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Handling Complaints in the Classroom

Complaints are not necessarily always responses to mischief. Complaints may also be a tactic to attract attention sometimes, sometimes a weapon to get even with classmates, sometimes an agency for diversion in the classroom and sometimes a ploy to act victim.

A teacher who has been in  a school’s classroom knows the agony of negotiating through the quagmire of these daily complaints in order to deliver her lessons on time. Every teacher wishes it were avoidable, tacitly admitting that a single day without mutual complaints among students is an almost impossible day dream.

So, how do we go about this age old  tradition of complaining in the classroom without hampering learning outcome or losing valuable time and sanity over it.

1) In case of toddlers and tweens, treat this habit of complaining with amusement. Let a complaint become an occasion of engaging in fun, teamwork and collaboration for the whole class.

a) assign a particular period or time of the day for attending to complaints. This should be communicated clearly to the students so that they learn to hold their horses till the time of hearing complaint arrives on a particular day. You will notice, about fifty percent of the “petty” complaints will not even come to you as children forget fights easily or become friends again because by nature they cannot hold onto grudges for long till the complaining hour arrives unless it is something REALLY SERIOUS. Therefore hear complaints towards the end of a day or class or week.

b) involve the class in hearing a complaint a student has against his classmate. Let them suggest remedial action or decide who was the violator and who the victim. This creates engagement on the one hand and ushers in a democratic atmosphere in the classroom.

c) Rake up some innovative yet fun ” punishments” for the rule breakers using a game of roulette or “pick your prick” box full of chits with activities enlisted in them like saying a tough tongue twister 10 times, spell bee, reciting a course poem backwards, riddles, dumb charades etc.

This can be an opportunity to incorporate laughter and learning together while also gradually reducing the tendency of children to complain against each other unnecessarily.

d) divide the class informally into groups of 4/5 students and give each a name- a different one each month starting with cricketers, cartoon series, movies, countries etc.  Let each member of the small group be its leader for a week each in rotation. Any complaint against any member of a group will require the whole group to face punishment. Let the punishment be something like giving an interesting information about the country, cricketer, cartoon, movie etc. they are named after for that month. Each member will give one piece of information.

This will have a twin effect. Each group will try not to be caught on the wrong foot by keeping its members free of being complained against; this will reduce violations and increase co- operation and collaboration on the one hand. On the other hand, any complaint against a group will actually enrich them by making them learn something new about the country, cricketer, season etc. they are named after that month and will also benefit the whole class as here the punishment makes them share knowledge with everyone.

It appears like all the above actually levies  more burden upon our teachers. But with a little planning and sharing, just an hour’s effort and collaboration among teachers can help all teachers to collectively tide over this menace of complaining and turn it into an opportunity of amusement and learning.

Teachers of a single department or different sections of a class can go out for tea one day before the session begins and make a common plan to implement the above in a brainstorming session over ” chai” pe charcha.  Share your materials, ideas and plans and make a complete COMPLAINT HANDLING CHARTER for the whole year together. Customise it  if necessary to fit your class and needs accordingly.

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