.


It is about four AM. I have been thinking about what I saw yesterday in a school.

Here are my notes.

So we are singing a song. The Condor Pasa

I'd rather be a sparrow than a snail, yes I would, If I could, I surely would.
I'd rather be a hammer than a nail...

After the whole class sings it a few times the teacher starts asking for volunteers, then she starts selecting people and telling them to sing it individually. I didn't see much point to this. It is not a singing class. It is an English class. The mood of the group was positive after we had all finished signing together. In fact we had sung it together enough times for them to feel so satisfied that they clapped. Then the teacher had just the females sing. Then just the males. I didn't see much point to this either. To my surprise and pleasure it seemed the males actually did a better job. So I started clapping and then so did they. Then the class wanted me to sing it by myself. I felt a bit pressured, but decided to give it a try since I knew this would make them happy. They clapped for me and everyone was happy.

But this is when the student teacher, Daniela, got out her grade book and was going to give grades for individual singing performances. . I immediately thought this was bad idea. The first person who sang volunteered and did it well and the class clapped But then the singing quality dropped quickly and there were no more volunteers. Then the regular teacher who was also in the classroom started selecting people who had not volunteered. In other words she basically started forcing them to sing. The mood continued to drop. The students felt obligated to clap even when the singing and pronunciation was not very good. As more people realized they might be graded the mood became increasingly tense.

Then the teacher tells someone else to sing, but he doesn't want to. She keeps insisting he sing and he keeps looking down at his desk and shaking his head no. Usually when a group of people here in Ecuador want someone to do something they clap and say something like "Sing! Sing! Sing!" This is one of the more obvious forms of social and peer pressure. This has been done to me twice in fact.

In this case, none of the students were clapping or pressuring this student to sing. No one was smiling or encouraging him in a light-hearted way. It was only the teacher who felt this strong need for him to sing. When she saw she could not force him to sing against his will, she said with a hostile voice, "Daniela!" Che Cortez... ZERO!" So Daniela obediently wrote down "0" in the gradebook. (This is not his real name, by the way. I don't remember his last name, but I decided to call him "Che" after Che Guevara the revolutionary who helped free much of South America from European rule, and so who is quite popular here.)

The teacher's tone of voice was very punitive and hurtful. She did not say something in a caring voice like, "I am sorry but I have to give you a zero." Actually she did not have to give him a zero. She could have easily chosen someone else. This whole power struggle was totally unnecessary.

Then she told someone else to sing. He said, sounding very afraid, "I can't sing very well." The teacher said, "It doesn't matter. What matters is that you have the desire." She said this in a way to punish Che even more, and also to make an additional impression upon the other students.

But what was this additional emotional impression? Was it one of positive motivation? Was it really helping create a desire to sing, a desire to learn English....or a fear of disobedience? I would have liked to take a poll to see how everyone felt about all of this. (By the way, this expression, "It doesn't matter" reminds me of another story. And it reminds me that I believe how someone feels always matters.)

As the next person was singing, she came to me and whispered that Che is a troublemaker and a rebel, or something to that effect. I couldn't really understand her Spanish and I couldn't listen to what she was saying anyhow since I was so upset by what had just happened. I just said nothing. And looked around the room at the stressed faces on the people who, just minutes earlier, were quite happy.

As I was laying awake this morning I was thinking, what would I do if someone did not want to sing? I know that I would not give them a zero. Instead I would try to find out why they did not want to sing, and if they were afraid I would try to help them feel less afraid - without invalidating them though. I have tried to help people like this before actually. When someone is obviously afraid, I say something like "I will help you with the words," or "Would you like me to help you?" There was one time when I could not persuade someone to come to the front of the class and read some words on the board. I asked her those kinds of questions and also asked her if she would feel better if a friend came with her to the board. Yet I still could not persuade her. I also tried playfully pulling on her hair, but not enough to even move her head, just enough to get a laugh. Still she did not get up. But this didn't bother me much. I didn't feel defied. I didn't feel out of control. I am wondering now how Che's teacher, if we can call her that, was feeling. I also wonder how she wanted him to feel. Probably she wanted him to feel punished and humiliated and subservient. I am guessing he felt something between resentment and hatred. I am afraid he will hate English for a long time in the future. I highly doubt this motivated him or created an inner desire for the other students to learn English in their spare time.

