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Classroom Management

Do's and Don'ts including the reasoning and an alternative way to manage the classroom.

Taken from Speak English on January 14
Written by Khun Kruu Lily, TCCO 122

It’s a ubiquitous image: a rather frazzled-looking teacher stands in the midst of what can only be described as chaos or worse; with students hanging from the ceiling, talking, fighting, and maybe a spit ball or two. The teacher proceeds to shout, scold, and scream for quiet, raised voice trying in vain to raise above the din of the students, until he or she finally either gives up or loses their voice. And the students continue on as students often do, unaware that their teacher was trying to get their attention.

So the age-old question that remains is, “How on earth does one deal with a group of rowdy students?” And while the books that have been written on the subject could easily fill up any school’s library, there are still too many frazzled teachers and too many chatty students. So what to do? Here you’ll find advice from the trenches (from our own veteran teachers), as well as overviews on educational schools of thought on discipline, and then an a’la’carte menu of tips, tricks, and techniques to try.

First, let’s start with what DOESN’T work, things that you’ve probably already seen in the Thai classrooms, and why they DON’T work.

1) Yelling or raising your voice in any way

a. Why it doesn’t work: The image of a red-faced, screaming teacher hardly commands respect from the students and in fact makes the teacher look rather comical. Prathom kids might be scared by this tactic, but it definitely won’t work on the mattayom kids (they’ll think it’s hilarious!)
b. What to do instead: having and consistently using a quiet signal that shows to the students that they need to quiet down when they see it. The plus side of this is that the students self-correct: one student sees the quiet signal then tells the person next to them to be quiet, and so on. The teacher waits for students to be quiet, and then perhaps after a somewhat uncomfortable pause, teacher continues. (And you’ll save your voice by not raising it over the students!) But DO NOT continue to talk or teach while the students are talking.

2) Using insults or put-downs to embarrass the student or attack the student’s character

a. Why it doesn’t work: Thai teachers love to tell students that they are stupid, lazy, etc., and unfortunately the students grow up believing that about themselves. A student who forgets their homework is not necessarily lazy or incompetent. Students who are embarrassed in front of their peers automatically lose face, and the teacher should consider the feelings of the students as much as their behavior.
b. What to do instead: Be understanding and forgiving when students make mistakes, and allow them to correct them. Encourage student progress! Students who believe in themselves will be more likely to try and work hard. For confronting students on behavior, remove the student from the environment of the classroom (such as out into a hallway or another private space). By doing so you give that student the opportunity to explain and discuss their behavior without being in front of their peers.

3) Acting superior to student and saying “I’m the boss”

a. Why it doesn’t work: Classroom behavioral issues, particularly in mattayom classrooms, can sometimes be related to power struggles between the teacher and the student. The student wants to push the teacher as far as possible, to see what he or she can get away with. Teachers should be firm and in control. But while the teacher should maintain control in the classroom, be careful to avoid superiority or an “I am more important than you” mentality (this might especially encourage misbehavior from students who already have problems with authority.)
b. What to do instead: To encourage equality and fairness among the students, you must also be equal and fair from teacher to student. “Do this because I said so,” isn’t quite as good as, “Practice your spelling words because it will help you for your test on Friday.” For homework or assignments, state your objectives and tell the students why you want them to do the assignment. When students misbehave, discuss consequences with them, rather than handing down punishments.

4) Preaching or making emotional appeals

a. Why it doesn’t work: A phrase such as “Please do your work or the teacher will be sad” will ring on deaf ears in a mattayom classroom, and lengthy preaching on why students should listen to the teacher will cause all students to tune out.
b. What to do instead: If students are misbehaving or not doing work, remind them that they are making a choice. It is the student’s responsibility to get work done or to listen, and because it is their choice therefore does not have an effect on the teacher. Trying to guilt students into working or listening will not give the students the chance to take responsibility.

5) Being Reactive, Hostile, or Angry

a. Why it doesn’t work: Displays of emotion such as frustration or anger (even though you might really be feeling it!) is a display of weakness on the part of the teacher, and in the power struggle of a classroom, when students realize they have made their teacher upset or angry, they have the power and control over the teacher. Reacting to student behavior in anger might also result in misjudgment or an irrational response to the behavior, such as an irrational punishment. Hostility towards students might worsen the situation.
b. What to do instead: Remain calm, even in the stressful situations. If you’re able just to take a deep breath, you’ll react better to students and will be able to handle the situation better and more fairly. By remaining calm, the teacher demonstrates their authority and control in the classroom, and by remaining seemingly unfazed by student behavior, the teacher sends a message of strength.

6) Using threatening body language or physical force

a. Why it doesn’t work: If you’re a teaching prathom class, you’re automatically taller than most, if not all, of your students, so consider that even if you don’t mean to be threatening, standing over your students and the height difference can create a threatening message. Consider your face as you talk with students and what message your posture sends. But we’ve all been faced with the use of corporal punishment in the classroom, and why it doesn’t work – because it teaches students to hit as a means to solve a problem, because it physically punishes bad behavior instead of offering student chances for improvement.
b. What to do instead: Consider taking a more relaxed posture, and if able, be on the same level as your students. This body language encourages openness and trust. Students will not be intimidated by you and that gives them the comfort and safety they need to try.

Tips, Tricks, and Techniques

  • Give students choices.
  • Give students responsibilities in the classroom, as well as consequences. Students need something they can invest in and be in charge of. Many teachers employ class or group leaders to keep students engaged.
  • Focusing on rewarding good behavior more than punishing bad behavior.
  • Try to understand where the student’s behavior is coming from.
  • Use logical consequences as opposed to severe punishment.
  • Give students the opportunity to reflect on their mistake and change it.
  • Remain calm in stressful situations – agitation is contagious and students don’t respond to a teacher’s short temper.
  • Avoid win-lose conflicts by emphasizing problem-solving instead of punishment.
  • Model the behavior you expect from your students.
  • Be consistent with what you say and what you do. ALWAYS follow through.

Incentives and Reward Systems

  • Many volunteers use various sticker systems (such as a sticker chart) in order to encourage student behavior. You can either buy or make (or have the students make) stickers to use on these charts. Determine what behaviors will earn stickers (and even what misbehavior will result in the loss of stickers!) However, be aware of fairness when distributing stickers, as sometimes the younger students might react emotionally or poutif they do not receive one. For example, when playing games, I award two stickers to the team that won, and one sticker to the team that didn’t (since everyone played, everyone gets a sticker.) Or award stickers as the students play, to encourage involvement.
  • Many volunteers use different groups in the classroom, and so an easy way to encourage work in the groups is to give letter stickers to a particular group when they are behaving well or working well. For example, students groups are given the chance to earn one letter each day, and they must spell the word “ENGLISH” to receive a prize. When every group in the class spells the word, the whole class gets a prize (such as a game day or a sticker party).
  • Classes can be assigned a penny jar, and for every day that students have behaved well, they can be given a penny or pennies for the jar (and likewise a penny can be removed). The class can save up pennies for larger rewards, such as a game day when they’ve earned a dollar.
  • The idea of a token economy can be used to teach students economic skills on top of good behavior, by using play money. Students can earn money through good behavior, completing assignments, or by completing jobs or responsibilities in the classroom (such as cleaning the floor or straightening the desks.) Students can use their earned money to buy things in a classroom store, pay money for “fines” when they misbehave, etc. (This was a method employed by Rafe Esquith – Google him!)