By Todd Persaud
If you are new here please read this first.
This article was written by Todd Persaud, an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher. Todd wanted to share some of his experiences (he has taught in over 5 countries) as an English teacher and pass on some advice on how to make teaching less complicated.
Many people have this preconceived assumption that students in Asia are some of the best in the world. But I can say with confidence that for as many brilliant students that I encountered, there were also an equal proportion of duds and rascals who just made my life a living hell, practically to the point where I wanted to quit or get fired. The good thing is that there are ways to discipline your students and take control of your class.
While being a teacher, I noticed that other teachers would just ignore the students that refused to do any work. I must admit that in many contexts, I did the same and ignored them. I know that in the “no child left behind” era, you are supposed to be taking care of everyone. You are expected to coddle and just assume that everyone is a good kid; that they want to learn and be given a chance to succeed. However, there are also students who don’t want to be in your class. They just prefer to be Instagram models and YouTubers.
I had many unruly students who played on their phones in class and distracted the other students. Mobile phones are incredibly disruptive. Regulating its usage, for me at least, is the ultimate test of a teacher’s control over the class. Handle this and other issues will be a cinch. But ignore it and it will send a message that you’re a tolerant teacher which will result in them being on their phones even more instead of doing their work.
Now let me warn you that at times where you want the students off your back, you might think that allowing them to use their cell phones is a great way of doing it, but it’s not. These liberties will come back to haunt you and bite you on the ass, particularly when you want to maintain control over your class and have them do some quiet work while you scroll through your Instagram feed and post stupid things on Twitter. You will not be able to do this if your students think they have full control over what they get to do in the class.
Of course, students on their phones isn’t the only issue in a classroom. Other worse behavioral problems may pop up. When this happens I give three warnings and if the behavior continues, I kick the student out of the class. I let the entire class know which student was the offender and send them out the door and down the hall doing the walk of shame. This is in Asia, folks.
In Asia, public shaming is one of the worst things you could do to a child, so you may want to keep this tool in your arsenal as well. I remember the days when I was unfairly squared away by my teachers and it took me years to recover from it. So I’m happy to transfer this bit of wisdom on to other hapless, innocent children. Why should I be the only one that has to suffer?
So when a student purposely disrespects you in front of the whole class, you can handle this by making them feel embarrassed and eventually kicking them out. Some of the best standup comedians have done this with hecklers and you can learn from them. You will be absolutely shocked by how graceful standup comedians are at rolling with the punches so to speak and dishing out a good helping of verbal ass-whooping. What’s striking is that most stand-up comedians do end up kicking the hecklers out of their show.
Do the same.
Kick your students out of the ‘show’ and then proceed with the rest of your class, even if it means that the rest of your students live in fear for that moment that they too will get kicked out. Fear is sometimes the best tool, don’t you remember the fear you felt from your old angry teacher?
Of course, all that is for the badly behaved students. For mature students, you can try to reason with them by treating them as allies.
This was difficult for me as I tend to be a pushover. I wanted everyone to be my friend. But eventually, as I grew into the position, I became better at managing my difficult relationships with the students. There are various ways to gain the respect of the students, and this will make the class go a lot smoother.
For example, I would often clarify that I don’t like being a “mean teacher,” but that sometimes a little corporal punishment from the headmaster was in order. Which made me look nice and gained me a little more respect. Kind of like “good cop, bad cop.”
Another way is to show the students that you understand their perspective. In Robert Cialdini’s Influence, the author recommends pretending that you’re on the side of the buyer in order for you to win them over too. You can apply this strategy on your students too. You can say “Look, the administration wants me to use this textbook, so that’s what we have to do. I don’t want it to be this way, but this is what we have to work with.” You can then follow this up with a life lesson, “There are some things in life that we just don’t want to do but we have to do anyway.”
Whatever way you choose to treat your student is up to you, but remember it’s important for you to take control of your own affairs with the students, for your own sanity and peace of mind. It’s enduring those uncomfortable first few moments so that you can live in peace for the rest of your tenure as a teacher.
If you’re still on the fence with how best to punish students in your own way—and you strongly suspect that the style I’m advocating is really not for you— then I suggest a helpful website called DisciplineHelp.com which outlines ways to address various student behavioral disruptions. The site puts different types of students into categories with lists of strategies on how to deal with each one. For example, the idiot is someone who stupidly challenges you and you should punish them with writing out the dictionary. Of course, asking the administration what they think is also a good idea.
Another option is to go to the British Council’s website where teachers share their methods. Now, I understand that sometimes wading through the materials in the forums can be a daunting task. Sometimes you feel like you are wasting time or that the English of some of the teachers is just so impenetrable that you cannot bear to read another single word more. When this happens, you have several options: You can either decide to commit to reading just a little bit each day, making it a habit akin to working out and dealing with your issues. Or you can bypass this process altogether and hire a VA on Fiverr to find answers to the question of discipline in your host country. Or you can just directly message teachers and ask them what they have done in the past (much like the other strategies I have already advocated). Whatever option you decide, do it. And do it fast before you start your classes so you don’t violate any cultural norms. And remember that like wild animals adventuring, your eyes can be a sign of weakness. Be the Alpha!
Ask everyone you know and be a sponge.
I was speaking to one of my friends who used to teach in a juvenile correctional facility (the topic came up because I was a criminology major who studied the penal system… ironically). What struck me was how obedient many of the inmates were.
Like seriously obedient.
They had been in the big house for murder, drug abuse, some of the most heinous crimes you can think of, and even exhibited some of those bad behaviors while in the prison. But they attended my friend’s class. Probably, even though they know they didn’t have much of a future, the class represented lala-land for them and allowed them to grow as much as they could, within such rigid and unforgiving circumstances. This impressed me because it seemed like the prisoners were giving my own kids a run for their money, in terms of obedience that is. Sadly, there was no hole or solitary. I would have used it…to get away.
It’s interesting that the prison system and the military are places with the most obedient students on the planet. Perhaps third place goes to private students. And then, finally, maybe the foreign students in private schools, followed by students from the United States, generally speaking (public or private). Which makes you wonder if threats of violence is what makes people fearful or if Americans are just terrible.
Whatever you do, don’t hit the students. Maybe this goes without saying. This is one form of punishment that doesn’t help at all. Let the other teachers do it. You have other things to worry about, like making the students laugh. And you don’t want them to laugh AND cry. Do you?
About the author:
Todd Persaud holds a BFA from New School University and an MA in Applied Sociology from William Paterson University. He has taught in over 5 countries, and currently resides in Da Nang, Vietnam where he is writing a book about his experiences. He may be reached on his website at www.ToddPersaud.com.
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