2012 / Cameroon

School culture within the context of the national culture


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!



4 thoughts on “School culture within the context of the national culture

  1. Caroline,
    Where to begin….? The scenario of shaming the girl and using corporal punishment is so “foreign” to you as an American student of pedagogy. It made me reflect that in my generation, being a student in a Catholic elementary school, those same strategies were used to discipline us. Thank goodness we have moved beyond that here.
    You seem to be embracing the experience, culture, school and certainly the children with an open mind and thoughtful response. Your pictures brought tears to my eyes. What a very different world.
    I enjoyed seeing your other blog with your account of the celebration of education day. You are getting some unique opportunities because of your host family’s status. How great for you. Keep on taking notes for that book you are going to write. 🙂
    How much and what are you teaching these days?

  2. Marybeth, I teach Monday – Friday 730-200. After I was officially placed in my Class 2 room, the first day the classroom teacher disappeared for a few hours. Then the next day I took over teaching completely. They classroom teacher is randomly in the room but I have been full time teaching for 6 weeks :). It’s kind of like an “on the job student teaching placement” back home haha. I am learning so much and really getting to work on my PPDP goal big time in the classroom! I love it! 🙂

    • Why am I not surprised that you have been teaching full time since you arrived? I am proud of the way you are handling each and every challenge presented to you. Your positive attitude is to be admired. I think you are making quite an impression with your students….. and colleagues.
      Are there any other student teachers there as well this semester?

  3. Hey Caroline,

    Love love love this post but….WOW! I am shocked. As I started to read this I wanted to cry. I could never imagine having to hear a child cry out as they were beaten. This post left me in shock and made me want to help too!

    While they do not beat their students in Ireland, they do yell…all the time…for everything….everyday! It was very tough to deal with. But, as soon as I was placed in my classroom the third week of school I got on things right away much like you did. I start various behavior management programs such as a reinforcement chain, animal tribes and yellow and red cards (they love soccer). This stuff did not work at first, but finally they are getting used to not having someone yell at them. I am sure the kids at your school didn’t understand or know how to react to different behavior management as well at first.

    I can’t believe that they put their students down like that! Wetting your pants is not bad behavior and I am glad that you could make her see that she is still a shooting star and accidents happen. I have noticed that with the yelling comes put downs at my school as well. It is hard to see a kid singled out in front of the class for something as simple as taking a drink of water without asking etc. To change this I have done my best to create positive social skills lessons and center them around us as individuals being able to accomplish anything and knowing that we are all different but wonderful people. I am sure that, by you just telling that girl those things, it warmed her heart and made her realize that she is a good kid and that people do believe in her. 🙂

    I think what you are dealing with and learning is amazing. Everyone always asks me if other people from my University have gone abroad. I tell them where all of us girls have gone. Then I get to you, they stand there with their mouths wide opened shocked. Then, they always ask me, “Why in the world would she choose to go there!” I used to think the same thing. However, after reading this post I now understand how amazing this is for you and how much you are learning, even during bad times. It also warms my heart to know that they are open minded about you and all the knowledge that you have come there to teach them.

    I absolutely love hearing stories like this and knowing that you are making a huge difference in not only the lives of these students, but the school as a whole for future students.

    Keep up the good work! 🙂

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