On a cold winter morning, I shivered a little as I forced my hand to work out the multiplication questions on my mathematics exercise book. The little classroom hosting thirty pupils had become a dreaded place to be during this winter season. The room was completely silent except for the occasional coughing, sneezing and scratching of shoes on the floor.
On my right, sat Peggy, a girl who was my friend and confidante since the first day of school. Her face was pale such that it was almost white. Her thin little fingers clutched a pen tightly as she was engrossed in the multiplication exercise assigned to the class by our teacher Mr Lesetse, ‘old goat’ as pupils in school often referred to him.
Mr Lesetse was the oldest teacher in our school, very dark in complexion. He often reeked of alcohol when he came to class especially in the mornings and after lunch. His eyes were always blood shot. He was known to be very fond of the Botswana’s number one traditional brew chibuku. He was a very strict man as he always expected his students to pass all of his subjects. He was particularly stricter when it came to mathematics, his favorite.
“As you grow older, you would realize that Mathematics applies in everyday life,” he would say in his deep voice. As for me I loathed Mathematics, I preferred theory subjects instead of working with numbers. Therefore, I was often pleased with my usually sixty something or seventy percent score, besides I was not so good with numbers. Anyway Mr Lesetse often beat those who got below fifty percent.
That morning, after completing my multiplication exercise I submitted my work.
“Masego!” his deep voice called me to his desk a few minutes later. Standing closer to him I could smell the stench of alcohol on his breath. “Tell me how come you worked out eight questions correctly and got two wrong?” His blood shot eyes felt like they were piercing my insides. I felt a sharp pain in my tummy, whether it was the soft porridge that Mama gave me this morning or this man’s eyes, I could not understand it. “Come closer little girl and show me what went wrong here,” he poked at my little exercise book repeatedly.
Apparently I added the last two sums instead of multiplying them. A fatal mistake in Mr Lesetse’s books, the one I would have to dearly pay for.
“I’m sorry sir, I will redo them,” my little voice quivered, looking at the big cane on his desk, I dreaded to feel it on my hand or buttocks in this cold. Mr Lesetse was well known in the school for his extreme lashing, he certainly did not believe in sparing the rod. On several occasions he was called to the head teacher’s office as parents complained of how he injured their kids. Once, he beat a boy in my class until his buttocks oozed blood, another student also had to nurse a broken thumb.
“No my dear Masego, see I know you can correct these, but I need you to understand that I expected you to get all of these correct. You got eight correct and deliberately got two wrong, now I will have to remind you that you should have taken this exercise seriously.”
He motioned me to come even closer, ignoring the big cane on his desk I thought he was going to use the chalkboard duster on my fingers. Instead he held on to my chain and within a second, with his big and strong hand, he slapped me hard on my right cheek. I felt a sharp stinging pain, then another slap and the last one.
Three consecutive slaps on the same cheek. I felt dizzy and heard slight murmuring in class. He finally let go of my chin and threw my exercise book at me. Tears blurred my eyes as I went back to my seat. I cried like I had lost someone close to my heart.
“Sorry, I’m so sorry my friend, it will be ok my friend, I’m sorry,” Peggy kept saying to me and as I looked at her through my tears, I noticed that her eyes were getting teary too.
When I got home with a very swollen cheek, red swollen eyes, a terrible headache and a semi-deaf ear, one look at me and Mama went ballistic.
“What happened Sego? Who did this to you? Tell me who?”
I broke down and cried as she picked me up and I sat on her lap. She rocked me like a baby until I stopped crying. After telling her what happened, Mama took me to the clinic. I was given some tablets. They must have been strong because after I took them I fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning, the swelling on my cheek had almost disappeared though I still had a bit of a headache. My eyes were almost a clear brown and the semi-deafness on my ear had vanished.
“Go to school my child, education is very important, Mama will take of everything, don’t be afraid.” Mama gave me a pat on my shoulder as I reluctantly went to school.
It was just after the morning assembly and Mr Lesetse was just about to mark the class register when there was a knock on the door.
“Come in,” he said. The door flew open, and there in a blue German print skirt and a white blouse was Mama.
“Mr Lesetse, may I see you outside,” her voice was stern. I have never heard Mama speak like that before, even when she was angry at me for doing something wrong this new voice was a bit scary. From where I sat, I was opposite the door which was left wide open by the old goat. Though I could barely hear what they were saying from the distance, I could see there was an atmosphere of tension.
Mama gave Mr Lesetse a very cold stare every time he spoke. As for the old goat, he kept scratching his white head. I could see Mama shaking her head uncontrollably, then folding her arms and putting them on her hips.
“You can’t just do that to someone’s child, you had no right, none whatsoever. Slapping a little girl with your big wrinkled hand for getting two questions wrong, how dare you try to justify that?” Mama raised her voice. The old goat just stood there, hands in his pockets and he kept quite. “How dare you do that to my baby, my baby!” she beat on her chest several times as she said this. Mama, I just felt proud looking at her giving the old goat a piece of her mind. “You should be dismissed; you are not fit to be around anyone’s child”.
My classmates now began cheering “Yes he should be fired!” It was like hearing his own students turning against him ignited a sudden rage in the old goat as he began waving his hands in the air.
“You are the one who is an unfit mother, you need to beat these children to get through to them. Besides I am not going to be dictated to by you on how I should discipline my students, you hear me girl!” he poked at Mama’s chest repeatedly like he did to my exercise book.
I now began to shift on my chair, what if he beat Mama up like he did me? My class mates were suddenly silent, and I guess they had the same fear as me. The old goat was going to beat Mama up then come and beat the whole class too. My fear was short lived for within a second Mama slapped Mr Lesetse hard on the cheek and from where I was sitting I could have sworn that I heard the old goat’s cheek bone cracking.
My classmates now cheered and gave a standing ovation by the time Mama got to our classroom. The old goat was nowhere in sight.
“Now, we are going to see the head teacher,” Mama took me by the hand and off we went to Mrs Molebatsi’s office. When we got there, the old goat was already there rubbing his cheek and fuming.
“This is disrespectful, I am going to press charges,” he paced back and forth.
“Mr Lesetse I need you to sit down now so we can hear from Masego and then her mother.” Miss Molebatsi said. She was a friendly woman but also a no nonsense kind of person, the old goat knew that very well. He obliged, flashing Mama and me a hateful look.
After I told Mrs Molebatsi what happened, I was sent back to class. From that day on, the old goat ceased to come to school, he was suspended with immediate effect. It was during his suspension that he resigned from his job. I became known as the girl whose Mama had slapped a teacher and Mama became famous in school for getting rid of the old goat.
Tell us what you think: Do you have teachers like the “old goat” at your school? What do they do to punish learners?