I observed a teacher yesterday. She’s serious and dedicated. Yet, sometimes she lacks confidence. At some point of her lesson, she spotted a boy who was playing with his smartphone. She asked him to give his phone. As you could expect, the boy tried to avoid the confiscation. The teachers insisted and managed to be obeyed. Although she did the right thing, she felt uncomfortable.
This incident is small, but it’s common and could take huge proportions, if not addressed properly. It reminds me of another incident, when I was the director of a center of alphabetization in Djibouti. At that time, it wasn’t a smartphone, but a sling, a real sling to throw rocks 100 meters away. In short, it was a weapon. I confiscated two of them during the first weeks of my stay in the country, and none at all for the next two years. The students knew the rule and were aware that I would confiscate the weapons on sight. Naturally, they didn’t want to put their property at risk. I was ready to act, and it was obvious to everybody. So, the incident never repeated itself. There were other incidents, but it’s another story.
To be honnest, my incident was much easier to address, although probably more dangerous, than the smartphone incident here in Cambodia. My duty in Djibouti was cristal clear. I had no choice but to take the danger away. I was certain that, if I took no action, I would very soon deplore injuries in my school, or even worse. I didn’t really act out of courage, but out of fear. In the case of a smartphone or any minor incident, there is no immediate threat. It’s easy to think that an intervention would cause more harm than good. But it isn’t true. If that kind of disturbance becomes ordinary, it may be impossible to teach anymore. Many students will become careless. Even 4 or 5 are enough to make a class very messy. The noise will grow louder and louder. And soon enough, the students won’t listen to the teacher anymore. Everybody will suffer: the students and the teacher. It isn’t on personal grounds that a teacher takes the toys from the hands of the children, but for their safety.
Sometimes, students try to destabilize you, by telling you that you have no right to punish them. And they succeed, you are destabilized, deeply, cruelly, especially if there are many of them. It’s normal, you shouldn’t feel ashamed or incompetent because they managed to hurt you. They try to use your conscientiousness against you. And damned, it’s better that you have a higher conscientiousness than your students. It takes a lot of time to learn justice. It isn’t innate at all. Remember that you have more experience than the children, and that they are not innocent. They are just new, like a story yet to be written. They are equally capable to be good or evil. Only through education will they become strong enough to remain good in temptation or in adversity. As for their claim that you have no right, well, it’s true. You don’t actually have a right to punish them. It’s not a right, it’s a duty! You punish them when you have to. Period.
Maybe the most realistic novel about childhood.