11

A few days ago, in a Zoology class, one of my classmates was caught reading the Zoology textbook when the teacher was explaining. Although he wasn't reading anything that he wasn't supposed to, the teacher got mad at him for not paying attention and asked him to leave the class. He openly declined to leave the class, saying he wasn't wrong to have read the relevant textbook. The teacher then picked up his books and calmly walked out of the class.

Some students (not including the boy in concern) went and apologised on behalf of our friend, but the teacher was unhappy and sent our principal to ask the boy to leave the class, saying that either he stays, or our teacher stays. The boy in concern (let's just call him Jon) still declined, saying that he was not in the wrong for just having read the textbook.

As a result of the stubbornness of Jon, we all missed our Zoology class, for which we all messed up on our exam, held one day after the incident.

Was it right for Jon to have done this? What should we have told him, to perhaps convince him to apologise to the teacher? Please let me know so that a repeat of this situation can be prevented further.


I am from India, and this incident did take place in India. The class in concern was an 11th-grade class, with ages ranging from 15 to 17, and the class strength was around 20-25 students.

According to traditional Hindu culture, the teacher is to be given utmost importance and is to be respected even more than God, as it is he/she who helps us realise God in the first place. However, this was an old tradition, at a time when teachers were among the most skilful people in the country. Now, the situation is different. The highly skilled personnel now work at places like Google, or Apple, and people from among the remaining become teachers. I want to clarify that I'm not commenting on my teacher's ability here, but just speaking about teachers in general.

  • 4
    This is a loaded question. Is the student guilty? Is the teacher right? As i see it, the student just has read the book, trying to reach the goal faster. The teacher overreacted. – Nils Sep 26 '17 at 18:12
  • 2
    How can missing one single class cause students to mess up the exam? – user21820 Mar 16 '18 at 8:51
21

Here's the thing about Indian classrooms

Teachers usually expect "pindrop silence" and undivided attention when they're teaching, and complete "obedience" in general.

That is, while they're teaching, do not turn towards your classmates, chew gum, fidget with pens, look at the walls or windows, or anything whatsoever. And more importantly, don't do anything that looks as though you've got better things to do than listen to them.

So, while Jon's reading the text silently in class isn't bad behaviour in general, it is a sort of disrespect to the teacher. It is disruptive behaviour in this context.

In such cases, it's pretty normal for Indian teachers to get upset, "overreact", and send the "disobedient" student out of the class regardless of how calm and composed they are outside of class hours.

In most cases, a simple "I'm sorry teacher; won't happen again" would solve it like magic.

And if that apology isn't given, things escalate pretty quickly. Trust me.

Kindly explain to your friend that it's much better for the student to just say sorry (regardless of who is in the right) and get on with the class instead of countering the teacher.


I'm a fellow Indian. I've attended 8 Indian schools and 2 Indian colleges. There are many teachers within my huge Indian family.

  • 6
    I suppose Jon reading the textbook gives vibes to the teacher that Jon thinks they're worth less than a book. I seem to remember this being an issue with some of my (more authoritarian) teachers in a British school, so I can see why it would be in India. – marcellothearcane Jul 22 '17 at 21:00
  • 2
    Oh man, I guess I'm glad I was in the Canadian school system. If you weren't being disruptive there wasn't a lot anyone would do. – JMac Jul 31 '17 at 11:00
  • 5
    This answer is based on an unrecoverable error; that it was right in this case to punish the whole class for the behavior of one student who was not being disruptive. – Joshua Aug 24 '17 at 2:36
  • 2
    @NVZ: In this situation I would not be asking Jon to apologize I would be asking the teacher to do so and on a repeat I would be speaking with the dean about the teacher's far worse behavior. – Joshua Aug 24 '17 at 2:48
  • 2
    Given this answer I wonder what it is we don't know about "Jon" - specifically, why didn't he know all this and what's his problem with behaving in the expected manner? – davidbak Nov 23 '17 at 6:45
10

Though, there is no explicit mention of where it happened, but based on your profile, I can safely assume where it did. Since I belong to the same country you do, I can offer some advice about it.

In our country, teachers particularly take pride in their job and why won't they. Teachers/Gurus are given a higher place than the God in our culture.

