Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Corporal Punishment

Enforcing discipline has been one of the largest conundrums in my work here.  If I mimick my own experience, I would be threatening my students with grades.  But the threat of a zero is not really a threat if they are getting it in the first place.  If I look at the prevalent Tanzanian culture, it's the use of a finger-thick tree branch.  I have always been opposed to corporal punishment because I believed that those with bad behavior will continue to have bad behavior despite the pain, and that discipline from fear is a negative energy that I did not want to be associated with.  Unfortunately, the motivational speeches and humorous public humiliations had reached their limits, and more and more students began to lose their focus.

Two days ago, like many of my classes, I taught a lesson, and gave the students some practice questions.  I have predicted that in line with the recent trend only a few would attempt them.  So today, I broke my corporal punishment virginity, and decided to make it a bit eventful as well.  I had the students' names in an envelope, and to randomly selected a few to solve the practice problems that I have assigned.  As I announced this new lesson plan and vigorously swung around my new wand of power, saying "I know kung fu," the students began to belatedly do their homework.  Surprise surprise.  And when the selected students had no idea how to solve the questions, I gave them a pretty mightyful swing.  In fact, two of the sticks broke, and even a small crowd was formed right outside the classroom door.

Of course, I felt personally sorry for those students who were unlucky to have their names drawn out.  They looked real upset too.  But while their sad and angry faces lingered in the corner of my eye throughout the rest of the class, I was real impressed by the work the class as whole did.  It was exciting to finally see some vigorous mathematic exercises in place.

I do admit it is my weakness as a teacher to be unable to enforce discipline in a more positive way, but I don't think it was such a bad thing to do.  In fact, I might do it again! :)

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