Mark Brown

Discipline in the classroom

The 800-pound gorilla no one talks about


A few weeks ago I wrote an article for this audience which listed more than thirteen problems with the Thai education system.

The reason I wrote that article was to ask for your contributions to the list, but beyond that my intention has always been to seek solutions to these problems.

I described myself as a compulsive fixer. Contrary to some of the negative comments I received, I don't want to simply criticize the Thai education system, nor am I suffering from the delusion that anyone in a position to implement any solutions would actually listen to advice from a foreign teacher. I do however want to start addressing some of the problems that ESL teachers routinely face with the aim of actually fixing some of them at a grass-roots level.

OK, so let's start with a big one: the lack of discipline in the classroom. This was number four on my list.

A lack of discipline

Oddly enough, the august report compiled by OECD and UNESCO that Jack recommended, doesn't even mention lack of discipline as a problem but this issue really struck a nerve with several of the TSL teachers who responded to my earlier article. That's why I facetiously refer to this as the 800lb gorilla sitting next to us that's conveniently ignored by administrators and Thai teachers.

A near total lack of discipline in the classroom seems to be deeply ingrained in Thai culture. So what if anything can we do? Again, I don't want to simply complain about the obvious. I'm hereby urging you to contribute your suggestions, techniques, and observations about this serious problem. 

If we could make even a small dent in the magnitude of this problem, or even if we merely provide a thoughtful analysis of it, this could have lasting positive impact on the Thai education system. Sometimes it's easier for outsiders to propose solutions to what seem to be intractable problems by virtue of their outside perspective. Maybe we can see the forest as well as the trees.

'Corporal punishment'

Perhaps the most time-honored solution to a lack of discipline in the classroom is corporal punishment. The teacher or some delegated administrator can knock heads or paddle butts.  We all know this works, at least to some degree, but it's a controversial and inelegant solution to say the least. 

When I was in junior high school the Vice Principal's main administrative function was to administer paddlings. He had the physique of a linebacker and the mere threat of being issued one of the special red hall passes to his office was enough to terrify me and my fellow students. All a teacher had to do was mention Coach Wilson's name and order was instantly restored in the classroom.

He used custom-made wooden paddles from the wood-working class that were about 2 feet long with holes drilled in the face to add a little extra sting. Operant conditioning is an amazing thing. The mere sight of one of those red hall passes caused a fear reaction, so let's not dismiss this traditional approach - it works.

Thailand v The USA

I'm not advocating physical punishment as a means of controlling students but I'm unable to suggest a good alternative. In the U.S. these days teachers aren't allowed to touch their students or they'll be sued by the student's parents in a heartbeat.

Some people think this restraint has adversely impacted the entire U.S. educational system and the result has been chaos in the classroom. We know the rules are different here in Thailand. Thai teachers can and do use physical punishment on disruptive or misbehaving students. But should we? Maybe we could ask a burly Thai teacher to sit in the back of all classes and act as the "bad cop".

Every Thai teacher I've ever talked to has the same complaint. They don't know how to control these little monsters either. This problem causes a lot of stress and unnecessary burnout. We feel like we're wasting our time trying to teach a bunch of juvenile delinquents. In reality 10% of the students are actually well-behaved but the 40% that are out of control are disrupting the entire class, and by extension the entire Thai school system. The problem seems to get worse in high school. It's somewhat easier to control prattom students.

Driving a teacher to drink

On more than one occasion last semester when I was teaching at the local high school I walked out of classes because I wasn't able to control an unruly crowd of 35 teenagers. I always put a lot of effort into preparing my lessons and I look forward to teaching, so when I'm completely ignored it hurts.

Sometimes it seemed like they were having a party and I was talking to the wind, so I simply stopped speaking and walked out of the room. I did this to preserve my sanity and dignity, however this drastic (and frankly unprofessional) tactic only had a limited effect. The students were somewhat better behaved the next time I met with them but only slightly.

This caused a lot of stress for me and I always felt bad for hours afterwards. On those days I would leave school as soon as possible, go home and have a drink to calm down. I have a lot of respect for teachers, both Thai and farrang, who endure this day after day.

An easier life for now

This semester I've stopped teaching high school and now I only teach part-time at a small primary school across the street from my house. My decision to quit teaching high school was partially due to the discipline problem.

Prattom students seem to be easier for me to control, or at least I don't get as mad at them as I would at the high school students. I keep a small whistle on my keyring that I occasionally use to regain control over my P2 - P4 students. For those of you who teach high school you might want to try the Fox 40 emergency whistle which produces a high-pitched, ear-splitting 115db sound that can be heard up to half a mile away.

