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so i am a camel hunter in the deserts of the uae. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Shut up. Violence in School.

     The traditional Arabic style of teaching is quite different than the modern Western style.  In most classrooms you will find a lot of yelling, lecturing, pushing and shoving.  The students yell, the teachers yell louder.  IT's crazier than a futbol match!!  True, many Arabic teachers have adapted a more cooperative learning style, incorporating group work and peer teaching.  But for students who are used to the violence and belittling, the change is hard to adapt to. 

     My computer lab is situated smack dab at the end of the grade 4-9 boys hallway.  And luckily for me, the grade four 'class' shares a concrete wall with me.  You'd think that the concrete would block out the noise, but I'm constantly listening to yelling, banging, screaming, and the occasional whistle.  Yup - a whistle.  The grade four boys are particularly bad, only responding to shrieks and shoves.  I taught the class for 3 weeks and then refused to step food in their classroom again, passing them off to the male IT teacher. I'm not sure what is accomplished by adding to the chaos, but one teacher loves her whistle...  I hear it at least 4 times each 40 minute period.  And she also loves to screech SHUT UP numerous times each class. 

     I cringe when I hear her yelling, and I judge her.  Everything inside of me hates the way she treats the students.  I would like to confront her, but in this culture, it would accomplish nothing.  I will have to speak with the principal if I want any hope for change.  The students are disrespectful towards their teacher, thus she is disrespectful towards them.  Or is it the other way around???  Would they respect a teacher who gave them respect?

     Respect.  I have tried to go this route making sure that I don't yell over the students - instead I sit waiting for them to settle down.  Occasionally this takes 20+ minutes out of my 40 minute lesson.  But I like my vocal chords and want to keep them intact until I'm 30.  Some of the classes respond to this, others have been taught chaos and do not know how to respond to my more gentle approach.

     Today I snapped.  I'm not proud of this and I don't know what to do about this.  When I lived in Asia I was often angry, things in the culture enraged me and I didn't now how to respond.  I couldn't change that women were abused, children peed in bottles in the stores, or that old men yelled at me while I was riding my bike - just because I existed.  So I moved away and my attitude changed.

     And now I struggle because I don't want to turn back into that angry person while I'm in the UAE.  Ali* spent most of today's IT period terrorizing the other students.  He turned computers off, pushed students in line, kicked a boy in the stomach, punched me, laughed in my face when I tried to correct him.  He's a 6 or 7 year old kid, but boy does he have spunk.  And then I snapped.  I grabbed him by the arm and literally dragged his crying 'ars' down the hall to the school psychologist.  I nearly threw him into her office (where five grade 4 boys were on the floor doing homework as they'd been kicked out of their class). 

     At this point I was sweating - nearly swearing, and my face was flaming red.  I explained everything to the psychologist who calmly asked Ali to come to her desk and calmly asked him about puzzles (until this point he had been trying to pry open the door and run away... another one of his favorite things to do).  Everything inside of me was enraged and I wanted her to start yelling at him, until I paused and though, "she's the professional, maybe her tactics are better than mine?"  I was humbled and embarrassed that I had become a screecher, an abuser.

    I am not that person.  Yet I am not equip to handle 30 grade 1 students, 4 of whom are special needs.  I'm struggling here people... help.

     Side-note:  The grade 9 boys are ALWAYS in trouble.  Always in the hallway being lectured by other teacher or the school psychologist.  However, in my class they're great!!  Obviously everyone LOVES computer class and is more apt to listen, but they are just an awesome class for me.  I asked them why they were so great for me and horrible for the other teachers to which they replied, "we are good for the teachers that we like"

Moral of the story: Latte's aren't always the answer

*Names have not been changed for anonymity because every class has an Ali or two... or five...


  1. It's a struggle, always. But it's worth it. Unfortunate fact: you have to set ground rules in the first few days, because you can't set them later. Reactive teaching is always bad, but you also have to be willing to firmly, clearly state what will and will not be tolerated and then stick by it.

    Preparation is also key. If you are unprepared or unsure of what you want to be happening at a given time, they will sense your indecision and fear and exploit it - that's just human nature. They want to be led so much that if you don't lead they'll become little demons trying to force you to step up.

    It will get easier the next batch around. But don't give up on these ones, either. You can do it. You're a Barkey. You're amazing.

  2. ground rules? my grades 4-9 are awesome (grade 4 is just awe, not some) but the grades 1-2 are crazy maniacs who respond to nobody, there are at least 5 kids per class who have learning disabilities or life disabilities and run crazy through the classroom all the time, kicking kids, cutting their hair, drawing on them - they need to have a constant caregiver. If I were one on one with them, I think I would probably be more patient. I'm sure. But when they are thrown into my class of 30 students - I can't control the class. And the teachers assistants (only grades 1 have assistants) are often useless and do not help out when I ask.... arg.

    I've noticed that when I'm not prepared, they are more chaotic. definitely. doesn't help that i don't have curriculum...

    BUT - I am a Barkey, I'll figure this out... :)

  3. Been there...my first year teaching I had a class of 7/8 graders who were wild...uncontrollable...YOU can do this! Praying.