Benito Vacio

Handling a 'sanook' class

How to handle a classroom full of badly-behaved children

Every teacher in their teaching career has experienced a class that they are not pleased with. Agree or disagree?

Take the case of one teacher who said to herself, "I feel like walking out of this room. It's like hell. The students are really naughty. What must I do?"

Who are naughty students? What are the reasons why they are like that? How can teachers make them behave?

According to an internet contributor, Aida, the word "naughty' means mischievous. It refers to children who misbehave in minor ways especially if what they do has an imaginative or funny side of it. On the other hand, the dictionary refers to it as synonymous to badly behaved, behaving disobediently, or bad. But according to one of my close friends, A ‘sanook' class is one with students who create a lot of intolerable noise." Another one said, "They are students who don't like to participate. Only 5 or 6 students join in learning the lesson." Majority of the teachers I've talked to said, "They do their own thing and are oblivious to what's happening in the classroom." For others, "Naughty students are those who disturb the class as a whole and spoil the teacher's day." Do you have classes like these?

Now that we know who naughty kids are, it's high time for us to find out what factors cause naughtiness so that we will be able to handle them well. Yes, we've got to find out more why my class, your class, and many teachers' classes behave differently.

I have gathered several inputs from my colleagues and friends about the probable causes of naughtiness in schools.

A Critical Mass Exists

This means that a group of naughty kids are assigned en masse to a particular class. For instance, a set of hyperactive kids can be placed in the same class with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Even if there is only a handful of them, it will still disrupt the class and once their needs are not really met, they will surely affect the class

Unequal Sex Distribution
Another reason why students are naughty is that there is an unequal distribution of the sexes. In this case, the class comprises more boys than girls. Sex is indeed a factor. Consider the words of this nursery rhyme:
What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Frogs and snails
And puppy-dogs' tails,
That's what little boys are made of.

Mental ability

This also contributes in having a badly behaved class, for students with lower academic standing have shorter attention spans and their interest in learning is entirely different from that of achievers. That's why I know many teachers prefer not to teach lower sections.

Lack of Routine

Another common reason why the class turns naughty is the fact that it lacks routine in the classroom. Whenever routine is lacking, classroom management is greatly affected. If the class is used to disorder, it will get used to it, and it will be very difficult to unlearn.

Use of Fear

One major reason why we have naughty classes also as some friends of mine say, "The students are conditioned to be disciplined from without and not from within." In other words the class has not been trained to observe self-discipline. They function in a threat-oriented classroom - the students fear the teacher because of punishment. When the students are used to behaving because of fear, the tendency would be for students to function only when they are subjected to fear . That's
why when a non-threatening English teacher teaches the students the class can't help to be rowdy.

Boring/Difficult Lessons

One reason to consider why students are naughty as one Thai English coordinator said, "It's because the lesson or activity is less interesting and less challenging. Thus the students create unnecessary things that disturb the class and the teacher. That's why activities for language learners must be interesting indeed, as my former supervisor said, "Language activities must be unpredictable - something that will make the students guess what's to come next." I would say that language lessons should also be something that is doable and commensurate to students' abilities so that they can succeed. Too difficult lessons bore students, right?

Attention Seeking

Students misbehave because they want attention. They never have enough of this at home so they find it in school. Perhaps the parents have no time for them. One way to get the teacher's attention is to play the fool. Once a very sensitive teacher attends to this, he/she will be successful in preventing students to be mischievous. Giving some responsibilities to this group of students will make them feel important and they will not be a headache any longer.

Personal/Family Problems

A student would bully, fight or hurt his classmates because of a problem. A problem not solved is passed through others to get even with someone, to take revenge, to rebel, or to simply express his pent up emotion. A student scolded at home, reprimanded because of misdemeanor, or did something wrong, will bring his emotional baggage to school and when
provoked a little bit, his/her anger would burst.

Teacher Factor

This might be hard to admit, but many teachers are also the cause of their students' poor behavior. One of these is his/her perception of the class. If the teacher thinks that the class is naughty, expect that the class becomes naughty. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sometimes, the teacher has allowed his/her students unconsciously to be naughty until they got used to it. An American friend of mine narrated to me about his co-teacher being complained by students, "Why is it that we don't like Mr. _____. Unlike you, Teacher Harry, we like you a lot?"

