John V

Thai education and TEFL class management

A look at three practical examples to use in your classroom

There remain few subjects in the field of education able to produce the emotive responses contained in the title, ‘class management.' Class management, unlike the content knowledge of education or its delivery, is an abstract.

Progressive education

Ever since the demise of rote, corporal punishment and the introduction of progressive education, in which each learns at their own pace in supposed nurturing surroundings; class management has assumed the alpha and omega; the search for the Holy Grail without which knowledge cannot exist.

Although not wanting a return to the days of forced education by violence as it's commonly referred to, the desire for a western progressive system of education in Thailand unsurprisingly produces similar effects to the declining standards of behaviour in the west, from which arises the hitherto unknown problem of management. Providing a major reason for both the poor attainment of foreign language levels in Thailand compared to the rest of Asia and helping to produce a replica western generation.

Understanding the system

The phrases, ‘creating learning cultures' and ‘effective teaching' assume total student commitment to learning and aim at perfecting a system of behaviour in which this occurs. Yet conversely, if all wanted to learn there wouldn't be a need for class management.

Only a few decades ago, a common knowledge consensus about streaming agreed that certain students naturally adapt to academia, yet others to the arts or trades which require different skill sets. Moreover, the students who fail in one discipline often excel in another, yet with the onset of equality all now succeed in everything, with added expertise at the click of a mouse.

As the TEFL community eagerly await the practical answer to Thai class management, the continuing silence of progressive educational experts becomes self-explanatory. Class management, although employing techniques, isn't so much a process as a mind-set requiring a separate skill set from that of delivery, a point often missed in progressive education orthodoxy. Nevertheless, let's briefly state three practical examples.

Ban mobile phones

Let's begin with a truism; the best educator in the world is unable to compete against Facebook and Twitter. Don't even think about it and therefore start by removing the cause to eliminate the competition, which remains standard practice elsewhere.

Banning mobile phones in the classroom initially produces effects similar to being taken off life support, yet generates immediate positive results. The usual suggested ground rules of clapping your hands for silence and expecting positive results based on the belief that 16 year old testosterone fuelled teens hooked on Facebook will suddenly behave as responsible mature adults is about as naively optimistic as it gets.

Similarly, asking the school to intervene in discipline issues is a wasted endeavour as they haven't a clue either and it's why they hired a foreigner, in the forlorn hope that if all else fails you'll substitute the missing entertainment link.

Target your audience

Begin by understanding your audience. There's a reason the teenage group remains attracted to quickly changing images and consequently, why the average attention span equals that of a goldfish.

Learn to spot the glazed expression, fidgeting, the rising noise levels and act on it. Introduce participation requiring a collectivized response to save face; boys v girls for instance, a like for a correct answer and an unfriend for wrong. Who voluntarily wants to be unfriended?!

Additionally, hangman or guessing games such as ‘I spy' provide ideal starters. Don't introduce activities because they're fashionable; use them as a double edge sword to achieve class management, as well as learning.

Stand and deliver

Organize your lessons around age related topics. Learn to disguise English grammar using food, travel, mobile phones or music. With a little ingenuity, it's amazing the amount of grammar and conversation squeezed out of a simple phrase such as, ‘I love French fries.'

One of my original favourites included silence. When the noise levels initially began to rise I'd stop, sit down and pick up a book. As the speaking ended, rows of faces suddenly become attentive wondering why and it's then that I'd quietly explained that the lesson comes first and every noise interruption decreases the topic related ten minute Mr. Bean video at the end by one minute.

Invariably, as the best punch lines occur at the end, the groan as the class came to an end half-way through the video wasn't usually repeated the following week, proving that memory retention remains alive and kicking. 


Yes, it's hard work. Faking it by going through the motions becomes obvious both to the school and students and arguably the reason behind the high staff turnover in a majority of schools.

Previously, education revolved around teaching; in today's world it's about reducing your own stress levels to prevent a burn out resembling a nervous breakdown!

Did that book you read last week fail to provide the answers to class management? Never mind, the next one containing similar promises will be out shortly.

Read the full article: Thai Education and TEFL Class Management.


In the last school I taught at in Thailand I had three subjects in class sizes of 30 across the whole of Mattayom. A physical impossibility to remember that many names. I got around that by each student designing their own cardboard name plate and putting it on their desk facing me. Teaching students that want to be taught is nearer the mark. I’d love to be honest, fail a student and write on the parents report, ‘I’m sorry, but your child just isn’t interested in learning English.’ Yet I can’t do that and so we’re forced to join in the charade of giving out 50% marks and then blamed for the faults in the system itself.

Common Core, progressive education, equality, equal opportunities must provide equal outcomes, no-fail policies … They all come with the premise that everyone wants to learn all subjects, will excel in them and are bursting with enthusiasm, which simply isn’t the case. The guy down at the local garage probably can’t speak more than a few words of English, but he’ll take your motorcycle engine apart with his eyes closed. As an aside, I remember the UK Blair years of the 90s, when it was decided UK universities were too elitist and the government proposed that 50% of all university students came from the working class – an absolute disaster and the experiment has never been repeated. You can’t socially engineer academic success, you can only pretend and that’s what the current progressive methodology does. When it doesn’t work, the blame game is on and teachers are the easiest targets.

If I can make a difference to 25% of my students and remain a novelty to the other 75% I’m happy with that. Someone should write a book one day; ‘How to teach students who don’t want to learn, or are not academically minded.’

