I grew up on a diet of Dickens, Hardy and Austen. I devoured their books. And the images that still stick to mind are the boarding schools. A shiver runs down my spine as I think of Dotheboys Hall in Dickens's novel Nicholas Nickelby.
"It is a school where there are no holidays, no trips home for the abused and neglected pupils of Mr. Wackford Squeers." The tension when Nicholas asks for another bowl of soup!
The Lowood Institute in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre intills equal terror in the readers.
"... run by the hypocritical ogre Mr. Brocklehurst, the students never have enough to eat or warm clothes." The sight of Jane standing on a desk for the whole day, her long, lovely hair chopped off as a punitive measure, a figure of shame...
Sadly, truth was even more startling and disturbing than fiction. In order to create a realistic picture, Dickens and his illustrator Hablot Browne travelled to boarding schools in Yorkshire to see how they were run. They were horrified by what they saw. In order to expose the shocking truth about the indifference and abuse meted out to students in these schools, Dickens writes :
"Traders in the avarice, indifference, or imbecility of parents, and the helplessness of children; ignorant, sordid, brutal men, to whom few considerate persons would have entrusted the board and lodging of a horse or a dog; they formed the worthy cornerstone of a structure, which, for absurdity and a magnificent high-minded laissez-aller neglect, has rarely been exceeded in the world."
I have made an important decision in my career. I have decided to move to our school's residential section. Of course many have forwarned me!
"Naini it's going to eat into your personal time. Forget having a life of your own! Prepare to be disturbed by sick, whiny kids in the middle on the night!" But I had made the decision to move to boarding school. 50 kilometers on the road every day was taking its toll on my mind and body.Plus I would save some money.
And so I went to my dad. I usually find my answers here. He is such a positive man!
Dad was a great teacher. The students loved him. And he was a dorm parent too. He taught in a well known school in Tanzania. They were from different backgrounds: A heavy dose of Browns with a smattering of Blacks and Whites.
So why did he find it so enjoyble? This is the advise he gave me:
"Treat all the kids the same, irrespective of creed and culture." This was not hard at all. I have always been like that. :)
"Learn to love the kids. Empathize with them. They have left their families to come and stay with you. When they come to you, make sure your brows are not furrowed in irritation. Show them kindness and patience. Do your job as a parent. What you will get in return is love compounded many times over.
While inspecting their rooms, be thorough. Don't do it as a painful chore that needs to be executed. . If you are checking their toliets and study area to make sure everthing is clean, try taking a look at your own appartment. Practice what you preach.
Children can sense genuine concern and love. When they see that coming from you, the gift they give back to you is priceless. Enjoy your work, Naini. I know you will do a great job!"
My initial reluctance and fear has turned to hope and anticipation. Gone are the boarding schools of yonder years. Students, you have a very nice dorm parent coming your way! :)
Charles Dicken's The Gad's Hill Place Retrieved from http://www.perryweb.com/Dickens/work_nickleby.shtml
Wikipedia retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Eyre