I am also thinking that if I had I wanted to know if Che could pronounce the words to the song, I might have asked him if he would just read out the words for me. His pronunciation would be what I was interested in, as well as his feelings. This person called his teacher was not interested in either.

Now I am also wondering whether perhaps giving someone a zero may be more hurtful than hitting them. If you are hit but you still pass your tests, then you can move on to the next year in school, go to a university if you want to, get a degree that you want and a job you want etc.

But if you get zeros it can really affect your whole life financially besides emotionally. This reminds me of an experience in my life when I gave someone a failing grade.

I am really tired now so I will just make these additional notes:

More notes...

I admire Che. I want to tell him I admire him and I want to tell all the students that sometimes you have to disobey authority to do what is good for the world or what is healthy for you. I want to tell him that this teacher would not be working in a school of mine.

I am wondering, Will this motivate him to learn English? Will this create the desire that the teacher says is more important than the person's ability to sing or pronounce the words correctly? Actually I am not sure what is the most important to the teacher. It seems obedience was the most important. Because the person who did not obey was the one punished.

Something else was unfair about this. Only about five students were selected to sing, or forced to sing, whichever you want to say. Had Che not been selected, or singled out, by the teacher, he would have not have received a zero. I suspect the teacher deliberately selected him knowing he would not want to sing. Is this an example of good teaching methods?

What makes this all the more interesting, or frightening, is that the teacher works at a special school which is right next to one of the main universities in Ecuador. The school apparently is a special school for helping train teachers. I wonder if this is what the university authorities or leaders want to be modeled in their training laboratories.

Often I just write about things, but I think I may do a bit of follow up on this because my guess is that the most wise, if not the most powerful, people in the university and at the school where this happened would not support this kind of teaching style.

At the same time I feel more empathy now for the teachers than I would have a year ago because I have spent more time in classrooms. I know that many students do not want to be there and I know how it feels to try to teach to someone who is not there voluntarily with a desire to learn. I also know what it is like trying to keep a class quiet enough so you don't have to shout to be heard. Still, this does not excuse what this teacher did. Nor does it help "Che" feel any less rebellious or defiant.

I also want to use this as an example for discussion when I talk to the uni students tomorrow. I might take a couple with me to go talk to this teacher and to see if she will allow a discussion of this in her class today or sometime. I feel confident I can lead a discussion and ask for feelings and help people understand each other. I want to ask each one how they felt and ask them to use feeling words. I want to ask each one how respected they felt. And I want to ask them and the class and my uni students or "the" uni students, since they are not mine, though I guess I wish they were!, whether they think the teacher was creating feelings of fear or respect and whether respect should be earned by the teacher or whether the student should just obey etc. I want to ask the teacher if she wants to be feared or respected, or even liked. I want to ask the students for more feedback on this teacher. I think this could be good fun and I am looking forward to it!

See more notes about discussing this with others....

Note about students knowing their own potential

Feeling Pressured

Once when some university students and their professor wanted me to tell a joke. I couldn't think of any jokes and I didn't want to tell one anyhow. I wanted to talk to the students about helping me teach English in an orphanage. Then I felt pressured and defiant and so I just kept saying "no" till they left me alone.

The second time was yesterday when the students wanted me to sing. At first I didn't want to do it mostly because my throat was sore from singing and too much and trying to talk above the noise in the classrooms in the last week or so. Also, I don't think I can sing very well and also I didn't know the tune very well. I started to feel a little pressured and was thinking of saying "I feel pressured" but then I decided I would give it a try. I think it was more because I didn't feel very afraid they would laugh at me and I thought they would appreciate me trying to sing for them, which they did. I sang better than I thought I would and didn't regret signing much. The only reason I regret it a little was to make a point that I don't like to be pressured. Looking back I wish I would have said, "I felt pressured" because this would have perhaps helped in what was to follow a few minutes later.


