Sunday, February 5, 2012


Note: this has turned into a somewhat disheveled piece about my frustration with corporal punishment. Be warned.

Eish, I present another unfortunate story of my failures in classroom management. I reached a new low on Thursday – these intense highs and lows are killin’ me! I was teaching a lesson that was actually fun, brainstorming using topic bubbles. It went really really well with 6C, 6D and 6B [which is normally my bad class as of yet], but once 6A came it went down fast. Out of my 160 learners there are about 30 or so who literally have not one shred of respect for me. In large part this is still due to the fact that I don’t beat them. Sometimes I can manage it, but today they chose to really get out of control. For a double period with 6A I essentially was able to teach nothing. There were 8 or so boys who didn’t care that I was writing their names on the board, or that I would be holding them after school on Friday. I wanted to give a speech at the end of class about their behavior but I choked up too fast so all I got out was ‘your behavior has been outrageous, I am extremely upset.’ Then 6B came back for BIS [library] class, and at this point they didn’t feel like behaving anymore. I was tired and already on the verge of tears so I sat down until they quieted down. Then once I got teaching, albeit with a slightly cracked voice the behavior started, boys jumping out of their seats, getting in fights, kids backtalking me… about four were bold enough to yell at me that I can’t make them stay after school on a Friday [wanna make a bet?!]. During all this chaos one of my learners who is repeating the year [and was a member of the 6C bathroom fiasco of this past November], was literally begging me to go get another teacher who would handle it [note: ‘handle it’ means beating everyone], thus making me feel even more incompetent. The end of that class was not my proudest moment, and culminated in me screaming GET OUT OF MY CLASSROOM rather loudly at those boys [which didn’t work even though I screamed it several times, they weren’t done with pestering me] in front of half the class. Thankfully, I found out a couple other friends had an equally hard day. Let’s poll based on the actions we each took: Is it more inappropriate to:
a)    send kids out of the classroom/home 45 minutes early
b)   scream at learners to leave me be[and proceed to give them until the count of 5 to leave when screaming didn’t work]
c)    walk out of the classroom with the learners still inside
yep, I think I probably took the worst approach. However, options a and c were not in my spectrum – I’d get in trouble for letting them leave early, and if I left the classroom they’d just party even more! Nambles. The rest of the afternoon was spent baking/eating out my frustration in the form of caramel- frosted brownies. At least I can be thankful to have baking back in my life.

So, follow-up. I couldn’t keep the kids on Thursday because of a meeting so I moved detention to Friday. 7 boys were scheduled to be in my classroom, however, of those 3 ran away when the bell rang [can’t trust 11 year olds… they will be visiting the principal tomorrow], and one is discounted because he actually did what he was supposed to right away. Sometimes, when someone in a position of authority at the school feels like it we get out early on Fridays. So towards the end of period 7 of 8 the end-of-school bell rang. Another form of what almost turned violent chaos ensued in Ms. Nowlin’s classroom. I proceeded to press my back up against the door, not allowing anyone to exit until I said so. As this was 6A, learners couldn’t leave until they finished the homework I had assigned, for this is what I told them the day before. This meant that half an hour after school was out the majority of the class was still captive. The institutional workers [aka maintenance staff] were extremely confused.  Once I had gotten the majority of those kids out, the war with my 3 detention kids began. They didn’t think I was serious, and 2 almost attempted jumping out of the window to escape me. Thankfully, I was prepared to be calm and firm, despite the fact that I really thought one of them was going to shove me to get out the door. It took about 40 minutes of them yelling at me and me not backing down for them to realize that they were not leaving my classroom until they completed the assignment on the board. At about this time the same institutional worker Tate Shikongo came by and he now definitely thinks I’m weird. He witnessed me standing outside blocking the door saying very firmly “Natangwe you WILL respect me, I don’t care how long it takes, I have nothing but time today!!” Anyway, the score rests on stubborn scale of Nowlin:1 Learners: 0. Of the three boys, I think I got through to two of them. One of these two tried to complete the assignment, at which point I discovered he can’t read or write – sweet, now I understand why he causes disruptions. He also proposed moving another boy away from him so he could focus better! Whooo! The second of these boys ended up crying for 20 minutes… I couldn’t get him to tell me why, but I’m going to assume he can’t read or write either, so now I understand that too. The third…. Matthias, you are on my list buddy. At the least I think I got through to him that he would be staying after school every time he caused disruptions, a fate far worse than being beaten in his eyes.