Lack of discipline in the classroom also impacts other students, especially the quieter ones, mostly girls, who are well-behaved and actually want to learn English. It breaks my heart to see little girls crying because they tried to write on the board but were forcibly pushed aside by other more aggressive students. I saw this twice today which is why I'm compelled to write this article.

I don't know what happened but I saw one of my best students in P2 sitting in her chair, quietly crying. There's another smart girl in P4 who gets bullied regularly and cries as a result. On more than one occasion I've seen students sustain minor injuries in class, including cuts and bruises. Last week I saw a student with what looked like a stab wound from a pencil that was bleeding.

So please tell me your ideas in the comments section for this article. If you want to contact me directly my email address is khun.mark.brown@gmail.com. It might be cathartic to share your horror stories as well as your success stories. Tell me what you've seen and above all if you have any suggestions on how to maintain discipline in the classroom, for the love of God and Thailand, let us all know.


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Comments

Just came across Mark’s post yesterday, so I’m a bit behind on this one, but I’ll add this. Don’t be in such a rush to rubbish the poster, or disparage the content if you’ve nothing to put in its place.

We can all deconstruct and nit-pick, but what Mark is saying isn’t anything new and is a long standing problem in Thailand. If we’re honest, there isn’t one of us that hasn’t had problems with class management at one time or another and I don’t care if you’re TEFL certificate, teacher qualified or Ph.D., it includes you.

Looking at the blogger photos here, they’re hardly backpackers. Many of us previously held management positions in our own countries; are highly educated and aren’t used to the normal response of finding non-committal reasons and excuses for the downward slide. We can’t change the situation, but we can come up with workable ideas.

Certainly, no one is expecting total agreement, but how many personally attacking Mark here have bothered to develop a free website specifically aimed at helping students, teachers and parents, with all the personal time and effort that involved, or having much to say, have volunteered to become bloggers themselves and offer advice to others? Does Mark sound like someone who doesn’t care? I wish I’d have met him when I first came here, I’ve a feeling he’d have saved me a ton of trial and error along the way.

Having said all that, I too will build on what he said shortly and delve into the very real problem of class management.

By John V, Thailand (26th March 2018)

Craig

Why are you building straw men out of thin air? Why are you seeking a reason to be offended?

I have not proposed any type of international affirmative action and I am surely not attacking white males as I am one of them.

I am just pointing out those of us lucky enough to be born in rich English speaking countries where we face very little racial or gender discrimination at home have on average a greater number of options to earn a living than most people. We white males (who appear to make up the vast majority of people reading ajarn.com) are obviously not a homogeneous group and we have a variety of different skill sets and opportunities, but on average we have more opportunities and higher incomes than most other identifiable demographic groups.

But, we are not entitled to any specific wage or working conditions just because we want to work in a foreign country teaching our mother tongue, as Steve and you seem to suggest. I would advise, if your employer treats you like crap, demand better and if you don’t get it move on and seek out new opportunities. If you think the entire ESL industry is crap, move on. Or you can stay teaching ESL at the same place while you whine, play the victim and complain about how the exploited white men who want to live in Thailand without any special skills are not given the respect and salaries you and Steve think they deserve for teaching English. Who do you expect to take seriously your claims of exploitation of the white men in Thailand with no special qualification, who on average earn more than double than the national average?

Adjust to the way the world is or try to change it.

Make your choice.

I made my choices and you and Steve have made yours and we all are living with the results.

And our choices of today will determine our futures.

I have never seen an ESL teacher substantially improve his or her lot in life from playing the victim and crying about exploitation, but I sure have seen many of them try it.

So, you can whine and seek out redress for the exploitation you are experiencing if this is your preferred path. I have chosen and will in the future choose a different path.

By Jack, Around about (6th February 2018)

Even paying more wont help teachers gain more skills in reducing behaviour in students as most top international school teachers just tell the office to call home and let their parents reduce the behaviour. This is what happens when there is too much competition for students they can leave and join the next school and teachers have their hands tied.

Not that i am condoning underpaying anyone. I am all for a stonkingly good pay for anyone who works hard and cares about their work.

By Sash, Bangkok (17th January 2018)

"But Tracy is moving to include a new issue into the rant instead of focusing on Mark's lists of complaints and claiming Thailand is filled with little monsters and not normal children"

Yes, you are right, Mark was the one making that claim, not you. I am sorry if my post was not clear on this point.

I am not defending “Thailand” or any people involved in the ESL industry. They are want they are, place your own value judgements if you think you need to, I just don’t see the need, I prefer to see the world the way it is instead of trying to change it.


