Two weeks in…
The school culture here in Yaounde, Cameroon is very different than anything I have seen before. I tried to come prepared knowing that the school would be using corporal punishment still, but after spending two weeks here so far it is far worse than I expected. The threat, “Do this or I will beat you!” is used frequently throughout the day to gain student compliance. Each teacher has a rubber hose that is about 16 inches long that they use to “beat” the students “when needed.” I’ve witnessed about half a dozen full out “beatings” since I arrived at Central Government English Primary School. It’s incredibly painful to see or hear. I try mildly to hide my emotions during these times, but not completely. I think it is important for the teachers and headmaster to see how that affects me, teacher from a higher functioning education system.
I have told my cooperating teacher and the headmaster that in my culture we do not believe in the physical punishment of children, and that I will not be partaking in that form of punishment while I am teaching at their school. They both responded warmly saying, “Of course not! And maybe you can teach us new ways!” YES!!! I hope to do just that. I really do enjoy the teachers at my school, but I really struggle with their classroom management strategies. I just keep telling myself, they have never known any other way…yet!
Shame and humiliation are constantly used to attempt to modify student behavior. For example, my cooperating teacher had the students put their heads down to rest while she set up the classroom for a physical education exam. Many of the students fell asleep briefly, and Cynthia had wet herself while she was sleeping. She was called up to do her exam in front of the class, which consisted of jumping two footed from circle to circle to circle. She had her jacket oddly wrapped around herself. I went to help her remove it and as soon as I approached her I could tell what had happened, and so could my cooperating teacher. I quickly tried to pull her out of the room before anyone else saw, but my cooperating teacher grabbed her first. She announced, “Class look, she has peed herself! Look at this, it is disgusting, ha! We shall wish shame on Cynthia! Everyone, SHAME! SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!” And she literally had the class yelling SHAME at her. I wanted to die right there for poor little Cynthia. I couldn’t stand it, so after the “shame wishing” I just grabbed Cynthia and walked out of the class.
We went around to the tap on the side of the school and I rinsed out her jacket and dress stains as best I could. All this time I was telling her that it was okay and accidents happen, and telling her what a beautiful, good girl she was. Trying to counteract some of the damage that had just been thrust upon her. As we returned back to the classroom I help her clean up her bench and cleaned it with hand sanitizer. Some children continued to laugh at her, and I immediately shut them down saying, “No! We do not tease our friends. This classroom is a safe place and we do not tease. We are safe here.” I explained my feelings to my cooperating teacher and she seemed to understand actually. That gives me some hope. Humiliating students is no way to modify behavior, especially behavior that cannot be controlled, like wetting yourself when you are sleeping.
I want to assure you that school is not a negative place for me, it may be upsetting at times, but I am challenged to do better every day. Everyone is so welcoming and kind to me, I feel comfortable teaching my way and sharing it with others. The students love to learn! The class sizes are huge! I have an unusually small class of 37. Most class sizes are 50-60. Yikes! It can be hard at times with a 1:37 ratio but I am trying some new classroom management strategies. I have made a GREEN-YELLOW-RED System with clothespins. Each student has a clothespin with their name on one side, and picture on the other. If they are being “good listeners” they stay on green. If they need a warning to listen then they move to yellow, and if they really can’t listen, or they are fighting they move to red, and they have to work REALLY hard to move back to green. At the end of the day if they are on green, then they get a sticker on a chart I made. I have included pictures of these tools. On Friday if they have three stickers to count they get an American candy treat! I started with the low expectation of 3 out of 5 stickers because I wanted all children to be successful to start, so they could experience the positive reinforcement. This week went great! Everyone got three MnM’s on Friday J! Hopefully this stays positive, I have to keep reminding my cooperating teacher not to use RED as a threat, oh boy!
There are some positive cultural aspects I see reflected in the school. In Cameroon everyone takes care of everyone and most everyone is considered family. No one is to go hungry, and people don’t think twice about sharing their home, food or supplies. I see this in my students. They naturally share their supplies with each other. Those who have more supplies know of those who don’t usually, and they go straight to them to support. When lunch time comes many students pull a baguette sandwich out of their bag or a few coins to buy something. Those with a sandwich will look around to see who does not have food and they rip off a piece of their sandwich to share, sometimes with as much as three other students. Students don’t even have to ask, it is heart warming to see. A variety of students from all the classes will come and “borrow” money from my cooperating teacher to get something for lunch. She says, “They need to eat to learn! They can borrow 25 F to get a sandwich and someday they will repay me. It may be with Francs, or maybe they will repay me in a way I can’t understand yet. It all comes around in the finish!” She does love these students very much. 25 F is comparable to 5 cents in American. Cheap food here, wow!
I am challenged daily here and growing as a teacher and as a human being. I have a supportive, loving “family” to lean on daily. I am so thankful to be here and so happy! 🙂
Happy Day! Caroline Ensor
^Red, Yellow, Green 🙂
^Sticker Chart 🙂
^Part view of the classroom.
^Agnes (my cooperating teacher) at the board.
^Abbissi working hard! She is so smart!
^Little Essick 🙂 He’s always trying to keep up!
^Diane breaks her pencil about 10 times a day! Always sharpening haha 🙂
^Bored during their extremely long lunch break :-/….but so cute still 🙂 You can see the name tags I made the students in this picture. Just on a green sticky note, with a color and shape sticker reinforcer. They love them! I am glad they are finally starting to recognize their own names! 🙂
^Beautiful drawing Angel!
^Good work Fotabong!
^My little teacher’s pet Nfor Carer. He’s such a people pleaser! 🙂
^Franklin 🙂 Nice Coloring!
^Showing off their drawing skills!