A Letter from Caracas

Different Strokes; Of schools and student well being

School has come a long way or so I thought. I remember what it was back in the early 2000s when a teacher would arrive in the morning waving about 50 sticks in his left hand while holding a textbook in the right one. The sticks varied in size depending on the preference of the teacher. Some preferred really thick ones that were probably intended to leave big dents in the student’s hands, back or bottom. Some preferred thin ones. Those that allowed the teacher to be as flexible as he could as he moved around, adjusting his angle, handing you his best shot.

When Mr. Weruna showed up for his business classes with a bundle of thin sticks in his hand, we prepared ourselves for a ‘memorable’ experience. Even a whiff of laughter would send him flying towards you, stick held firmly in his left hand.  Some teachers made school even more entertaining. They would sneak behind the empty canteen where Senge made her infamous mandazi and burst into the door if they spotted you causing any raucous, cane in hand. 

I must admit that I suffered quite a bit of punishment myself during my days as a student in high school because of my overbearing and annoying demeanour. I, however, did not outdo some of my brothers and sisters in their respective schools. 

During the holidays we would sit around a table and retell the tales of our suffering and laugh hysterically at some of the measures that schools had taken, to impart discipline as they perceived it. In my eyes, it was utter violence, something that no child should endure.

I remember the beating my brother once received for partaking in a situation at school. He had arrived home, covered in dust, his grey trousers unrecognizable in the afternoon light. The deputy headmaster had stitched him good and proper. He was glad to be alive.

My other sister had ‘good’ memories, too. Her Physics teacher. A strange man who was synonymous with handing out ridiculous punishments like ‘ go hug a tree’ or ‘go uproot that stump’.

You see, discipline is an interesting thing. When it is taught with fire and fury, it breeds fire and fury. When it is taught with kindness and understanding and an appreciation that to err is human, it breeds a balanced society that propagates peace and makes us human. So when I got wind of the fact that people in high places were advocating for corporal punishment to be reintroduced in schools, my heart sank and my mind went back to the terrifying days of the early 2000s.

So as I sit here at my desk, a teacher, with 10 years of experience, I do exactly as I wished my teachers would have done 20 years ago. I seek to listen and understand. I treat them as I would want to be treated.

I pay attention and give a voice to those who want to be heard and when I cannot handle a situation, I ask for help in the form of another colleague who could appeal to the learner’s emotions. 

Relationships and student rapport rank highly on my list of things because humans are built on that. If they can speak to you and trust you, they will work for you and with you.

Every so often we forget that school-going children are still developing and that teenagers’ brains particularly are yet to mature. We forget that with growth comes a change in behaviour and this is a natural metamorphosis. Yet we expect them to think and act like adults.  

If we can take a step back and understand the science that comes with understanding mental growth and childhood development, we would, instead of bringing back the cane, equip our schools with resources that serve to better the development of a child.  We would grow our physical education departments and promote physical exercise where kids can safely let off steam. Besides, we would invest in Music and the arts. We would furthermore, strengthen our Guidance and Counselling departments and empower children to speak their minds and be rewarded, rather than punished, for it. We would seek to nurture respect instead of pushing obedience. 

We would strive to create courses that prepare our teachers for the 21st-century learner and enhance our teaching practice sessions in order for teachers to adjust to teaching our students. Further, we would promote differentiation during teaching and accept that our learners have different needs and should be treated as individuals and not as a crowd. 

These little improvements to our curriculum will improve student well-being and help alleviate any mental stress that our children suffer from. And with these, we will slowly see a positive improvement in our children’s overall health and wellness and a decrease in crazy incidents like those of schools being burnt down.  We would in turn see a happier younger generation whose voice is valued…

This letter was written in 2021 when the Ministry of Education was thinking of bringing back caning.

Cynthia Abdallah

Published by Cynthia K Abdallah

Cynthia Abdallah is a Kenyan author of the poetry chapbooks, My six little fears, The Author's Feet, and The Musunzu tree and other stories collection. Her work has appeared in numerous online magazines and in print. (Poems: in The Tokyo Poetry Journal-Japan, Kwani Uchaguzi edition 8-Kenya, Ake review, Quailbell Magazine-USA, Bodies, and Scars anthology by Ghana Literary Journal. Short stories: Kalahari Review-Kenya, Nalubaale Review -Uganda, Active Muse-India), IHRAF, Women narratives on power, 2021. Cynthia also contributes to the Life and Style section of the Nation newspaper. Cynthia is also an aspiring filmmaker. Her films are streamed on shaharavideos.com Recent feats: Recipient of Jahazi Press inaugural Matsreclass 2022 May-Aug .

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