They want their students to pay attention when they are teaching. Looking into book while they are teaching is something what they won't take easily because it makes them think that you're not paying attention and also that you're not understanding what they are saying or they are not good enough to teach. And this will definitely hurt their pride.

In your case, though teacher overreacted by leaving the class and warning not to take the class again in future, but this wouldn't have happened if your friend apologized.

Now coming to your question,

Was it right for Jon to have done this?

No, it wasn't. He should have immediately apologized when teacher told him to leave the class.

What should we have told him, to perhaps convince him to apologise to the teacher?

You can say something like this,

Hey, we know that what you did wasn't wrong, but he is our teacher. If he won't take the class, our syllabus won't be completed which will affect our exam. An apology will not hurt anybody and it will make things right. Please apologize so our class can be resumed.

  • 1
    Out of curiosity, if an occasional student clearly already knows the material, do they get an unofficial/unspoken "pass" for failing to pay attention and just doing their own thing? Or does everyone have to pay attention regardless of their learning? – Mehrdad Jul 29 '17 at 7:55
  • 5
    "An apology will not hurt anybody" - This is not correct. In my experience, it hurts like hell to apologies when the other party is in the wrong. – Chris Wohlert Aug 24 '17 at 13:58
  • 1
    @ChrisWohlert And do not forget that the apology is probably a lie. Reading the answers here, I keep thinking "Is lying acceptable in India and preferred over hurting someone's pride?" When I was young (U.S.), there were several times when my father ordered me to apologize for an action and I responded "I am not trying to be difficult, but I cannot apologize since I would be lying by doing so." He was furious, of course, and I was punished even worse for the insubordination, but I did not violate my morals. Un-bruised morals are more important than un-bruised skin, despite the pain. – Aaron Aug 31 '17 at 18:08
10

I think this is key: Jon does not need to say "I was wrong, I am sorry for doing a wrong thing." Jon can say "I regret that I upset you when my choice made it appear I wasn't paying attention while you talked. I am sorry for appearing disrespectful in your classroom."

Jon might also want to consider whether reading an allowed thing is in fact always polite, or if listening while others are talking is actually more polite. That is, though the teacher over-reacted, Jon isn't really in the "did nothing wrong" situation he thinks he is. But in the heat of the angry moment, providing him with words other than "I was wrong" will be helpful to everyone.

  • 6
    "I regret that my choice upset you" seems like an apology evasion. "I am sorry for appearing disrespectful in your classroom" seems pretty good because it lets to student apologise without taking the status hit of apologising for being disrespectful. – Casebash Jul 20 '17 at 16:02
  • 3
    imagine you and a friend are offered a plate with two items on it, one chocolate, one with peanuts. You choose the chocolate one and immediately eat it. Then your friend says "I can't eat peanuts! You should have left the chocolate one for me! Now I have no treat!" and is really upset. You weren't wrong to choose chocolate, to choose without asking, or to eat it right away. But your friend has been made upset by your choice. That's what you apologize for. You wish your friend wasn't upset. I am familiar with apology evasions including the famous "I'm sorry if" - this isn't one. It's precise. – Kate Gregory Jul 21 '17 at 12:59
  • I edited a little. "my choice" needs to remain since Jon's point is that this is a legitimate choice to make. I might actually disagree, but we're giving Jon words to use in his apology, so they need to be ones he agrees with. – Kate Gregory Jul 21 '17 at 20:22
  • Cool. I think the wording here is good. – HDE 226868 Jul 21 '17 at 20:25
  • 5
    Commenters, obviously the apology I am suggesting for Jon has less strength than the simple "I was wrong. Please forgive me." That is because Jon is sure he isn't wrong and is using that as a reason not to apologize, bringing bad stuff onto the group. I suggest ways to apologize that don't include "I was wrong." Pointing out that these kinds of apologies are less sincere and complete than apologies that straight-out admit being wrong is not a new insight from you, it's the point of the answer. Yet if Jon can say one of these half-apologies and the teacher can accept it, all is good. – Kate Gregory Jul 22 '17 at 21:12
7

You and your friend need to know that there are at least two types of "wrong." They are 1) objectively wrong and 2) wrong in context, when he offends someone.