The F

Once I was teaching a computer class to university students and I had to fail someone. Or I thought I did. He simply could not pass the tests. I helped him out individually a lot, gave him second chances, let him do extra work etc, but he really had no competency with computers. He was an artist. And he was a nice person. But I did give him an F in the course because I would have felt disintegritous to give him a passing grade. Several months later when I saw him in a restaurant he smiled and said hello and we chatted a bit. I still felt bad for failing him, and I told him this, but he did not feel resentful towards me. He said things turned out fine and he didn't need that course to graduate. But to this day I still feel bad and question my decision.


Students know their own potential

When I am teaching something like a song, after we have done it a few times, I ask the class if they want to do it again. There is usually a clear consensus whether they are satisfied with their own work. Often, I am satisfied or even a bit tired of repeating the same thing, but the class wants to do it again until they are satisfied, so in most cases I go along with this since I believe it is more important for them to be satisfied than for me to be. In only a few cases have I found that I am not satisfied yet they want to quit. Usually, in fact, it is just the opposite. Though I am in Ecuador now, this was also the case in Indonesia and Thailand. The students themselves are the best judges of their own work. They know what their potential is. They know when they have mastered something to their own ability. They know this better than I do and I respect and honor it.

Discussing this with others

Later that day....

I talked about this in different highschool this morning. I asked what the teacher there thought about this. He is someone I respect. He said this was very bad and it was the old way of teaching, not the modern way. I asked the students for their comments and they didn't have much to say. Most of them seemed to think this was normal and couldn't see why I was even talking about it. One said she would make the Che do extra homework. So I said, "In other words you would punish him?" She thought that she would be "reinforcing his English" if he did more homework, but then I asked whether he would feel punished or helped. Another student quickly said punished. Later another student said that if her parents punished her she would just feel more rebellious.

Then we talked more about whether it would be punishing him or if he would feel supported or helped. The consensus was he would feel punished.

I also asked them what would be worse: to get hit or get a zero. Most said to get hit, as did the teacher. But the one from the USA and a few others said it would do more damage to a person to get zeros (and this is what I believe too - but I guess it depends on the person). She said it would stop them from moving on with their education and they would end up poor and on welfare with a lot of kids. lol. Another student said if they got a zero their parents would find out and punish them or lecture them too, but if they just got hit then maybe their parents would never know. Several of them were worried about their parents getting angry - so this is an example of the double jeopardy many students face.

I made the point that in Ecuador, as in many countries, it was illegal to hit someone. But if it was possible that giving a zero for disobedience could actually do more harm, then why was that still legal? Most of the students seemed to understand what I was saying.

I also made it clear that this teacher was not trying to help the student learn English. She was simply punishing him for defying her. The students and the teacher understood this also.

Later I told this story to another teacher and asked what she thought. She quickly said, "She should not be teaching." I then said, "Now listen to this. This teacher is training other teachers." She seemed really bothered by this. Yet neither of the two teachers suggested any action be taken. They probably do not want to get involved. Few people ever do, even if they know what is happening, which most of the time they don't.

The next day I went to the university where I happened to meet the director of the language department. I also told one of the professors about what happened with Che. He didn't want to get involved either. Though he agreed that it was very poor teaching, he actually discouraged me from talking to the department director about it. This puzzled me and bothered me so much that it motivated me to go see the director.

I went to his office and explained what I had seen. He listened carefully and then quickly said indicated this was not acceptable and he asked me for the name of the teacher. He was not acting authoritarian or punitive about it, just very concerned. I did not actually remember her name, but I told him I would find out. He thanked me for coming and we shook hands. He seemed to be a very sincere person. By the way, the teacher who did not want me to talk to him was wearing an expensive looking suit and tie, the director was dressed very casually.


Update - Some time has gone by and I have not yet done more with this, but I still plan to. If you don't see an update here soon please write me and remind me!

S. Hein
Originally written Feb 17, updated March 7, 2004
Quito, Ecuador