New York - Usually for someone who is learning a foreign language, the personality of the teacher and his behavior play a determining role in making him or her forever like or dislike a language.
New York – Usually for someone who is learning a foreign language, the personality of the teacher and his behavior play a determining role in making him or her forever like or dislike a language.
For the teacher is the first contact that a pupil comes into with the new language. If you ask any person who is learning a foreign language, he/she will tell you that his/her love or rejection was conditioned by their first teacher of that language.
My story with the French language dates back to my early childhood. It is a love story that has shaped the person I am, influenced the choices I made and affected the attitude I have had for a great period of my life. French was both a dream and a nightmare. For the little mind of a 9 year-old boy, to play football was a dream, to watch cartoons, buy a toy, go to cinema and listen to old stories as well as to avoid attending French classes. The latter was a nightmare, an unpleasant experience that always brought fear, despair and anxiety to my innocent soul.
Class was supposed to be the playground to learn the basics of life, an opportunity to interact with peers, build social trust and think beyond the comfort zone. Unfortunately, thanks to Ms. Rajae, “Sada Rajae,” her class turned my life and the life of my classmates upside down; I always conceived her class as a compulsory punishment that sowed the seeds of fear, apathy and loss of orientation in my personality.
While committed teachers conveyed knowledge, told interesting stories and showed warm smiles to their pupils, Ms. Rajae had only one thing to bring: Her stick. “I choose my sticks very carefully from olive trees. Those who do not behave will taste her sweetness (the stick),” she once told us.
I have always believed that the stick was an integral part of education in Morocco, as this experience was shared by most children in different classes. Each and every teacher used to have at least two sticks, a wooden stick and a plastic cane. They were probably signs of prestige and self-esteem; or probably a way of cathartic relief of daily troubles, psychological dysfunctions and obsessive compulsive disorders.
In my French class, we were introduced to all kinds of punishments. Emotional punishment such as bullying, name calling – all synonyms of stupid were used – and picking ludicrous nicknames which we ended up calling one another and adopting for the rest of the year. We were also exposed to physical punishment. This was the specialty of Ms. Rajae.
Her class was so special that every 10 minutes one student had to be slapped or beaten. In every session, she threw a chalkboard eraser, a ruler or a compass at any student who dared to raise his hand but offered a wrong answer to her questions. Her goal was to inflict the maximum horror on students’ hearts as preparation for her second objective: taming them. This abusive method was rampant among many teachers in the 1980’s to gain respect and establish discipline, but the intensity of punishment differed from one teacher to another.
Ms. Rajae considered herself the Queen of the class. She forced us to respect her through coercion, intimidation and abuse. Sadly, we had to listen to her dull nonsensical stories and laugh to her silly, ridiculous jokes. The ordeal of this haunted class was rigid and painful. Because of her stick and mischievous grumpy looks, all our actions were under control lest our narcissistic teacher unleashed her hell of hating and/or bullying.
The monstrous section of class that was always received with agony and repulsion was spelling. She would read to us a paragraph from a book and ask us to write it down. Then, she would collect all papers for correction and prepare herself for celebration. Every spelling mistake equaled one stick-hit. Regrettably, I once made a generous amount of mistakes that called for her cruel punishment. She ordered me to tighten my fingers together where she hit me on the finger tips harshly.
Having experienced her wrath several times, I decided to resort to dormancy and occupy the back seat. After the first two months under abusive dictatorship in which I had been slapped on the face, picked and beaten by her wooden stick, I gave up on my desire to learn or the ability to interact with the class to avoid any chance of personal contact with this teacher. Simply, any interaction was liable to bring about drastic repercussions on the feelings and the well being of students.
Our class was a preliminary stage to a real, merciless world where cruelty, ill-manners and inconsideration gained currency. Ms. Rajae’s irresponsibility and abusive behavior was a simulation of the harsh reality outside the classroom.
I am sure that hundreds of thousands of Moroccan children went through the same ordeal and probably, some are still undergoing this bitter experience. For this reason, they end up not only hating their teachers, but also hating the language itself and all that it represents. The psychological shock inflicted upon Moroccan pupils created a barrier that prevents them from establishing a harmonious relation with French as a language and a culture.
Adnane Bennis is co-founder and managing editor of Morocco World News. You can follow him on twitter @BennisAdnane
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