I recently read an article by Mark Brown in ajarn.com about discipline in Thai classroom. There he shared his thoughts and his unpleasant experience teaching high school students which caused him so much stress. He eventually quit his job and moved to teach to a primary school.
The article has elicited quite a stir from amongst his fellow native speakers. Having been in Thailand for 11 years now, I definitely can relate to his narrative. I have to agree that imposing discipline in the classroom is one of the biggest struggles of a foreign teacher in Thailand.
One commenter was right when he said that this isn’t a new issue. During my first year of teaching here in Thailand, I was collectively warned by almost everyone I met who were here years ahead of me to be prepared in dealing with the behavior problems inside the classroom. With my six years teaching experience in the Philippines, I thought I already had a knack on classroom management.
However, nothing has prepared me for what transpired during the first few months of my teaching. I handled English for communication for all 10 sections of Matayom 3 (Grade 9). Out of the ten classes, at least half of those contain students whose English is at poor to very poor level. But that was not the problem, it was their rowdy behaviors.
Having said that, allow me to share some of the lessons I learned about imposing discipline in Thai classroom and how to catch students’ attention:
Take it easy
It means simplifying your teaching method, simplifying your subject, and simplifying your students’ lives. As teachers we sometimes forget that we are teaching students who are foreign learners of English language. Talk clearly and slowly. Students appreciate it if we can translate some words into Thai. This will show that we also try to learn their language while teaching them ours.
I observed that even a powerpoint presentation had little to no influence on individuals who still struggle to grasp the fundamentals of language. As a result, they talk and laugh out loudly as if there is no teacher inside the classroom, play games on their mobile phones, or apply make up in the middle of the class. These behaviors frustrated me over and over again and resorted to reprimanding them in front of everybody. I realized this has no effect on them.
Fun while learning
Students like to have fun. The term sabai-sabai (easy going, laid back, relaxed, comfortable, just fine, very fine) is embedded in Thai culture.
If you are a teacher who comes to the classroom with definite set of rules and punishes students who break them, you need to step back and be ready to cultivate patience. If you worry too much about being able to carry out the day’s lesson plan, you need to adapt openness to the possibilities of spontaneous classroom activities that would capture students’ interest.
Thai students become engaged when you initiate games in the classroom. They love Kahoot, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Message Relay, Quiz Bowl and even games as simple as Bus Stops. Thai students become extremely competitive once their interest is aroused.
Refrain from humiliating students
”Kreng jai” is a principle that is deeply engraved in Thai culture. It is being courteous and respectful to avoid ‘losing face’ for oneself or others. This is the reason why Thai people do not engage in heated arguments. It is basically the same way in the classroom. When a teacher loses his/her temper in front of the class, he/she will be remembered differently. Consequently, this will not improve the students’ performance in the class either. It will only make it worse.
In the same article by Mark Brown, he mentioned that he chose to walk out from the class in several occasions. I did the same and I believe it’s the best thing to do in that kind of situation. When you impose discipline in Thai classroom, calling them out in front of everybody is not the way to do it.
Don’t take things personally
It is not about you. When students come to class, they bring their own set of values, beliefs and characteristics. Some students are inclined to studying language while others not. When we exert effort to make our lessons as interesting as it can be yet we still fail to ignite the interest of our students, we just have to accept the fact that not all students are alike. Some are good in numbers, some are better in arts and some excel in language. Others are late bloomers. Other learners are active learners while others are passive.
Being a teacher takes a lot of patience. This is the reason why teaching is not for the faint-hearted. It takes a great deal of dedication and perseverance, otherwise you’ll end up hopping from one school to another hoping to find students that fit your criteria, which is, in all honesty, unlikely to happen.
There are different ways to approach the varied problems in teaching especially on how to deal with discipline in the classroom. We would love to hear your thoughts and insights on this pressing issue. Please share your practices in handling misbehaving students in the class. We might be able to learn from it. Don’t hesitate to share them in the comment section below!