My point is not to argue whether teaching English in Thailand is “good” or not, that conclusion is for each of us to decide for ourselves, my point is all the whinging about wages and Thai culture are a complete waste of time and energy. I am not going to accept something as a “fact” just because you say it is so, and as far as I know there are few reliable statistics kept on the industry but I suspect you are generally correct in stating ESL salaries have stagnated in nominal terms and have dropped in real terms over the past couple of decades, with the changing nature of international trade and changing technology this is what one would expect. .

But whinging does not change market forces.

There are many injustices in the world including people being forced to live in extreme poverty and being affected by wars and violence, therefore I doubt the cause of the white men wanting to live in Thailand not being able to earn as much money as they want teaching English is going to catch the public’s sympathy.

Personally, I saw early on that teaching ESL in Thailand was not the best long term option for me, although it was a good choice at one stage in my life. Teaching English did not pay well and a quick analysis of the industry made it clear to me many years ago that it was very unlikely to be any substantial improvements (anyone with a backgrounds in business and economics can easily example why this is the case) in the industry. I moved into other occupations, and while I am currently doing some teaching in Thailand (not ESL or English) these days, I, like you, also have other streams of income.

If anyone thinks teaching in Thailand is bad, they probably shouldn’t do it, of course some do seem to continue to do so while whining and complaining constantly. I understand the short-term psychological benefit of maintaining one’s self-esteem by blaming someone/something else for one’s present less than optimal situation, but in the long-term I don’t think blaming Thailand or everyone in the ESL industry in Thailand for one’s own inadequate income is likely to lead to success and happiness.

If you disagree, ok, whine away and hope for the best.

By Jack, Aroud (15th January 2018)

Jack,

"Assuming Tracy is right and wages are stagnant, this wage stagnation has occurred alongside a large number of complaints posted on Ajarn.com, showing these simplistic internet rants have absolutely no effect on wages on the country"

Assuming I'm right? Oh, I'm right. If the salaries have stayed the same over, let's say only ten years, they are absolutely stagnating. No ifs nor buts. This is me explaining why agencies and schools are having such difficulty finding native speakers. This isn't my opinion. This isn't a rant. It's a simple matter of explaining something and 'economics'. There's no need for anyone to be offended by that. My advice to teachers who wanna live in Thailand and earn more? Work online. Again, that's 'simple economics'.

"If his friend could not get teachers at the wage paid, he would lose money and go out of business and be replaced by someone who could provide what is needed"

What?!? I'm a girl, and my friend can't find 'decent teachers'. The word decent being relative. He can find people. Young people, people who go three months and leave or can't enter Thailand again. Non native-speakers, etc. The schools complain because the quality of teaching has gone down. It's not what the schools were promised. He will go out of business if he doesn't offer more attractive packages. Other agencies are more than welcome to come along and take that business away. Only problem is they won't pay more either. They will be stuck with the same problem. Thus, the demise of agencies all over Thailand.

You must remember - agencies are businesses. Most just want warm bodies to send in. They want these warm bodies to get through the day without getting any complaints. They want their teachers to be good, but they won't lose any sleep if they're not. They just want their pay check at the end of the month with as few headaches as possible. The teacher they send could be juggling old shoes in class for an hour. If that teacher is liked and not getting complaints, he/she is making them money and he/she is keeping their job.

"But Tracy is moving to include a new issue into the rant instead of focusing on Mark's lists of complaints and claiming Thailand is filled with little monsters and not normal children"

Please, please, please, don't misrepresent what I say. This isn't even a misrepresentation. It's a flat out lie. Not once did I say Thailand is filled with little monsters and not normal children. That's a horrible lie you've just made up. I said I don't agree with hitting children. That's it. Not cool, Jack. Not cool.

Mark,

"No, no, NO! They should expect rises to increase with results... and the results in Thailand are bad!"

Absolutely. But Thailand has a shortage of teachers right now. They still need to get them in the door. Let's be honest, many schools still want young teachers. Most young teachers who come here only do so for a year or two and then move on. Most are certainly not looking 10 years ahead. Certainly not with a starting salary of 35k with little or no benefits. Teachers should be rewarded visa wise. But we all know why we're not.

rant - speak or shout at length in a wild, impassioned way

observation - a remark, statement or comment based on something one has seen, heard or noticed

By Tracy, Nomadicway (15th January 2018)

I managed to last one -full- semester in a vocational college in Thailand. Don't expect, then, any penetrating insight into the topic under consideration. Prior to that experience of TEFL with large classes of thai teens most of whom had signed up for courses in car mechanics, electronics and construction and not for english, I never realised how many buttons I had available to be pushed. And pushed they were, bringing the inner control freak rapidly to the surface and shattering the polished exterior.

