While I had been warned and thought I was mentally ready, I could never have been prepared for what I saw today – corporeal punishment. And worse, it was partly my fault.
My grade 8 classes have definitely been the most difficult to manage due to the class size and their very poor English. So, last week I mentioned in passing to one of my colleagues that I was unsure how to handle certain situations and he offered some suggestions. I don’t know if it is a coincidence, but since then, I have noticed the principal hanging around outside my classes and watching me more closely. Discipline is HUGE here – the teachers expect military-like routines. This morning, just as the bell rang to start class, I was preparing a lesson on the board for my grade 8’s, when a couple girls wandered into the classroom. Normally, this is completely out of routine for them as they are instructed to line up in two lines, girls and boys, outside of the classroom and wait for the teacher to allow them in. However, I feel that is a waste of time and usually just let them come in as they arrive. But, the principal happened to be hanging around outside the classroom, noticed the two girls come into the class and came after them. He made them lean their heads towards him and he smashed his closed fist on each of their heads. The girls went on their way, into the line, and the principal moved on to the other class. I was in complete shock and immediately felt sick. I didn’t know how I was going to teach, so I quickly changed the lesson and had the learners write out all their times tables in the back of their notebooks. That took the entire period and gave me a chance to settle down.
Corporeal punishment is against the law in Namibia. Clearly, the law is disregarded. The younger teachers seem to recognize the benefits of alternative methods of discipline but the older ones believe it is the only way to punish them. The other day I witnessed four learners kneeling on the cement while balancing chairs on their heads for a 40 minute period.
I am not sure how to proceed: if I should speak up against the act in general or just ensure that I handle my own discipline issues in the future. I know that I need to address the principal about my discomfort with the issue and ask him not to do that in front of me again. Gosh, that will be a tough conversation – he’s the principal! If it was anyone else, I’d like to think I’d have said something right away.