To teach or not to teach?

During the last year I’ve been dabbling in a few different hobbies and self-improvement courses. Honestly, it’s been so refreshing being a student again and going to a class that is not cake related. I forgot what it’s like to literally not know anything when you walk through the door – it’s intimidating but humbling at the same time.

Humbling because then I remember what it’s like to be a student and to not know anything. When you’ve been teaching for a while and been doing things for so long, you forget how slow you need to take it for those who are just beginning.

Recently, I’ve been hearing so many stories of students who have had shocking experiences with teachers that I felt compelled to write this blog post.

My teaching style has always been one of patience and kindness which is maybe why I relate better to teachers (or bosses for that matter) that are the same way. I do my best when the teacher (or boss) is encouraging and can give feedback in a constructive manner. But I know I completely shut down or resent teachers (or bosses) who are harsh and demeaning. Maybe some people thrive under those conditions but I certainly don’t.

Fear and intimidation is not the answer

Most of my elementary school years were spent in a local Singaporean school. The rules were strict: Your hair can’t touch the collar of your school shirt – either cut it or tie it up. You must bow and greet every teacher you see in the hallway. And you were not allowed to question the teacher, what the teacher says is gold. The teachers were allowed to yell at us (which they did often!) and hit us (not as extreme as canes but I’ve had rulers and rubber bands snapped at me).

The culture was pretty much one of intimidation and embarrassment. I personally believe that they thought that if we were scared, we would be more motivated to do our homework or score better on a test. And if we didn’t then some would let the whole class know so that we would be embarrassed into not doing it again.

No one back then bothered to find out the ‘why’ of things. Instead of wondering ‘why’ some students may be struggling, they just came to the conclusion that the student was lazy and possibly just needed more scolding. Tell me, in an environment like that, would you be brave enough to admit you don’t understand anything?

I remember when I was in 3rd or 4th grade, there was a foreign girl at my school who didn’t speak Chinese. The teachers, instead of recognising that she couldn’t speak that second language and giving her something else to do during Chinese lessons, just ignored it. They taught the lesson and picked on her expecting her to know the answers like everyone else.

One of the most vivid memories I had of her was one time during a test, she just sat with her head down on the table crying while trying to cheat out of her textbook.

Suffice it to say, I hated going to school. And I am so thankful and grateful that my dad’s job sent us overseas which then allowed me to go to school overseas.

I believe everything happens for a reason and perhaps those early years of school in Singapore set up a good work ethic in me – who knows. Most likely, it showed me what I didn’t like and what I never wanted to be.

Teaching happened to me by accident. I never thought of myself as a teacher or ever wanted to be one. But after teaching my first private lesson, I realised I enjoyed watching and helping someone achieve their goals. I never intended to have any particular style when teaching. I guess I just taught and treated my students the way I wished to be treated.

You might also be interested in another blog post I wrote about ‘Asian Love’ last year which explains why I teach the way I teach.

Here’s the thing. When you decide to you teach, you are deciding to share your knowledge. I believe that sharing is supposed to be a positive and happy experience. I also believe a good teacher is one who helps, inspires, and motivates their students to be better and improve. If you don’t have the patience, desire, or don’t even enjoy all that, WHY are you teaching?

I am sure in some way particular teachers think that by being mean and demeaning, it will encourage students to push harder to earn their approval. And maybe they themselves had teachers like that which motivated them to be as good as they are today.

I do believe it does work for some people, but a very select few. And it’s usually those who have determination and desire to be at the top of their game in the first place. I am sure this kind of attitude still has its place with top class athletes, chefs, and artists who live by the motto that nothing is good enough and that there is always room for improvement.

But for the rest of us? We probably just wish to learn a new skill, better ourselves, and perhaps have some fun. Treating us like this will just cause us to shut down, lose confidence, walk away, and resent it.

Name calling and insults are not ok!

I was at a dog training class the other night and at the end of the class, one of the students asked if his partner would be able to attend next week instead of him. He mentioned that their young dog was not really listening to her and would only listen to him, so they wanted to work on that.

He went on to tell us that his partner went to another training club the week before with the dog and the dog would not listen to her and was instead lunging on the leash and displaying out of control behaviours. The instructor at the other club proceeded to lecture her at the end of the class telling her that:

  • She had absolutely no idea what she was doing
  • Her dog was out of control
  • She was a pathetic dog handler
  • It was useless for her to be at the class

How is any of that useful commentary?!

Understandably his partner was very upset. I was upset just hearing about it. How could anyone (let alone a teacher who was supposed to be helping) treat another person like that?

Our class instructor assured him that she will not treat his partner like that and that she is most certainly welcome to join our class.

Another incident I remember vividly, was a lady online who was sharing her story and told us that she has a handicap and walks with a limp. 10 years ago, during her very first class, the instructor told her that she ‘waddled like a duck and made the dog look bad and that there was no way she will be able to take part in obedience sports’. Her confidence level really took a hit and she said it was another 5 years before she even considered trying again.

Is it really a matter of do it perfect or don’t bother at all? What happens to the rest of us who want to have fun and try?


I believe in teaching students to the best of their abilities, giving them confidence and helping them improve. If they are happy where they are and having fun, why should I force my goals or expectations of perfection on them? We all have different dreams and goals. Not everyone wants to be that top class athlete and that is completely OK.

This really got me thinking if people like those instructors actually enjoy what they are doing anymore. I am sure at one point they started teaching because they were good at what they do and wanted to share it. But do they even care anymore?

Or have they just been doing it for so long they are now grumpy and jaded?

OR do they honestly think that by being like that (condescending and rude) they will be able to motivate the person to be better?

By the way, I am not implying here that we all need to just sugar coat things and tell everyone they are great. I believe in fairness and balance. There needs to be feedback and criticism – we all need it to be better. But it needs to be given in an appropriate and constructive manner. Giving someone options on how they can be better is fantastic. Name calling and insults on the other hand, serve no purpose other than to make the recipient feel like crap.

If you have had an unpleasant experience with a teacher, please don’t give up on what you were trying to learn. Don’t let one person stop you. Give another teacher a try, I am sure you will find someone out there that is more suited to you. Someone who will work with you to inspire you and help you be the best that you can be.

What do you guys think? Have you ever had any disappointing teacher experiences? Perhaps you do work better with someone who is hard on you – tell me more about it!

3 thoughts on “To teach or not to teach?

  1. What a lovely post Sharon! It certainly triggers some bad memories when I grew up in Indonesia, with similar strictness to Singapore. I was always very good academically so never experienced teacher bullying at school. However, like most Asian kids, I took piano and electone organ lesson in a reputable music school. The electone teacher always criticized me every lesson. One day he asked if I wanted to play at their musical concert. Of course I said yes to make my parents proud. At the concert rehersal, to my horror and embarassment, he yelled really loud after I played how bad it was.. Everyone across the hall can hear and another teacher next to him actually looked at me with pity smile. I wanted to bury my head and went home straight to my bed crying. Since then, I was completely shut down and didn’t want to go to lesson anymore. I practiced hard just to be humiliated publicly. Eventually I became academic tutor and assistant lecturer at a uni for a short period with kindness and constructive feedback approach like yours. To this date, I still maintain good relationship with my students. Could not agree more tha insults and intimidation are not the way of teaching, it is bullying.

  2. I am working with a women now that is exactly how you describe. She use intimidation to train and is mean. She will tell you once and expect you to remember everything and no questions are allowed. I hate my job and dread going everyday. I work in a bakery which I love the business just not this particular job.

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