Archive | April, 2017

The Discipline Dilemma

23 Apr

I’ve always said that I don’t teach small children because I am a horrendous disciplinarian. Put me with one kid, or two, or even three, and I do wonderfully; I actually really like children, after all. But as soon as I walk into a room with a large group of children, and I’m supposed to be the one in charge, they immediately sense my weakness. Before I know it they are circling me like hungry sharks at the scent of blood. If you leave me alone and in charge for long enough, your children will all have become total savages, a la Lord of the Flies, and you won’t even recognize them sufficiently to take them home to dinner. I am not a credible authority figure.



Thank you, clip art from Google, for showing me as a small-child teacher

I am, however, a good fit for adult education. Sure, adults can get distracted or talk over other people or mention inappropriate material or take us totally off topic. But they don’t usually throw themselves on the floor while wailing and thrashing around. They don’t randomly start cutting their classmate’s hair with the scissors someone else didn’t put away. They’re not typically found trying to staple anyone’s hand to the desk. They don’t normally start dancing on tables and throwing blocks at people’s heads while you’re busy putting a band-aid on someone’s invisible ouchie (that they insist is extremely painful). They don’t tend to conspire to and carry out a successful prison-level-nothing-to-lose riot while you’re dealing with someone else’s poop. In fact, there is NO poop involved in adult education, which is absolutely one of the reasons I signed up for it.

Unfortunately, however, many of my current students are borderline children, as in 18 year olds who are still living the child role. Many of them come straight from high school to college, and sadly, this college isn’t really different from high school. They are still treated like children. Attendance is mandatory and all-day-long. Their classes are assigned to them and they don’t have any options about when or what, or even who their professor will be. There’s nowhere for them to congregate or get together, and they get shooed away when they hang out together on the library steps or anywhere else outside of a classroom. So perhaps it should be surprising that I don’t have serious toddler-level uprisings in more of my classes.

Luckily, though, it’s just one class I have problems in on a daily basis. But still. It stinks almost as badly as if I were dealing with poop. I turn my back to write on the board and people are flicking each other and smacking each other on the head. A few of the students are constantly hiding this one kid’s backpack when he’s not looking. That’s just a sample. And the talking about anything but English is unabating. “Let’s listen!” I say. “Shhh!” I glare at them. “Let’s respect other people and not talk while they’re talking.” I attempt to reason with them. “Remember? You guys invented our class rules yourselves.” “Guys, we’re in English class,” I try to remind them. “Concentrate. We’re reading right now.” And of course, amidst the ubiquitous play fighting I’m constantly saying, “No violence!” I tell all my students that when they’re messing around with another student. But in this class, between my “no violence” retort and the shushing and concentrating business I’m like the background music on an elevator: ongoing and more common than any other conversation or noise.

“I am not a good authoritarian, guys. Please don’t make me be one.” I tried to level with my class in a last-ditch effort to solve the problem. I gave a speech imploring them to give me other ideas to resolve the problem. “I don’t want to be a strict teacher. I don’t want a silent, obedient class. I want us to have discussions and have fun in class.” The problem, I explained, is that some of the students in this class goof off so much and distract me and everyone else so much that this class is consistently behind my other level 1 class. Which means we do fewer activities. They are less exposed to English, have less practice than my other class. Which isn’t fair to the students who want to learn. It’s not fair to the ones who finish really fast and need extra challenges, and it’s not fair to the ones who are struggling and need extra help from me but who are willing to work hard. I want to keep having lots of group work. I don’t mind their boisterousness at all, as long as they can complete the tasks. But that’s not where they are as a class right now.

It all came to a head two days before my big speech. We were reading aloud, taking turns as a whole class to read and comprehend an article. Suddenly, several students were making comments and rude whistling noises and I don’t even know what other rudeness at the student who was reading, and bam! I started seeing red. “EXCUSE ME?” I asked, belligerently, my eyes bulging out of my head. “Excuse me? Are you making fun of him? Are you serious?” I might have even started pointing my finger all around the room. I was in the teacher version of being that little girl in The Exorcist. “Does anybody in this room speak perfect English? Raise your hand. Anybody?” Some smarty pants said, “You, teacher,” and I was like, “Wrong! I’ve been speaking English my entire life and I can still make mistakes. All of us make mistakes. It’s not only normal, it’s an important part of the process. You all know how I feel about mistakes. They are a vital part of learning. AND you guys all agreed that not making fun of each other is part of what we need to have a good learning environment. Furthermore,” I continued, eyebrows in permnent-raised-mode, “if you’re purpose is to see me mad, this is the way to do it. Disrespect each other some more. If you want me to get mad and get mean and start throwing people out of class, keep up this act. Do you want to make fun of someone else? Make fun of somebody some more? Go ahead and get out of my class right now.” I gestured toward the door.

Nobody moved. It was the first time in my class that everyone was silent for an entire 20 seconds or so. I was still red in the face and sweating. It was not my finest moment in teaching. But people were much nicer through the rest of class.

