Liberia is an angry place. I've mentioned this before.
Of course, it is a gross exaggeration, but it is nonetheless true in many respects.
It's angry in the sense that many people make little effort to disguise their feelings when they are upset. In the US, outbursts of anger in most environments – particularly when one is among strangers or in a professional setting – are considered inappropriate and indicative of an emotional immaturity. Here, displaying anger seems to be a way of commanding attention and respect, of proving that one has power and authority in a given situation. Thus, public shouting matches are not at all unusual, and even (or especially) respected authority figures participate; I often witness loud arguments that originate over anything from a taxi driver's inability to make change to a teacher's failure to show up at school regularly.
As I alluded to in a recent entry, I'm starting to feel as though this might be partly the source of my classroom management issues at school. Authority figures are expected to be pushy, loud, angry, and bossy. I, on the other hand, endeavor to be none of those things. I don't want to scream at my students. I don't want to treat them like wild animals who need to be controlled. But I'm feeling lately as though that is what I'm being pushed into doing. The students are used to responding to shouted commands instead of rational pleas for good behavior. My forced patience, my quiet reminders that their disruptive behaviors are harmful to themselves and their fellow classmates – many of the students interpret this as weakness (as my principal and several fellow teachers have pointed out to me).
So, these days, I yell. And I scream. And I rip up test papers when I catch the students talking or cheating during exams. And I try to make the cheaters I do catch as publicly humiliated as possible. And I don't feel bad about it, except that I feel bad that I don't feel bad.
Because here's the thing: Even if this is a culture that respects public displays of anger as an indication of authority, and even if I am being forced to work within the confines of that culture, I still don't believe that displaying every little negative emotion is an effective way of doing things. I think there is a reason that controlling one's feelings is valued in the US. Getting into a shouting match is not a great way to get things done. And so I'm stuck – do I bend to the system, and yell and scream along with the angriest of them, or do I try to stick my ground and lead by example, even if it means losing the battle of classroom management?
As I've said, lately I've been doing the former, but I'm disturbed by the vague feeling that this is mostly due to an exhaustion of patience rather than a rational decision to try to be more authoritative. I'm also disturbed by the fact that, on some level, I think I might actually like it. I'm not a naturally patient person – my inner redhead does come out sometimes. So I have a guilty suspicion that I may be channeling my frustrations with life in general – medical schools, Liberian culture, and so on – into anger toward my students.