Yes, I too pushed for control; I tried all sorts- the mandatory push-ups (even doing some myself, to demonstrate correct form and trying to instil a kind of esprit de corp as an officer mixing it with the ranks..); exhortations based on the precepts of buddhism (I remember, in particular, one around 'right effort' which I favoured because it didn't focus on attainment and thereby alienate the less able students); and, yes, 'Teasher' also resorted to the whistle to try to keep the noise down.

Gentle reader, I need not, surely, comment on the success of this control-freakery or its duration.

One day I played a youtube video in class. To see so many of the students -especially the ones most prone to switching off from my lessons (how dare they!)- enjoying themselves and smiling was a revelation. It then became something of a challenge for me: how to spend the time in class, for 1 or 2 hours, to reach as many of the students as possible but without wasting too much of my energy, varying things according to the group in front of me. I don't claim pedagogical credit, but I survived the semester and learnt a lot about working with what was in front of me rather than what I wanted, or expected, to see.

Mark (the blogger) I would invite you to reflect on the issue of control in the classroom. You don't fix people. You try to love them.

By David Burrows, UK (14th January 2018)

It's irrelevant whether 35K is what foreign teachers deserve for importing Western culture and/or 'discipline' into a Thai classroom. The fact is, the Byzantine complexity of gaining a non-B visa for teachers now is pushing the entire country's foreign teacher staff into the backpacker teacher days of revolving door transients who aren't expected to stay more than 1 or 2 months. Never mind the discipline ... just work a couple of weeks or month until you get your salary and move on to your new southeast asian adventure. Thailand is officially dead as a destination for year-long TEFLers.

By Guy, California (14th January 2018)

I must say it’s amusing to watch all the white knights rally to the defence of their beggar-pay government school jobs. Be positive! Really! You can use positivity to pay your rent and food bills. And positivity really helps when your school decides to lay you off to save two months holiday. Surely that highly qualified and dedicated to the point of zealotry foreign teacher will show up next month to work for coppers right? And if he doesn’t its because foreigners don’t respect Thai culture. Get over yourself Thais and Thai-bummers.

By BigbadB, Not Thailand ( thank the gods) (14th January 2018)

Wages are determined by markets forces (supply and demand) and not by complaints on the internet. Assuming Tracy is right and wages are stagnant, this wage stagnation has occurred alongside a large number of complaints posted on Ajarn.com, showing these simplistic internet rants have absolutely no effect on wages on the country.

I have no idea what Tracy's story about his "friend" in Korat has to do with Mark's rant or even the issue of wages. If his friend could not get teachers at the wage paid, he would lose money and go out of business and be replaced by someone who could provide what is needed.

An individual teacher in Thailand trying to change the level of wages in the country is as big a waste of time as Mark's attempts to change the culture of the country. If you want to make more money, change your qualifications and skill set. Successful people try to adjust themselves to meet the needs of the market/environment and do not try to change the market/environment to meet their own needs.

But Tracy is moving to include a new issue into the rant instead of focusing on Mark's lists of complaints and claiming Thailand is filled with little monsters and not normal children.

By Jack, Here (14th January 2018)

No, no, NO! They should expect rises to increase with results... and the results in Thailand are bad!

35,000 baht a month seems like a lot of money to give to someone who is having almost no impact on their students' ability to learn and improve on the subject he is teaching. Why would I want to pay that person more because his rent has gone up?

It's better to get rid of the greedy teacher and look for someone who will work for less and have the SAME negligible impact on his students.

By Mark Newman, A. MUANG (13th January 2018)

Jack,

"Ok, I am not going to argue against the idea that "good" teachers are good and "bad" teachers (even if they are bad because of not wearing socks) are bad"

Yea, no one is 'arguing' about that. The no socks thing was said in jest. There's nothing more horrifying than seeing a man in a shirt, tie and pants wearing no socks with his shoes in a so-called professional environment.

"(Does this surprise anyone or does anyone not understand the basic economic facts behind this situation?)"

You're absolutely right. Thailand has a smaller GDP than the countries where these native-English speakers come from. They can't expect big money, but they should expect the salaries to rise with inflation. Many salaries have been 35k for 15 years! There are no excuses for that. Well, other than sheer greed.

It's like my Thai friend in Korat who has an agency says, "We can't pay more because the rules are the rules". Like they're not so much his rules but a strict set of moral principles that he won't stray from and people should respect. And as I always say to him when he desperately asks for advice outside of paying more money, "foreign teachers are not obliged to come and work for you. But you are obliged to provide native-English speakers (white people) to the schools who employ you. It's advertised in your brochure AND theirs.

My friend in Korat has had it far too good for far too long. In the last maybe three years, his business has gone to the dogs. He can't find new teachers and the ones he has are basically children themselves. Looking to take selfies with the kids and post their fake benevolence online. And this is where Thailand TEFL is heading. That's why I teach Chinese people online. I can't help my friend because he's only thinking money. He won't take a satang less.

