Words HURT…

Image credit: http://www.tolerance.org/bully-at-blackboard
Image credit: Mark McGinnis

“Teacher, I forgot to do my homework”

“Why haven’t you forgotten your head instead?”

Most of the teachers at my elementary school felt themselves responsible for making us pay for our errors by punishing, humiliating in front of the class or even calling our parents. I always felt sorry for one boy, Utegenov, who usually had to stand in front of the class while listening to the teacher’s sermons. His head down, he would then follow her finger which pointed to the corner of the classroom. Did it change anything? No. Every day was Groundhog Day for him. Lessons associated with humiliation and fear of failure are never going to inspire children to study. The students learn best in a mistake-friendly environment and when they are told that making mistakes is normal.

Just out of curiosity, I tried typing “дети учатся лучше когда …” (students learn best when) on the search engine and the findings were not surprising at all. “When parents believe in them” and “when they do mistakes” are the most popular ones. One of the reasons of fearing failure is high expectations (Steifer, 2001). It cannot be stressed enough how important it is that parents believe in their child’s abilities. The notion that the failure equals intellectual inferiority is fundamentally wrong. Students who are afraid to fail are most likely to abate their efforts next time (Cole, 2014). There is even a word for the fear of failure – atychiphobia. To change the attitude towards the mistakes, children should be taught that failures are inevitable and they should be viewed as valuable lessons.

By creating a psychologically safe place for children, it is likely that we diminish the chance that students will become reluctant to learn. According to the most eminent proponent of human development theory, Albert Bandura (1989), it is crucial that one has a belief in one’s own efficacy:

Persons who have a strong sense of efficacy deploy their attention and effort to the demands of the situation and are spurred by obstacles to greater effort (p. 394).

Hence, one particular solution comes to my mind. Imagine those children so excited to write their first letters at class, pinching the pen between those little thumb and point finger. They do their best to write correctly and neatly, but mostly they fail to do it the first times and unmerciful red “F” is written in their workbooks. Imagine another situation where children are given pencils instead of pens. They would be able to erase their mistakes and have a chance to correct them – this would be a good lesson to start with. Helping children to perceive their mistakes positively is priceless. Even when we have to discipline children, teachers and adults should uphold the dignity of the children because as in the case of Utegenov, humiliation never worked and never will.


Bandura, A. (1989). Regulation of cognitive processes through perceived self-efficacy. Developmental psychology, 25(5), 394.

Cole, S. “Fail again. Fail better.” Failure in the Creative Process. Steifer, S. J. (2001, 10). Don’t let fear of failure hold you back! Current Health 1, 25, 14-16. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/209833604?accountid=134066

Steifer, S. J. (2001,10). Don’t let fear of failure hold you back! Current Health 1, 25, 14-16. Retrieved from http://http://search.proquest.com/docview/209833604?accountid=134066

8 thoughts on “Words HURT…

  1. LOL!!! =) “Why haven’t you forgotten your head instead?”… i still hear this question, it is like a sound of my childhood. I remember how my parents, teachers and even little brother would not miss a chance to say like that. It was like a response to the child’s wrong action, which made a child even more upset of being WRONG. Punishing, humiliating, and dictating in front of the class is bad strategy, it has negative consequences which will follow a child through all life. Teaching, educating and learning so fragile and at the same time tough system, it can give a wings to our child to fly or cut those wings. In this regards, role of educators become crucial, since they are not only person who give knowledge, punish, and educate, they are central agents who shows the way how to act, who inspire, and give opportunity to self- realisation. Thanks. Another good food for thought..
    P.S. I used to have a classmate like “Utegenov” too, who is actually now successful businessman. 😉