As an aside, let’s talk about corporal punishment. As I’ve said countless times, it is illegal in Namibia, yet still occurs regularly. This means that while it still happens at my school, legally speaking if a parent were to file a complaint against the teacher that my principal would not be able to defend him/her. In my opinion, corporal punishment will continue in the schools as long as a culture of violence prevails in the country. Stopping violence in the schools, while a good start, is not stopping the extreme violence that many of my kids experience on a daily basis at home, whether they are being beaten by their parents or witnessing domestic violence. It is endlessly frustrating to me to try and propose alternatives because most of the Namibians I have spoken to about this really and truly believe it works. It is just what they grew up with and what they know. My attempts at making alternatives work in my classroom face obstacles when learners who want to help me go tell other authority figures – other teachers who will beat the learners, or on Friday one girl came and told me that she would go to Natangwe’s father for me – to which I responded please don’t! If she goes to him then that detention in which we did end up resolving things will have meant nothing! On Saturday I went to dinner with my new Namibian couple friends – they had his boss over as well, and a conversation somehow came up about corporal punishment and all their experiences. The wife Deli, who is from Botswana, talked about how corporal punishment did actually prove effective in scaring her into behaving. In Botswana, whipping learners is still legal – the child’s parents are called into school and then watch as the principal whips them. Roger and Mr. G [don’t really remember his name] both talked of their experiences as funny memories. Roger recalled it teaching him respect. Mr. G went off on a rant about the one principal he knew of who didn’t allow corporal punishment, referring to all those who don’t beat as ‘wimps.’ [after this was said I could not safely object with my opinions on the practice] He remembered beating his kids to teach them respect. He then told a story that completely and outright rejected his arguments for corporal punishment. I believe it was in an effort to support his defense of beating as long as it is done following strict rules. I find it funny that he did not realize that it was not logical, but nonetheless I will share it.

Back in the day, Mr. G [who is white and therefore attended a white school] had an American classmate, who was called ‘Yank’ by all the other boys. Yank got in trouble every day. He received the maximum three hits during school hours, and three hits after school hours in the hostel every day. None of it seemed to phase him, and he continued to be up to no good, having acclimated himself to being constantly beaten. One day Yank got to school early, and teachers arrived to him warming his hands over a fire he had made. The teachers also warmed their hands a bit while greeting Yank, then continued onwards towards their classrooms. Turns out, Yank had broken into the school and collected all the beating sticks from every teacher’s classroom, and used all of it for firewood. Unfortunately for him, he was unable to break into the principal’s office [which held rods of different sizes, for differing levels of offenses]. Yank had his fun, but still was beaten that day.

While this proved to be a funny story, it also proved the inefficacy of beating! Most of the time the kids who are getting beaten don’t care! It obviously isn’t an appropriate form of punishment if the same kids are getting beaten every day, they aren’t learning anything! Sure, they may quiet down for the rest of the class period, but the next day they’re up to the same old tricks. How does no one realize this madness?!?!?! Ok, rant over.


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    1. Stay strong! We have these same challenges in Uganda. It sounds like you're strong in your beliefs and you're ready to overcome this culture of caning.

  2. Hello Claire, my name is Sam Rise,

    I just wanted to say I'm glad I stumbled upon your blog just now. I'm currently teaching in Windhoek as a part of my student teaching experience through Pacific Lutheran University. You and I seem to be running into some very similar experiences, so it's fun to read and commiserate (at your expense, I suppose). Thanks for the good read, and keep up the good work!