@Guy - for what it's worth, I'm completely against hitting anyone. Especially children. There's no need for it. It's just lazy plain and simple. I really don't understand why in any culture that hitting a kid can be acceptable. They're the most innocent, vulnerable and need-to-be-protected creatures on earth. Hell, I saw a man hitting his dog in the park here and I've never seen people looking so concerned. That was a dog! But, hey - that's just like my opinion, man.

Hey, Phil. I'm not any form of a writer, but I really do love commenting from time to time. Me and a few friends love to read the replies on here. It's just nice to hear from other teachers. Even the biggest dumb-ass teachers can have something to say that resonates with us teachers. I'm definitely better at replying and I'm definitely more visceral.



By Tracy, Nomadicway (12th January 2018)

Let us look at a hypothetical situation.

Let us say a school in the UK hired a native speaking German teacher to teach German. The teacher has no special training or qualifications in education, but was hired primarily because he is a native German speaker.

If we compare Germany with the UK, we see Germany has a higher per capita GDP and also is ranked higher using a variety of different “objective” measurements. Being from a more “advanced” country makes the German feel superior to the rest of the people in the UK. After being in the UK for around six months, just starting to understand British culture, history and institutions, this German teacher starts posting lists on the internet about how everything is wrong with the UK, its culture, its people and especially its educational system. And the German teacher also complains about the total lack of discipline of British students, and proposes he is going to lead the way to fix the UK, change its culture, and overhaul its educational system.

What are his chances for success?

How do you think this teacher would be received by British teachers, government administrators, and the general public?

Change Germany to the USA and the UK to Thailand you have exactly what Mark is doing.

By Jack, Around (11th January 2018)

Let's look back at the original idea (complaint) in the blog - 'discipline.' My take on the post is that discipline means how best to punish naughty students, and Thailand may (or may not) be lousy with them.

I propose that further comments be directed at re-defining discipline. My idea of discipline (for teaching teens) is that students control themselves, not the teacher strong-arming, threatening or beating students into submission.

By Guy, California (10th January 2018)

Tracy

Ok, I am not going to argue against the idea that "good" teachers are good and "bad" teachers (even if they are bad because of not wearing socks) are bad.

And yes, in general the pay for most teachers in Thailand (a developing country) is much less than the average pay for teachers in rich countries. (Does this surprise anyone or does anyone not understand the basic economic facts behind this situation?)

But these issues have nothing to do with Mark's lists and complaints about how terrible are Thai teachers, Thai students, Thai culture, and the Thai educational system.

By Jack, Here, not there (10th January 2018)

Tracy, seriously....I love your work and your writing style. You deserve a far bigger audience. Could I encourage you to send me an article or two?

By Phil, Samut Prakarn (10th January 2018)

Jack,

I welcome all replies, but could you not talk to me about the whole 'Thai bashing' thing. I really don't care. I've met plenty of Thai bashers, and I've met plenty those who wear rose-tinted glasses. I avoid both of them. Nowhere is that bad and nowhere is that perfect. Both parties have their issues and neither party is being sincere. As foreigners, we are all outsiders in Thailand. Embrace that freedom and stop caring about trivial crap. I have no time nor zero desire to change their minds. Why would I?

I work in Thailand as a teacher. I meet endless bad teachers. Teachers who do the bare minimum, teachers who are here to fornicate, teachers who think they're rock stars, teachers who don't wear socks. The list goes on. At a TEFL level, can we really expect much better? When paying 35-40k a month with zero benefits, can we really expect people who care? Looking at how many bad teachers there are, the answer is clearly no. You can appeal to people's better nature, but at the end of the day, this is real life.

The best teachers I meet are the ones who try. If you try, you learn. They make an effort. They put in a shift. They ask questions. They admit they don't know. When a good teacher comes to me and asks, "Why do they never tell me before that my lesson has been cancelled?" I just give a what-you-gonna-do smile. People the world over bitch and moan. It's human nature. I really don't care. I just crack on. What I do care about is working with good people. It annoys me working with the lazy and feckless. It disheartens me. When I meet a tryer, I like it. It has a positive impact on me.

You gotta harness in the good energy and block out the bad. Harness, energy, block, bad. Go with the flow.


By Tracy, Nomadicway (10th January 2018)

Tracy

I am not sure how one can determine Mark has “good” intentions when his intentions are not clear, probably not even to himself.

He has admitted he does not expect anyone in authority to take his broad and unsubstantiated criticisms of the entire country and its culture seriously, and I assume he is intelligent enough to realize he is not in a position to “fix” anything beyond maybe what happens in his own classes.

