This morning (Saturday) all the students came to school to clean up the school grounds. Schools here don’t have janitors, so the kids are responsible for keeping their school clean, cleaning the classrooms daily, and then doing grounds work occasionally. The first time did this, I didn’t understand why all the kids were, with their hoes, uprooting all of the grasses. But now I understand that while grass might be more attractive than the bare red earth, anywhere there is grass there are likely to be snakes.
Sometimes I get frustrated that a lot of my students seem to be lacking any sense of wonder or excitement. But today a bunch of the girls were hoeing and then one girl said “oh look!” (pointing at a small bunch of leaves that looked like all the rest of the weeds to me) “I think it’s an orange tree. Yes, smell this leaf it is!” And then she carefully hoed around it and continued on.
On days like today, our responsibility as teachers is to be constantly telling the kids to get back to work, to go pick up that pile, to stop sitting against the building. A lot of the kids were playfully trying to see how little work they could get away with doing which didn’t really bother me. But I told one boy to come do something and he deliberately walked away, pretending not to hear me, and then tried to hide behind the wall. It upset me because it was INCREDIBLY disrespectful and no student would EVER have behaved that way toward a Mozambican teacher. So I decided to deal with it in the manner a Mozambican teacher would have. I walked over to him and grabbed him by his ear, saying loudly enough for everyone to hear “have you no shame?! Have you no respect for your teachers?! You heard me talking to you, have you no shame?!” and we briskly walked back over to a pile of yard waste. Not something I ever ever dreamed of doing, and not something I feel really great about. But it was very effective and he worked hard for the rest of the time, and the interesting thing was that he didn’t appear resentful at all, but rather seemed to know that he had deserved it.