Thursday, August 27, 2009

I'm Not Even Supposed to Be Here Today

If it hadn't been for the swine flu, I would have been on term break this week. So I wouldn't have even been at school for this to happen.

You may remember more than a month ago I wrote about a particularly violent incident of "corporal punishment" at my school (I have a hard time considering that beating punishment, it was assault and battery). I have made it a point to say something to a teacher every time I see them hit a student. Usually the student is being slapped across the face and I state loudly that it is illegal for teachers to hit the students. Usually, the teacher provides me with some excuse as to why it was necessary in this instance and I tell them it doesn't matter, it is always illegal, regardless of the student's infraction. And that is usually the end of it.

The incident more than a month ago was violent and I physically intervened out of fear for the safety of the student. However, it ended rather quickly afterwards.

Yesterday the same teacher was beating a student again. He must have started hitting the student just outside my computer lab, because it spilled into the room where he continued to hit the student. At the time it was not as violent as the previous incident, but it was more than slapping, it was happening in my classroom and I had no way of knowing if it would escalate to be like the last time.

So I stepped in again.

This time the teacher refused to stop. As I put myself between the teacher and the student, the teacher would push me out of the way. In this tense situation, both he and I were yelling, out in the open, in front of a large group of students (at this point we were no longer in my classroom). Because he refused to leave the students alone and persisted in wanting to hit them, I refused to leave the situation alone and persisted in getting in his way and telling him (ok, at this point yelling) that it was illegal. At some point it stopped being a student thing and became just a him and me thing. He was yelling that maybe it was illegal in my country, but it is not illegal in his country. 

I was told in Peace Corps training that it is illegal for teachers in Samoa to hit students. However, I have since done some internet research and it appears that teachers hitting students is against a Ministry of Education policy and against my school's Board of Education policy, but it is not actually against the law. Apparently the law allows for parents and teachers to administer appropriate punishment (whatever that means). However, parents can press charges for assault against a teacher in violent incidents.

I know that a yelling match in front of the students is not the solution to this problem (he got right up in my face and screamed at me at one point). However, I don't know how not to get in the way when I see something like that happen. To stand by is to condone the action in eyes of the students and the teacher. To walk away I believe also appears to condone the action. I have to say something. I cannot leave it alone. However, I have to find a way to say it in a normal speaking voice regardless of the demeanor of the person I am interacting with, yet still get that person's attention. It is hard to get the attention of someone in the middle of a one-sided fight using your indoor voice. Besides, what sort of example am I setting for the students getting in a yelling match with another teacher, regardless of the validity of my stance in the yelling match?

All this conflict and drama really ended my school day on a bad note and I am not super hyped about going back to school today. However, staying away would also send a bad message. I just don't want to have to deal with or interact with this teacher today and I am sure I could avoid him, but it will still be awkward and horrible. I feel like I should be more proactive and go back to school all prepared to work this out, but really I would just rather it go away. Plus I didn't sleep well last night (I was up at like 2 am Googling corporal punishment trying to track down the Samoan law that appears not exist, which sort of upsets me because my main argument with the teachers is what you are doing is illegal and it isn't really illegal, it is just against policy...and horrifying...also horrifying).

So all this to do and what was the impetus? Well, from what he was yelling at the students it appears their hair was too long and they needed a haircut. So if your hair is too long you are breaking a school rule and you get beat. What about a teacher who beats a student, they are breaking a Board of Education rule and a Ministry of Education rule, what do you suppose their punishment is?

— Sara


Teresa said...

I would have punched him in the throat... it would immediately shut him up and maybe he would realize it is not all that fun to get hit!

Shedrick Sanders said...

I had the same problem as a volunteer in Samoa. I used what I taught my students I statements and an invitation to problem solve. I would tell how I felt and what made me feel that way. I would not use the term you. For example I am afraid when I see children being hit. It may do permit damage or more. Take a deep breathe and come with me and talk about this. My voice would match my anger or fear. I found out that the violence lessened. The students saw me as their protector and the teach who was hitting them confessed to many problems that he had and resigned. Attack the problem not the person. Be a model for everyone. It take practice, I do a lot of role play with my students and play a game call can we talk baseball.

Angry Anderson said...

This unacceptable, you should report the teacher to the principle and if thats no good the Ministry of Education. There's no way this type of abuse is acceptable anymore. The student's parent could turn up one day with a machete and escalate the problem to crazyland. This mongrel bully teacher must be dealt with, I hated them in my time at school and we were too young to do anything about it.

And kudos to you for caring enough to intervene Sara, but please dont put yourself in harms way.

Anonymous said...

" Your deeds of greatness might not be on the front pages; they'll be on people's hearts, where they are never out of date."

Am so proud of you Sara! For helping out to those poor inocent students. Keep up the good work.


annette said...

oh sara!
what an awful situation to be in, for you and the are brave.
i understand the difficulty in how to approach and resolve these much emotion. my heart was beating so fast and i was trembling just reading this! so glad that you were not hurt.
you will figure this out and in the mean time, your students will learn that this teachers behavior is NOT ok and more importantly that they are worth protecting....they are very lucky children.

Barb Carusillo said...

One might remind this teacher that we should all strive to focus on the new testament "For you were once in darkness but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of Light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to God"." Ephesions 5, 8-11.
I think if this teacher focused on what Jesus taught in the new testament, he would not be beating up on kids with such violence and poor control. "Fathers, do not provoke your children in anger, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." Ephesions 6,4.
The old testament had all the bits that they may use to justify beating kids, along with stoning people, all kinds of lovely things like that. Jesus came to change things from darkness to light.
I am not saying that parents, teachers should not use some physical means when needed, especially to restrain violent kids, or protect other kids from bullies, or even the old crack on the knuckles by the nuns was not a bad thing. But that was done in a way to "train up and instruct" kids, not as a knee jerk response to whatever the teacher is ticked off about.
Well, it shows courage that you are showing caring for your students...and swimming against the current among the teachers there, I am sure. I agree with Shedrick in using the term "I".

Ming LW said...

Take a baseball bat with you to class Sara. Anyone who's commits violence in your classroom (which the victim sought out as a safehaven)deserves a dinger across the head for being stupid. If not its always a very persuasive prop during standup shouting arguements.

Patty Leal said...

The idea of a teacher beating a student makes me feel physically sick and also makes me want to cry. I am so impressed by and grateful for your courage.

whatever said...

where is the school principal in all of this?