So I asked them the next day, and explained in a much calmer manner, that some things have to change and that I need their help to do so. That I don’t want to just start imposing new rules and being strict and grumpy all the time. That I want them to tell me how to fix things for everybody. “I get that some of you don’t love English class. I didn’t make this rule about attending, much less about passing English. If you really can’t stand this class, don’t come- but I take no responsibility if you fail.” I talked a little more clearly about the situation as I see it, and what my goals are: to spend less time on discipline and more time on learning. I asked what comments and ideas, and goals of their own they had to share. Nobody spoke. “Okay,” I said, refusing defeat. “Do you need a day to think about it?” Several people nodded. “But do think about it! I’m honestly open to your ideas,” I tried to emphasize.

Sadly, upon follow-up, I got only a couple of ideas, none of which I am stoked about employing. Things like assigned seats. And kicking people out of class for acting up. Those were among the only suggestions. Sigh.

We’ll see what Monday brings. Perhaps some of them, or maybe I, will have had a stroke of genius about how to fix things. Hopefully them. Maybe one of you reading this will shed your brilliant wisdom upon the matter. How do you deal with “discipline?” What do you do when modeling respect is not sufficient, when you lose your cool? All suggestions are welcome and appreciated! Keep teaching, keep learning!


Routine and Obscene: Birthing in Oaxaca Part II

12 Apr

Life is messy, and birth is super messy. No matter how you birth, C-section or vaginal, in a pool while listening to jazz or screaming like a banshee at that dumb-ass doctor, it is full of messy body fluids and messy emotions. There is no sterile birth. The whole messy shebang- pregnancy, birth, and the never-ending afterwards is a wild medley of joy and misery for most people. Your body is totally hijacked by this creature and just about everything in life therefore becomes about this creature, which is maddening some of the time even if you had to work hard to get that creature in there. But here’s the thing: it’s still your body, and everybody, every body, every baby, and every body carrying a baby, deserves respect. Period. You deserve respect. You deserve information and you deserve care. No ifs, ands, or buts.

So this is about to be messy, y’all. This is approximately my 18th attempt to finish and publish a blog post about this topic, but I am over-the-top-determined, fired-up and mad and impassioned all over again. So brace yourselves. I am bringing the mess.

Now, let me be clear. I’m about to get very detailed and slightly rabid over doctors, nurses, education, and health care in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico (especially the coast, since that’s where I live.) But that does not mean that this does not apply to you, too, my darling USA. Do not- I repeat, Do Not- go around patting yourself on the back that you’re doing better than Mexico, or that you don’t need to worry about it because you’re safe up there in the North. Do not fool yourself. Mexico learned a lot of these tactics from the US in the first place. The problem is, Mexico ends up scoring higher on the charts at all the wrong things. Soda consumption? Mexico wins! Type 2 Diabetes? Another goal for Mexico. Cesarean births? Mexico is kicking the US’s butt again!

So there are the fews stats I have: “…(T)he maternal mortality rate in Oaxaca is approximately 62 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, double the national rate,” according to Child Family Health International. The US has about a third of its births via C-section, when the World Health Organization suggests that a C-section is medically necessary about 10-15% of the time. Around here in Oaxaca, it’s hard to get solid statistics*, but it’s estimated that 50% of births terminate in a Cesarean, and that the rate of C-sections is even higher in private clinics, with some estimates at high as 80%. Such a high C-section rate brings much higher risks and worse birth outcomes for both mother and child. And that’s only part of the story of what’s wrong with birthing in Oaxaca.

References: WHO C-Section Statementmortality ratein Spanish, more information about the state of giving birth in Mexicomore info in Spanish, more info on estimated rates  (I am not very familiar with the publisher of the information in Spanish, so I can’t vouch for how definite it is, but it is just about the only information I can find.)

Now, I studied sociology and everything in me is against relying on anecdotal evidence as fact, but in the absence of well-researched statistics, I think anecdotal evidence is worth a mention. This is a big part of what has had me crying and wringing my hands and pumping my fists alternately in these nearly 5 years of living down here- the birth stories that I hear. This is what is going to be my long-term mission to join with others in the community to change, if I end up living here forever: humanizing pregnancy and birth.

It’s ugly in the public sector and it’s ugly in the private sector, but your treatment is drastically worse the poorer you are. In the news there are loads of stories about women who were forced to give birth in the parking lot, on the lawn, in the bathroom, in the waiting room, etc., because there wasn’t enough space for them in the hospital/clinic when they came in. The women that this happens to are always indigenous, but luckily there is no racism here (yes, this is sarcasm). I suppose that’s the worst end of the spectrum, although I’m not sure the care that people receive when you’re admitted qualifies as desirable, either. Yes, it is better than giving birth outside with nothing, but is that really what we’re willing to accept?