So why does he post his rants about how terrible everyone and everything is in Thailand?

I suspect it is more or less the same reason everyday thousands of grumpy expats sitting on bar stools across the country seek out people willing to listen to their complaints about the country and its culture and their simplistic solutions.

I suspect Mark’s intention on embarking on this crusade has very little to do with improving education in the country, but is primarily intended to seek out confirmation and support for his negative stereotypes of the country and its people.

You might consider this goal as “good” but that is a very subjective appraisal.

Yes, there are well recognized problems in the Thai educational system, and as a professional educator it is good to be aware of the situation (For examples check the links).

https://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/1393354/shifting-the-thai-education-paradigm
https://www.bangkokpost.com/news/general/1391518/ex-education-chief-urges-reform

And the educational situation in the country can be a factor in deciding whether to teach in Thailand or not, but once one has decided to teach in Thailand, one will be better advised to adjust to the situation rather than attempting to change the entire country or educational system.

I have seen hundreds if not thousands like Mark come and go, will he be the first inexperienced and non-trained ESL teacher in the history of the world to “fix” an entire country and its culture?

I wouldn’t bet on it.

By Jack, Here (10th January 2018)

Thanks, Mark. Charming as ever. Love reading your angry tweets on Twitter. If you don't get wiser, you only get angrier.

Trial and error - to try something new and learn from experience. I've tried things in class that have fallen flat on their face. I've learnt that it didn't work so adapted it or scrapped it completely. I'm not a professional educator. I have a TEFL cert and a degree in English lit. I teach at a TEFL level. I teach English as a second language. My salary and benefits reflect that. I was thrown in at the deep end with no help nor support. Amazing what you can achieve when you're forced to.

I agree, you shouldn't get a trophy for 'participating'. (how very neocon) I never said that. My point was that you should get a nod for trying. You do know how many bad teachers there are here? When schools are paying 35k a month with no benefits, you don't get to kick out all the bad teachers and say ,"we only want good teachers!". The world doesn't work like that. You get your pool of teachers, you look for the ones who make an effort and try, and you try to retain them for another year. Beggars can't be choosers.

Bad educators can destroy students for life? A water is wet, right? This is teaching gold. I'm rather fond of the old saying, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks".

By Tracy, Nomadicway (10th January 2018)

Tracy said THIS about being a teacher...

"Even if you make no difference at all, it's all about your intentions in life."

I sometimes despair!

I'm sorry, my dear. Teachers should not get 'participation trophies' because they took part or 'meant well'.

It's clear that you aren't an educator. If you were, you would know that bad teachers can destroy students for life. Please re-think your naive, dreamy-eyed (and frankly stupid) response.

By Mark Newman, A. MUANG (9th January 2018)

Good luck, Mark. Even if you make no difference at all, it's all about your intentions in life.

Unlike our resident social justice warrior on here, your ideas are sincere.

By Tracy, Nomadicway (9th January 2018)

If the intention is to improve education in the country, instead of making lists of Mark’s perceptions of all of the shortcomings of Thai culture and the country’s educational system and proposing how to fix the country, which Mark admits no one in power will take serious, it would be a better use of Mark’s time to identify issues foreign teachers have when teaching in Thailand and try to find suggestions to help foreign teachers adjust to this very different cultural and economic environment.

On the other hand, if the intention is for Mark to express his belief in his cultural superiority over the locals and get a few pats on the back from like-minded individuals he is right on track.

If his intention is to set himself up as an expert on the educational system in Thailand, his lists of ethnocentric criticisms and complaints fall short of hitting the target.

By Jack, In a Chair (9th January 2018)

"If a teacher (qualified or not) doesn't teach in Thailand day in and day out, I have zero interest in what they have to say about 'teaching in Thailand!"

Same here... and unless you've been here a few years, your input means jack shit.

"If a child is naughty, put your arm around them kindly and tell them that their behavior is not acceptable".

This idiot is gonna get herself in trouble. Putting your arms around students (even if you are a woman) is bloody stupid. These things can so often be misunderstood and the situation can be embellished in the re-telling. There's no defense for that.

I've had a good look through Mark's well-intentioned worksheets and it's pretty clear he's still finding his feet when it comes to what works and what doesn't.

If he sticks it out, it'll eventually fall into place. Somehow I don't think he's gonna stick around that long.

By Mark Newman, A. MUANG (8th January 2018)

I've always had a good rapport with my students. I'm stern but fair. Kids will push you to see what they can get away with. If you have the majority of the class on your side, they will mostly turn their backs on the unruly kids. It's about showing the kids who want attention that they can get it by being good. They don't have to act out. That won't work.

