Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Working at a Secondary School —
Work Ethic; Student Discipline

(Continued from 25 August)

Coming from the U.S. and being of Chinese descent to boot, I have a pretty strong work ethic. Moreover, I regard teaching as a vocation in the sense of something of higher value that you feel called to do. So I expect a level of dedication from myself and my colleagues that is a cut above merely holding a job.

The picture at school is mixed. It's culturally murky and difficult for me to interpret. On the one hand, teachers are habitually late and casual about starting classes "on time". Occasionally they don't go at all. It's common for teachers to show up late for work and to leave early. Only a few of them take work home. On the other hand, there are occasions when a teacher will volunteer to provide extra instruction in their subject because there is material that still needs to be covered or because their students have not learned it well enough. Overall, though, I can't help having the impression that the work ethic is not up to my expectations. I'm not saying that there are not good reasons for that. But I still notice it, and it's bothersome.

A constant topic of discussion in the staff room is student discipline. But first the issue needs to be put in perspective for the people who are reading this. Our students are like those in high school in the U.S. in the 1950's. Violence is rare, close to non-existent. I am never concerned for the safety of my person. That said, truancy, coming to school late, talking during class, losing books and materials, not taking good care of them, not doing homework, etc. are exasperating to us teachers.

Historically and currently in most schools, corporal punishment has been used, sometimes severely in the form of caning. The manager of our school, who is originally from Germany but has been in Africa for a long time, and the headmistress, who is from The Philippines, have abolished these practices. Some of the Tanzanian teachers disagree, feeling that corporal punishment is necessary for African students and is appropriate and effective when used judiciously. They respect the authority of the administration but feel that their hands are tied as far as disciplining students. I sense a certain amount of perplexity and frustration.

I feel conflicted about this myself, but in a different way. Personally, I do not like to use or to witness physical punishment. But then I also do feel strongly that Tanzanians must figure out their own way through this issue (along with myriad others). There has been enough of non-Africans coming here to subjugate, exploit, and dictate to the indigenous peoples. I do not want to continue that pattern.

Student discipline is a dilemma which all the teachers are struggling to find a way through, including me.

A bit more later. -Earl

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