What always strikes me as the worst acceptable, routine thing, is that women are giving birth alone. Labor and delivery is one of the hardest and most beautiful and wildest and messiest things you can do in life, and that’s cool if you choose to do it alone. Anytime you give birth in the public sector, though, you have to be alone. All by yourself, with just a bunch of other women around who are also in labor, with not enough doctors and nurses or even, sometimes, enough beds. ALONE! With no one to advocate for you, for your health and wellbeing, for the baby’s health and wellbeing. With no one to hold your hand, to rub your back, to get that hair out of your face, to tell you that you’re doing great and it’ll all be over eventually. Alone! For your entire labor and delivery. Already that, in and of itself, is completely and utterly inhumane to me. I can. not. fathom. it. And it pisses me off extra here in Oaxaca because if you go to the hospital for ANY other reason, they force someone to accompany you. If you have to be recovering from something in the hospital for 3 months, you have to have someone there, just about 24 hours a day, because there aren’t enough resources for the hospital to take good care of you. So why the hell would you send people in to give birth totally on their own?! Heartless bastards! I suspect it’s partially because they don’t want anyone there to defend you and help take care of you.
Let me tell you what kinds of things happen there, while you’re there, contracting and alone. You don’t get any water. I know, many places in the US like to do this too, which is equally senseless and unnecessary, but it’s even more cruel here, where it’s 85 degrees and more humid than Hades. One friend told me that they STILL wouldn’t give her water or food for hours after her birth. Finally she begged a doctor for water and he told her it was at her own risk- as if water was going to do her harm after giving birth!

Furthermore, more than one person has told me that nurses berated them for making too much noise. You’re often in a big room with a ton of beds filled with other laboring women, receiving little attention. One woman just told me that during her birth, they decided that she wasn’t progressing fast enough (normal), but there were no gynecologists in at the time. Therefore she had to wait another 12 hours for the gynecologist to come on call, and then they could only give her a C-section because they decided it was too late to try to speed up her labor any other way (which is a pretty common story in the public sector, due to lack of gynecologists).

Then there are all the excuses they give you to have an unnecessary C-section, especially in the private sector. The cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck. The baby is too big. You’re a couple days past forty weeks. Your hips are too small. You already had one C-section. Ad infinitum.

All of this is similar to stuff they might tell you in the US, but the difference here is that there is no such thing as pregnancy and birth education. There are no child birthing classes. There is no education about what to expect while pregnant even. If you have a doctor like the one I had at the insurance company, they don’t even tell you basic information like when to suspect there is a problem. Culturally, there is no questioning authority. So if the doctor says your baby is too big for you to give birth to, you don’t ask how he or she knows that. You either accept it and get the C-section like they want or you reject the system entirely and go to a midwife, which could or could not be a good option. (More about midwives in another post, I promise- it’s too broad a subject to broach). Many people don’t have the option of midwives, or of anything beyond the very limited bit their health insurance provides.

If you do have the money or borrow the money to give birth elsewhere, it ends up being a similar scenario. The private sector thrives on your ignorance and the total lack of available options, on the fact that almost all the doctors are out to screw you over equally. For example, one prominent gynecologist here told me beforehand that if I didn’t want an automatic episiotomy, that I would have to sign a bunch of consent forms beforehand, and that, you know, it was all at my own risk, because that made it very dangerous! It felt to me like they just make stuff up to sell you more services you desperately “need”- and if it turns out you need a C-section, (which you probably will), then even better, because it’s more convenient and way more money for them. (Multiple people have sworn to me that doctor friends have even admitted this is how they operate.)

On top of treating women like animals in labor, often doctors take the opportunity to abuse their power and your reproductive health and rights while you’re there. The straw that broke the camel’s back in forcing me to finally publish this messy, disorganized blog post about this was hearing ANOTHER story of forced birth control. This story came directly from a doctor who had no reason to make it up. We were talking about IUDs, and how sometimes the strings hang down too short, and he was telling me that he just had a case where a woman had been trying to get pregnant with her second child for years, She had had all kinds of testing done and everything, and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Finally, it turned out that she had an IUD in place, that had been put there when she had her first child via C-section, without her consent or knowledge. Apparently this is a common thing- giving women an IUD, either without their knowledge at all, or forcibly without their consent. Another second hand story came to me about a woman getting a forced IUD and the doctor telling her, “I don’t want to see you in here pregnant again for the next few years!” Which I can totally imagine, because that is how doctors talk to people here, especially to women.

Of course they do the same thing with sterilizing women. They pressure you into it if they decide you have enough children. Just this weekend I was chatting about this with someone who experienced it. They tried to force her to get a tubal ligation when she gave birth to her fourth child. “How many children do you have? Don’t you think four is enough?” The doctor tried to shame her. This woman is a total heroin, though- she is the same woman my nurse friend told me about who REFUSED to let the doctor put his hand in her uterus to “clean her out” after birth (another routine, unnecessary, and very painful procedure). She was like, “I came to deliver my baby, not to get surgery, thank you.” She said the doctor wouldn’t leave her alone about it until another doctor who is her neighbor came in and defended her right to decide. Your rights mean nothing. She got to decide because a man in power intervened on her behalf.

I could rattle on and on about more abhorrent stories and accounts, more abuse and lack of rights, but here’s the end game for me: We need more education in the community, AND a total shift in the system. Let’s stop reading about another indigenous woman giving birth on the lawn of IMSS and acting like it doesn’t affect us. Let’s stop listening to each others’ horror stories. It does affect us. It means that we are accepting this as the care that we deserve.  Giving birth is messy but it shouldn’t be dehumanizing. Being routine does not make something acceptable.