I had a 'qualified' teacher from South Africa tell me, "If a child is naughty, put your arm around them kindly and tell them that their behaviour is not acceptable". It's safe to say she's clueless about the reality of teaching in Thailand day in and day out, so she just talks out of her twot all day.

If a teacher (qualified of not) doesn't teach in Thailand day in and day out, I have zero interest in what they have to say about 'teaching in Thailand'. Teachers teach.

By Craig, Bangkok (8th January 2018)

To make the leap from a non-trained teacher having problems in managing the discipline in his classroom in a single Thai school to assuming all Thai students are little monsters requires a lot of faith.

Mark does seem to generalize and assume every negative stereotype he has heard is completely true and applies to every person in Thailand, whether teacher, student, government official or member of the general public. Mark seems to have rejected any attempt at objective analysis in his crusade to change Thailand and all Thai schools and instead prefers the use of subjective cultural stereotypes.

I haven’t noticed Thai students to be more of a problem than are students in the multiple other countries I have lived and worked in, but then I have not been looking to reinforce pre-existing negative stereotypes.

By Jack, Near the beach (7th January 2018)

If you are teaching in good schools MX/1-7 will be perfectly fine with 1-3 gold. 8-10 can try ones patience. After that you have classes that a decent teacher should never step foot in to do anything more than cover. Good teachers teach at good schools, Intensive, EP and gifted programs - with other L1 English natives. After that, if you can't manage lovely, polite Thai kids - that's on you.

A school once gave me /11 and /13. It was a real learning experience, unfortunately only mine. I learned how to manage big classes, throw my voice across the room without a microphone and most importantly never to teach higher than /5 and only work in the best programs within the best schools.

Only lazy, crap teachers teach at crap schools.

Kids love discipline.

By Jim Beam, The Big Smoke (6th January 2018)

I read your previous post on the 13+ problems with the Thai education system and it made me literally laugh out loud because I agreed with more than half of them and even showed the post to teacher friends of mine.

However this post...I do not agree with. I teach at a public school where my students are actually less unruly in general than my former international school. While your stereotypes of the problems in Thai education are mostly spot on I disagree with your ideas of methods of dealing with unruly classrooms. To breakdown why I disagree

A. As several have already mentioned I only have these kind of issues with 1/12 classes at my government run school. You make it seem like 90% of your students are rascals. If that is indeed true move schools.

B. At my first international school the threat wasn't "you keep talking and i'll have you spanked,". It was "you keep acting like that and ill send you to the vice directors office who won't hit you; but will call your parents to come to the school in person and they'll lose face and probably punish you severely" which to a 14 year old is probably worse.

This was for major infractions/to make an example and it worked. I probably used this method 1-2 times in problem classes the first month of an entire year and no major issues happened after that. Minor offenses (and when I say minor I don't mean talking during class or using cell phones, I had no trouble grabbing a cell phone or just moving students to a desk right in front of me. I mean throwing things and so on) I'd have them stand in the back of the room for the period or take their books so they had more homework or delay their lunch for 15 minutes. Something significant to them but certainly not having them smacked. 6 weeks into the year this also worked, nothing worse than the occasional phone which I'd take.

C. I've also worked at public/government run schools and contrary to what another poster said it may be illegal but students DO get caned at public schools. This may be illegal in Thailand but so is prostitution. I've never had a student sent to be smacked even though I could because I think it's wrong. However corporal punishment isn't necessary. Taking their phone and telling them they have to go to their homeroom teacher and write an apology letter in perfect english goes a long way. Again, within a month and a couple students a class no one causes problems anymore.

D. If this sounds harsh (though not nearly as harsh as the blog's OP) after the first day (with good classes) and first month (with trouble classes) I'm now extremely lenient and friendly. I can afford to be even with the most difficult classes they rarely cause any problems anymore and they know if they do I will punish them and they're very happy "Teacher Larry is so nice" now.

By Larry, Bangkok (6th January 2018)

I don't believe the students in those schools are actually as bad as the OP suggests. It's probably just his classes and a lot of empty words to support his views that students in Thailand are horrible.

I once taught at a school where a new teacher who had never taught before got into a fight and ended up with a black eye from the boys in a class that no other teacher had ever had problems with. Were those students the worst ever or was that a result of the teacher who had no clue what he was doing? There was a thread on the old forum here where university students destroyed a classroom by pulling down all the blinds, etc. after that foreign teacher's class. I don't think anyone has ever heard of that happening anywhere. Horrible students or a result of the way that teacher behaved in class?

What is actually more likely - the OP is teaching the worst students in the world in every class he goes into in the worst schools ever, or he decided to go into teaching with absolutely no teaching experience or classroom management skills in a country that seems to attract foreigners who have major issues and lack communication skills who blame everyone around them for their problems in life?

