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Teaching by Mark Beales April 2014

Keeping Control

A colleague once told me that many Thai schools consist of ‘lazy boys and lady boys’. It’s a slightly harsh, but often accurate, summary. The lazy boys may outnumber the other variety, but it’s the lady boy students who are often among the best at English, while also being confident and funny. Their projects drip with glitter and are written in fancy fonts, their pink pencil cases have fur-lining and, come sports day, they’re first in line to be cheerleaders, shaking silver pom-poms. You can’t help admire students who have so much confidence and who aren't afraid to stand out, especially in a system where standing out and individualism is often frowned upon. Other students often lack motivation. In a school system where legally everybody has to pass, you can understand why. Work your socks off, study hard and do your best, and you’ll get about the same score as the kid snoozing next to you. In many countries, English is rarely spoken at home, and so students may see little point in learning. Motivation is therefore the key to successful teaching. Getting your students to see the importance of learning for learning’s sake, and not simply to pass tests, is the trick.

So what are your options when they start snoring in class or refuse to learn?

Corporal punishment

Corporal PunishmentSome countries still permit corporal punishment – most do not. When you join a school you’ll be given a discipline code, and you can be pretty sure that beating a student with a wooden stick won’t be one of the recommended strategies. Local teachers, on the other hand, sometimes bring out the stick with very little prompting. Some schools have their very own head of discipline. He (it’s going to be a man) will have his own office, his own set of rules and probably his own stick, possibly laced with barbed wire. Mr Surit was one such man. He rode around my former school on his yellow scooter with the kind of expression exclusively made by those who ride Harleys and have tattoos of Satan on their forehead. Even the other teachers steered clear of him.

I once saw Mr Surit with a line of boys. He paced up and down for a few moments yelling in their faces. When he grew tired of yelling, he produced the dreaded stick. Each boy assumed the position and down came the stick with a crack onto the student’s behind. With his friends nearby, each child would try and stifle a yelp but few managed to take their punishment in complete silence. Mr Surin drew back his stick, released, and then waited for another student to face him. And their crime? They’d been found wearing the wrong colour socks.

Such attacks don’t happen every day, but taps on the wrist or clips round the ear still go on, so get used to them. That said, as a foreign teacher you don’t enjoy the same ability to bend/disregard the rules. Students also know you can’t touch them, and so you need to take discipline seriously.

Next month we’ll take a look at ways to keep control in your classroom.