What Jon did was not objectively wrong. But it was "wrong in context" because it was socially disruptive. So Jon should apologize for being disruptive, saying something like "I apologize for disrupting your class by reading while you were lecturing." That way, he would do what he needs to do to keep the peace, while not having to admit being "objectively" wrong.

This applies to classrooms of most, if not all, nationalities, not just Indian. I've dealt with similar issues (a long time ago) in American classrooms.

  • 4
    Though Jon didn't cause the disruption. – Chris Wohlert Aug 24 '17 at 13:54
4

When you ask someone who thought he's not wrong, you should focus on how this benefit himself or someone else. You might even try for a bribe, if you are truly desperate.

Depending on the maturity (not always age) of the person, he might reject the request even if he see the merit of apologizing, then you can change the request to a plea.

Please do this for me. I can't afford to fail this class!

If it does not work, then you might want to try threat as your last resort. It's not nice, but sometimes it works even for the most stubborn ones - especially if they haven't thought the long term consequence of being stubborn.

If you don't apologize to her now, she might give a F for your zoology class.

  • 1
    wouldn't it be better to emphasize the fact that the whole class will be affected, rather than an individual ? ie: You are right. Even though our teacher is wrong and should not act like this towards you, would you please consider apologizing to her/him ? If you do so, you'll be of the greatest help to all of us. None of us can afford a F... – OldPadawan Jul 20 '17 at 14:51
  • @OldPadawan it's just an example. Stressing the class might not work because he just doesn't care about the class, but if the OP is a close friend, then at least he will start to consider it. – Vylix Jul 20 '17 at 15:07
  • you're right, and I think your answer is close the be the finest one, but as OP didn't mention anything about being close or not to Jon, sometimes, people might be more willing to help a community: more people involved, more casualties... – OldPadawan Jul 20 '17 at 15:14
3

His behavior led to your loss. Since you are still in school, you may or may not realise what you are actually asking him to do, but you are asking him to bow his head. I am focusing on the action here rather than the person to be very clear. Rather than him thinking whether his action was right or wrong, I would request you and your classmates (although you cannot make them do this) think about his action. While this may have affected you, is he technically breaking any rules in the school? If not, why blame him?

The other point I want to make here is think about why he may have been reading instead of paying attention both being the same subject. It may have been that the teacher's explanation did not interest him. Again, as long as he was not studying any other subject or doing something else, I think it was fine. It may also be to revalidate what the teacher was teaching. I see no wrongdoing there.

I am from India and I have had a similar experience where the teacher has yelled at me for discussing the subject with a friend sitting next to me thinking I was just messing around. Later, the same teacher apologized saying they had some other problem at home and they lashed out at me. Goes to say, sometimes teachers overreact.

Also, in my personal experience, I have seen that teachers who have a very strong hold on the subject they're teaching do not really care about these kind of small things. They do their job and do not bother. And it is in these classes, the students pay more attention because those teachers make classes more enjoyable. While, those who aren't so, insist on the nitty gritties. Ironic to think that the students pay more attention where the teacher doesn't care about it and they don't when the teachers insist.

So, if this student you are referring to is actually not wrong and stood his ground but the teacher overreacted, you are expecting him to compromise even when he has done nothing wrong just because it benefits everyone else. Isn't that encouraging the teacher's current behaviour? What if that teacher continues to do the same? Also, I think the teacher punishing the entire class (I have seen this happen during my college times too) for one person's behavior is not fair.

I do understand that your question wants to know how to make him apologize. I would request you to take some time and think if he should apologize based on what I have said. If even after that you think that he should, I would suggest that you ask him for the solution to your current situation and explain to him how his action has affected everyone. This way, you are not asking him to apologize. Instead, dropping the ball in his court. If this student is infact righteous, he may understand your predicament & do what is necessary to overcome your difficulties. If he shows arrogance, then it means he was not standing his ground for being right, he was probably just being a jerk. In which case, talking to him maybe in vain. Only thing you can do is to convince the teacher and explain to them that one person's action should not affect the entire class.

I put this argument here because you seem very young and what you learn now will have repurcussions later in your life. The compromises or strengths you show will reflect in your life later. It might sound silly to some who read this, but trust me this goes deep.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.