I've taught in Pakistan for four years. As a lawyer I had some exposure to teaching in America although more so in a clinical setting. Let me just say right off the bat - students in America were respectful towards their teachers at a level that is unfathomable to students here. Part of the respect stemmed from the fact that my work was informed by actual law practice, but some of it came from their growing up in a system that works - where schools work like schools and not businesses, and students have no reason to suspect your abilities or your right to be in a position to instruct them. There was sexism, racism, and accent-ism, but my experience of sexism here in Pakistan is much worse. In some sense, students in Pakistan reflect the system's failure.
They are devoid of idealism. Most times they will instinctively side with the empowered, the propertied, the establishment. Even when shaken to question power dynamics, they show a cynical adherence to them. Thus its not for lack of exposure, but a conscious and cognizant choice they have made -- thereby representing what what I like to call 'screw the subaltern' attitude If people want to come up, we'll make sure we're kicking them down. If people trespass, its not out of necessity, but cunning. A show of compassion becomes a sign of weakness. Giving latitude to the weak means relinquishing control.
Over the years that I have taught, R v Brown, the case of the sado-masochistic homosexuals who were convicted of battery and denied the defense of consent, I've toned it down, and made it more about a legal principle they can relate to and respect because its more than 200 years old -- the courts are usurping the role of the legislature and criminalizing something they find morally repugnant. This gives them the space to dissociate their own moral repugnance, and accept the criticism of the case as a separation of powers issue. And it makes sense that our feisty lawyers of the movement were fighting for separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary, and not the rights of labor, minorities, women, homosexuals, or the landless -- at least not explicitly. If the oppressed need to assert a right, instead of us developing a law debate around it, pressing for parliamentary reform, litigating for progressive precedent -- lets leave to the CJ-- an obsessive and compulsive suo motu culture until the skin peels and to the point of evading all responsibility.
Students like to pigeon hole you: She's a feminist; she approves of homosexuality; she emphasizes reading, but pay no heed. A few years ago, I would go livid explaining to them the importance of reading; then I started talking about it sparingly and breaking down only when the intellectual chemistry was zero. Now, I almost never tell students to read. I admit I do not want to sound like a broken drum. Its a terrifying thing to say something that will be disregarded, and then say it again, and be mocked for it, and then say it a third time, and be dismissed as mental in the chat rooms and hallways of student power. So out of mortal fear of the phenomenon I like to call...'She's like this only...' I have learned that if students want to be dumb asses, I need to stop popping nerves about it.
In their quest for short cuts, and do the minimum amount of work in order to pass, students do not believe in reading. In fact they abhor reading and will spend more time convincing each other that reading is futile, and acquiring notes and figuring tricks than it actually takes to read a case. They have decided reading a long case gives them no tangible, short term benefits. The idea is to pass and get a degree, not dwell on arguments. Cleverness reflects how you accomplish that without hard work. Its apparent and most classes lack depth.
But they like to be told that they are ingenious. They like to be given facts and scenarios and even legal arguments on a platter that they then like to dissect, except their ignorance squeaks though, and its embarrassing. You see, as a teacher, you have to be positive and encourage students who speak up and critique a case, but I can promise you this -- no teacher in the world -- however progressive, however liberal, sweet and unassuming-- can tolerate uninformed commenting two thirds of the way into a college level course. So I have to shut them down when they speak with such confidence -- yet without reading, and this does not come from a desire to reprimand or assert authority -- I am simply fatigued by stupidity. I am bored of the audacity of ignorance. I am not here to crush spirits, but really, it must be done. If you are talking rape and sexual offences, sensitive subjects, you want to create space for people to speak out even if their views are offensive -- but there comes a time when the classroom ceases to be a safe space for me. When talking about these things is less about learning, and more about creating a spectacle. That is when you need to stop.
I had a teacher who taught me employment law, and I found his method practical. He read portions of cases from his notes. But if you glance at your notes in a Pakistani classroom, it is automatically seen as a sign of -- she does not know the material. Of course, not wearing a suit exacerbates things. So many times, I will look down to read something, and students will see this as an inability to teach impromptu, rather than a way of giving them detail. It does not take a genius to teach someone impromptu what duress means or that self defense is allowed only when its reasonable; but teaching is more than delivering the basic concepts, and you can't really teach without talking about what was said.
The sadness I feel when I am challenged by a non reader who quickly reads the judgment, a date, or a head note is inexplicable. I could destroy them on substance, but that would humor them and reinforce their world.
Some students suffer from what I call a self induced infantilism; they want to be scolded almost as if -- if they were not, it would jeopardize their chances of passing. Getting a share of a teacher's wrath is a rite of passage; it is a way of reasserting your youth, reaffirming your stereotypes about a student-teacher relationship -- its about your comfort zone and learned helplessness. They greet me loudly as if I don't get it. I once had a student remind me she was only 19 -- hence smirks, giggles, and texting should be understandable. I find all this creepy. I mean, go smoke you bong, but don't be giddy.
By no means is this a generalization. Every year I find a handful of students, mostly women, who are smart and inspirational. And they make it worth it. Seriously, I love teaching. No one would not believe me now. I believe classes have souls. Sometimes you get a beautiful group of people who complement each other. Recently, I asked about 15 people to leave the classroom, and taught the remaining, and I understood instantly how the soul of the class shifted. You see if 70% of the students are not getting the nuances, it creates dead space; that dead space feeds into your mood, and diminishes your capacity to teach, and you.
Lastly, a note on loyalty. Don't ever get fired and expect the students to stand up for you. Don't take a position, and expect them to rally behind you. As a teacher you should always remind yourself, that you are a 'dulhan aik raat ki'. And after the exams, many people will not even make eye contact. Teaching is about constantly moving on.