So, after knowing who the naughty students are and the many reasons for their naughtiness, what can a very good teacher do?

The sources of these valuable information say they handle them these ways. Of course what they say may not work with your students "for every folk a different stroke," but there's no harm trying. Once they work, why not continue doing them?

1. My friend from Chulalongkorn University English Teachers" Project in Nonthaburi said, "English Teachers must go to class with adequate preparation. Once this is done, the battle is already half won. All teaching materials as pictures, charts, flashcards, realia and all forms of media must be used to meet the different learning styles of students.

2. An ex-Ramakamhaeng University English Teachers" Project in Nonthaburi suggested, "The teacher should provide activity worksheets/activity sheets at the end of the period. The teacher must come up also with varied games and activities. Reinforce learning by praising, by little awards in forms of stickers, stamps. etc. However, this may be taken away when students are used to do well already for intrinsic motivation is better than extrinsic one.

3. Another teacher from an agency uses modern technology like lap top/computer, CD players, TV, VCD/DVD. This could be used after lesson presentation. One reminder though, see to it that the materials or aids are related to the lesson and would last only for 15- 20 minutes. For more equipped schools, a power point will be very effective.

4. When the students are busy with the worksheets, the teacher can interview each student on the lessons learned particularly personal information questions. This gives the naughty students no room for misbehavior.

5. Utilize songs, action songs, chants, and raps they will surely enjoy .

6. The teacher should provide varied and animated activities to keep the students alive.

Success in handling naughty students calls for common sense, creativity and resourcefulness on the part of teachers. Furthermore, a lot of reasons that trigger students' behavior have to be addressed too, for if they are not, problems will surface. As for the different ways of handling naughty students, the kind of students have to be considered too.

Handling "sanook" classes is full of challenges and gives the teacher the opportunity to reach out, to touch lives, and to make a difference in this particular group of students. Shunning in handling them is losing an opportunity to help. After all, classes won't be that exciting and interesting without them. Naughty kids spice up our life as a teacher. Just like pepper, onion, ginger, garlic, salt, sauce, herbs, and other ingredients make Thai cuisine really that delectable to taste. Next time, you meet your "sanook" class, I'm sure there will be smile on your face and you can handle the classes well.


ur suggestion is excellent. i m a primary teacher & i hv hooligans like i was very worried how to control my class. anyway thanks a lot for ur suggestion.

By manjushree maity, khajuraho,m.p,india (30th March 2012)

Gary, The information you added as comments to my blog are all true particularly knowing the names of students, setting class rules,the routine in starting a class, and "the authoritative stance". Truly, a non-rowdy/ rowdy class needs this immensely.

So, I hope the readers of this article will go through Gary's comments. He is one person I admire and he comes from one of the prestigious schools in Pak Kret. Thanks a lot T. Gary. More power to you.

By Ben Vacio, Nonthaburi (15th September 2010)

Nice article Ajarn Ben!

I would add the importance of the first day/week/month of the semester as a 'means to an end.' The first year I started teaching in Thailand I always started the new semester with my 'Fun Teacher Gary' persona, which inevitably led to the classes taking advantage of my kindness and age (I am 27). By the end of the semester I had lost control of the class, even when I got angry. It is impossible to switch from a nice/laidback teacher to a commanding, not to be ****ed with ajarn. It is SO important to 'set the tone' when you start the semester, which, to me means in the land of smiles you should try really hard to 'not smile.' Thai teachers are the only Thais that generally frown more than they smile, and I now know why! Make the students write down your class rules, and sign it, try to learn their names, and don't be afraid to ask a Thai teacher to help translate the guidelines for the upcoming semester. You will know that you have succeeded if the class continues the 'please stand up' routine until the end of the year.

The first impression is everything, and on top of that you have to continue your authoritative stance and, eventually, you can possibly become their friend...but we are teachers FIRST, and in Thailand parents expect teachers to not only educate but 'parent' the kids as well. A tall order for a farang!

By Gary, Pakkred (13th September 2010)

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