A principal breaks the stereotypes associated with her profession
Sitting within the cool confines of my office, with the temperature outside soaring to 44º C in Sohar, Oman, I was applying my mind to a problem at hand. I then saw a pair of eyes, curiosity and bewilderment writ large on them, peering at me through the big glass window that overlooked the corridor alongside the office.
‘Hello!’ I greeted the little girl who seemed to be 8–9 years old. ‘What are you looking at?’
Her reply came as a surprise to me.
‘I want to see inside. I want to know what happens here when teachers bring their students to you. Many times, I have seen my teacher rebuking the students for misbehaving. If they don’t listen to them, they are taken to the principal.’
So, my room was being equated to a torture room where children are scolded, shouted at, and punishment is inflicted.
‘But Ma’am, I always listen to my teachers,’ the young girl added, trying to earn her brownie points before I could reply.
‘I love all the children who come here and make them understand that they should behave well,’ I told her.
There was a look of disbelief on her face and she ran ahead to catch up with her class.
Similar sentiments are echoed by other students. At times, whispers are heard in the school corridors while I take rounds. When a noisy chatty bunch of students starts moving in a line, the teachers silence the students by announcing the presence of the principal nearby.
I am pretty sure, my fellow principals experience the same.
As a teacher, I always received love, affection, warmth and respect from my students. I always had that human connection with them. But as I grew in my profession, I experienced that a distance has built up between me and my students and colleagues. Love, affection, warmth and respect had been replaced with awe.
‘When did I change?’ I asked myself. ‘You never did,’ cried my inner self.
Pondering over, I realised that the distance created was purely on account of the stereotype of the ‘Principal’ in the society, and the way it developed over time.
The shift occurred as my role changed from an educator to an educator cum administrator.
The reaction of the young girl was probably the result of her social conditioning.
With this strict disciplinarian image comes a baggage and it fits well if you are a chashmish principal.
Have you ever wondered why society perceives principals as ‘strict disciplinarians’? I believe that is because the principals set not only set academic goals but also behavioural limits and boundaries, thereby being termed strict. With a big strength of students to manage, especially teenagers, educating today’s AG (After Google) digital natives about the consequences of their actions becomes crucial and imperative.
At times, it gets difficult for parents to manage their children. In such a situation, the role of the school team is of paramount importance. It not only takes care of their academic and co-curricular performance but also guides a large, heterogeneous student population towards being good citizens.
In my opinion, the moment teachers say that students will be taken to the principal’s room, they are made to think that the principal has the authority to reprimand them for their actions. The students feel that this can ensue in the form of severe punishment by the principal.
But the question still remains as to what actions follow when people are taken to the principal’s office. Parents, teachers, staff members and students approach us mostly when they have a problem. So, we are their problem-solvers and troubleshooters, providing solutions rather than punishing them.
Another stereotype created by society has to do with the physical appearance of a teacher. Just think of a teacher and the image that springs to mind is of a woman dressed in a saree with a border, hair tied in a bun, carrying a large bag slung over her shoulder and wearing black-rimmed glasses.
A chance encounter with a young student and her parents in a shopping mall recently comes to mind. Pleasantries were exchanged and yet no recognition was visible on the girl’s face.
‘Say good evening to your principal,’ her mother said in an embarrassed tone.
‘Not her,’ the girl replied. ‘She doesn’t come across as my principal in the school. My principal wears a saree, and has a different hairstyle.’
She found it difficult to superimpose ‘principal-in-trousers’ on ‘principal-in-saree’ image, which was embedded in her mind.
Principals should be flexible enough to strike a balance between different roles. This equips them with a new set of administrative tools for the efficient running of an institution. In the process, they try to break free from stereotypes.
Trying hard to undo the image created over the years, we are now trying to know the generation Z. By dropping words such as punishment, the new generation of principals makes an effort to apply psychological principles to understand young minds.