By John V, Thailand (1st April 2018)

It's a nice piece.

Unless it's M6, too much talking means your lessons are weak. If you have throwaway classes, it's hard to fix bad habits that came prior.

Learn every students name. Try. At a minimum, by the end of the school year you should know all your kids by site and no less than 10-20 in each class. People react to being identified by name - yelling HEY YOU, not so much.

Use the phones in class. Incorporate them into lessons.

Love your kids, demonstrate that you care. If you don't, quit. You're just another crazy falang to them. When you are on a personal level students are far less likely to stir up trouble in class.

Teach students that want to be taught. Teach in a school that values you. I realize this is not easy.

By Jim Beam, The Big Smoke (30th March 2018)

Yes, that’s another good one Samuel. A sort of, ‘excuse me, did you say something?’ look. In extreme cases I’ve had them up front to introduce themselves and then I tell the class that as they have so much to say they can do the lesson and sit down in their chair and watch them squirm. The problem doesn’t usually repeat itself.

In China we had a large cloth sheet with pockets sewn in and a name on each one. All phones were left there on entering the classroom and retrieved on leaving.

By John V, Thailand (30th March 2018)

I also just stop talking and look at the individuals causing the issue and it works every time. When the next term begins students will have to put their phones in a basket and can retrieve them after the lesson.

By Samuel Lloyd, Saraburi (29th March 2018)

Mark Newman,

We live and learn. I can use txt speak English if it’s too difficult to follow? (Only joking). Criticism? We can all do that and especially if it doesn’t provide us with an easily understood set of tools to work with. Class management isn’t a step by step TEFL course; look on what I wrote as a signpost, a guide, a way of thinking. It’s difficult because we live in an age where laziness (and Google) has largely replaced critical thinking, in which people expect solutions without effort. That’s where you’re going wrong Mark, I gave you a mind-set and you’re complaining because I didn’t provide a painting by numbers guide.

"Just because you don't agree with everything that everyone says doesn't mean you should sit on the sidelines and say nothing." Conversely, criticism without adding to the body of knowledge is a pointless exercise. Now, if you’d have said, "you’re wrong, here’s the answer", that would contain both a criticism and a solution, but as there is no answer, your criticism is really a complaint that you personally didn’t get what you read into it, or what you expected from it. What you’re looking for is the complaints department, but as the post didn’t come with a guarantee and doesn’t break the Trades Description Act, what you’re left with is a what you see is what you get.

Your replies aren’t rude, but not critical either and are simply a reaction to something you don’t understand. There’s a wealth of information available in the blog section here, learn to use it as an aid instead of expecting it to provide the answers to carry you through Thai life and its problems and you’ll gain an entirely new perspective on why people write them. :)

By John V, Thailand (28th March 2018)

If I didn’t understand what I’ve said, I wouldn’t have said it. Double edged as in a positive and negative, or double edged to achieve two positive results with one method.

Without getting bogged down in nit picking and semantics, any other ideas that anyone has of achieving class management that has personally worked for them? Or have you all discovered it and are keeping it to yourselves. :)

Spot on, but I’ve never seen foreign teachers doing that, although I don’t doubt it occassionally happens.

By John V, Thailand (28th March 2018)

"Ever since the demise of rote, corporal punishment and the introduction of progressive education..."

Hang on... this is Thailand we're talking about, right?

"Although not wanting a return to the days of forced education by violence as it's commonly referred to..."

I've never heard traditional/old-fashioned teaching methods referred to in that way...

"As the TEFL community eagerly await the practical answer to Thai class management..."

Nice try! We aren't... or 'it' isn't!

"...and it's why they hired a foreigner..."

Nope... they hired a foreigner because government funding depends on it.

"Organize your lessons around age-related topics. Learn to disguise English grammar using food, travel, mobile phones or music. With a little ingenuity, it's amazing the amount of grammar and conversation squeezed out of a simple phrase such as, ‘I love French fries.'"

NOW you're starting to make sense!

There are too many big words and too much 'clever speak', that actually says very little here. I'm trying to get on board with some explanations and solutions for classroom management in Thai high-schools but there's little meat on this bone.

Other than the nugget that I have highlighted, all I can see is an overly difficult to follow essay, that conveys your ability to use the English language... but not necessarily the tools needed for the rest of us, to make teaching it any easier.

- - - - - - -

And, as that was yet another characteristically negative response by me, I'll add that I really DO enjoy reading all the articles submitted to this website... even the ones I don't agree with or understand.

Just because you don't agree with everything that everyone says doesn't mean you should sit on the sidelines and say nothing.

My replies aren't rude just because they are critical. If you put forward your opinions you can expect reactions both good and bad.

Nobody has taken more, er... 'critical analysis' (nice way to put it) than me and sometimes my mind has been changed or my attitude is made better by those who take the time and effort to correct what I say and write.

The point is... it's handy - in this game (Thai TEFL) - to have the skin of a rhino if you're going to put your opinions in the public domain!

Discussion is good.


By Mark Newman, A. MUANG (28th March 2018)

" use them as a double edge sword to achieve class management, as well as learning."

Not sure that you understand what "double edge sword" means,, as in your example you give 2 positive outcomes, where is the negative 1 ?

By Steve C, bangkok (28th March 2018)

Mobile phone addiction was a huge problem at the schools I was at,if you don't ban them in the classrooms then woe betide you.Of course teachers playing their phones in the classroom which I have seen doesn't set a good example.

By Stuart Branwhite, Greenock (27th March 2018)

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