By John, Bangkok (5th January 2018)

Kounin is not the best idea for esl teachers in thai schools where individual levels are all over the place and thai teachers using long rulers(big sticks) to manage behaviour it then makes the esl teacher who goes in for 1-2 hours a week look the weak link in the kids minds and who knows what poison words are being said to undermine foreign teachers to students

what i agree with Kounin being used in thai classrooms is observation and negative/positive re-inforcements and looking at more applied behaviour analysis.

Overall if the standard of school is pretty bad then alot of these methods will go to waste as half the kids will be getting high in the toilets and the others will have very little understanding of instructions and language due to naff teaching over several years

By Sash, Bangkok (4th January 2018)

Mark, read up on Kounin's theory of classroom management. I'm not saying everything is your fault, but Kounin suggests most classroom misbehavior is a result of the teacher, rather than the students, and my own experience as well as observing other teachers over the years has shown me he's right. He makes a number of good points, and it sounds like you're missing key parts such as classroom "with-it-ness" as he calls it (which I believe some teachers don't have instinctively and are even unable to learn).

You do better in primary because you don't have the skills to manage high school classes. Of course the students need to take some responsibility, but improving your skills will help you in any class you teach. Read into the theory deeply by getting a few good books on the subject, rather than just skimming the surface with internet articles.

By John, Bangkok (4th January 2018)

You clearly have no classroom management tools. If your only thought is to resort to corporal punishment, then you need to observe some teachers who do understand classroom management in Thailand and follow their example. One of the joys of my 13 years of teaching experiences in Thailand is that I did NOT have to draw on my American teaching persona to control students. You seem to be lacking an understanding of Thai culture as well as young culture if you are even thinking of hitting kids.

By Guy, California (4th January 2018)

Mark, you have been (and still are) working at TERRIBLE schools.

"We know the rules are different here in Thailand. Thai teachers can and do use physical punishment on disruptive or misbehaving students."

Actually, corporal punishment is illegal... but because the schools you have worked at are so shitty, you aren't aware of this and have used your experiences to make incorrect assumptions and to generalize about the whole country.

Before you write another word about 'fixing' Thailand, please consider broadening your experiences to include schools that work, try to work or at least comply with the law!

I was wondering where your bizarre opinions came from and, at first, I was blaming your eccentric personality and work background. Now that you have given us some insight into the schools that you have been working at, I now know that the fault lies with your limited and entirely negative experience of Thai schools and your extreme conclusions about Thailand education that is based on them.

What you have been through is NOT typical and I would implore you to find a better school that is worthy of your obvious enthusiasm and dedication to your students and work.

It's worth remembering that there's next to no reward for paying attention and being a good student in Thailand. Blaming kids for their behavior is misguided and will eat you up.

There's a big problem in Thailand with the mixed ability of students in any given classroom. In the last few years, parents have objected to the previous practice of 'streaming' kids... which I thoroughly approved of.

This has meant that teachers have had to come up with inventive ways to control classes where some of the kids are bored because they're ahead of the lesson and some are disruptive because they don't feel included.

Maybe analyzing and offering solutions to this would be a better focus for your energy.

By Mark Newman, A. MUANG (4th January 2018)

I learnt a long time ago that upping the volume is no way to win, so I went the opposite way. I now go silent and give a countdown from five on a raised hand. Anyone still talking at zero has to do star jumps or sit-ups. At first they thought this was fun. But that only lasted a week. They don't want to do them any more. For more serious discipline issues, write names up on the board under a front face. They don't know what sanctions will await them if their names are still there at the end of class, but it could be extra homework, referral to head or phone call to parents. For behaviour that needs to stop immediately, stop the lesson, calmly ask them outside the class for a private dressing down out of earshot and sight of their friends. Insist upon an apology.

By Russ, Chiang Mai (4th January 2018)

I had a suggestion last term from a Thai teacher. He has a student teacher contract that each class agrees to in the beginning of the term. The contract lays out agreed upon behavior in the class. No unnecessary talking, fighting... etc. No phone use unless the teacher allows for a project/assignment. Dignified behavior, cleanliness,,, etc.... Respect for fellow classmates, encouragement, and respect for the teacher. Included are sliding scales of disciplinary actions (isolation, sitting in hall, and going to administration office - as needed). Each student signs and agrees to the contract. It does not address students sleeping .doodling or other " non-participation activities (going to the toilet each class- for a long time). This seems to keep his class in check and the students mostly behave. Its not a perfect solution... but its a start. Perhaps a grassroots idea that might catch fire elsewhere?

By Khun Brad, Bangkok (4th January 2018)

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