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Totally @bagdaguln . I also think that by humiliting the child in front of the class, the teacher actually “gives permission” to other students to tease the kid. I do not remember seeing Utegenov happy, he was bullied both by teacher and students. Boys would beat him, throw away his belongings… Oh, I wish I could go back in time and punch that teacher in the face. I can’t stop thinking, since I wrote the post, about what happened to him after the school. I pray he is as successful as your classmate.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks, Gulnur, for touching such a frank and serious matter. Actually, yes, even if we talk about student-centred approach everywhere. let’s face it, in the majority of our mainstream schools the one and only person students have to obey is the teacher. And let’s face it, it’s not justified in many cases, but students don’t know about their rights and they can’t stand up to such “authorities”, because they’re are afraid of them.
    I remember my georgraphy teacher who disliked me just because once I corrected her during the lesson. After that incident she declared a “cold war” – started to ask me every lesson, even if I had enough grades, also she was making remarks about my clothes, thereby, making the geography lessons unbearable for me. And I knew that even if I had complained to my class teacher or to the principal – they wouldn’t listen, because, let’s face it, student of 8 or 9th grade is not powerful enough to declare about her rights 🙂 Thus, when I graduated my school I was blissfully happy that I got rid off this pointless unpleasant lessons, where the teacher spent all her energy on struggling with me and my friends, who defended me every time.
    What I want to say is that when I become a parent, I will tell my children about their rights and will talk to EVERY (literally) EVERY teacher who will work with them, thereby making sure, they love children and won’t ruin their school memories 🙂

    GOOD JOB, Gulnur, you could evoke such an emotional reponse from me )))

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This post catches my attention at the first view. Personally, this issue very important for me and I think everyone, or almost everyone faced such situation in his/her life. Obviously, words hurt and sometimes they leave a trace in child’s life.
    The whole lesson on Professional Identity we analyzed the issues on feeling guilty. But, we considered this feeling regarding teachers.
    However, “punishing” children by forcing them to feel guilty among friends, parents or other teachers is not a good way to correct existing situation. Unfortunately, many teachers (or even we are) do not know other ways to push student to do his or her best to succeed. When words of support and understandings are not help, some of us (and me sometimes) try to “rouse to action” by feeling them guilty. It is important to note, that there is a delicate balance and we must try to not overdo.

    As for mistakes, I would be happy to the max if someone at school said me that mistakes are OK :). I think this is the one of the important wisdom children should learn in their school years.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad you connected these two issues @diana3012. Remember the first type of guilt, persecutory guilt, which is “failing to do something expected from an external authority.” As you mentioned, we may trigger this unpleasant feeling by setting the bar too high for the students. Back then, teachers’ judgments used to be based on comparing each student’s achievements with those of other students in the same class. Students’ achievement standards should not be based on how well his classmates do. Being compared to other students is not something that inspires children. Constructive feedback to their works and criteria based assessment could be the solutions, as this type of assessment can be used to measure individual progress of each student.


  5. Thanks a lot, Gulnur! You have done a perfect job making this topic easy to follow.

    Definitely, I dare say that almost every single of us had or even went through similar situations. Having become elder, I understand that there is much blame on teachers. However, many other factors affect on such problems, which lead to such “grumpy” spectacles.

    The very first reason is that something went wrong with the system of education itself: unclear education policy, ineffective education development programs, insufficient financing, unqualified staff etc. To my mind, kindergartners & schools must be fulfilled with strong competent teaching staff in order to have “a fruitful” product.
    As I had a few years of teaching experience, I see that teachers are in a high must to do trainings in different aspects. Several ways such as refreshing teaching methods, learning interactive approaches and being taught educational psychology can really assisst teachers to get solutions for various issues like “humiliating” a student.

    Particularly, I want to stick to the significance of educational psychology. This is the branch of psychology that was founded by some phychologists in 20th century. Although the field interrelates with psychology itself, it specializes in understanding teaching and learning in educational settings (Santrock, et al., 2007). The authors also state that educational psychology “draws its knowledge from practical experiences of teachers” where “humiliating” can be best example to conduct a research.

    For this reason there is a urgent need to teach educational psychology for teachers and not only…

    Santrock, et al. (2007). Educational Psychology, 2ed.


  6. Thank you Gulnur! I agree with you and all people who left comments. This situation is familiar to every person who studied at school. Especially for “old breed”. In the past teachers even beat students in order to catch their attention or to punish a child for disobedience. And it was normal. And parents were happy that their children have such a strict teacher. There was an assumption if the teacher is strict it means that he or she is the best.
    I am delighted that nowadays educators understand the importance of this problem. Every student in the class should get appropriate attention from the teacher.


  7. Gulnur, thank you for recalling some very interesting things about high school teachers. I do remember when they can easily leave us in the classroom with the translation of a particular text and that was all! So, basically, this is what we were taught at the English lesson – translating texts. I know that the problem is sort of controversial: whether the problem is in the specific teacher’s pedagogical approach or the style they were trained to teach. But I do believe that if you love what you do, definitely you put your soul and heart to make it better as much as possible.


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