Mark Newman

The natural order of things

Not all students are created equal or should be treated as equal

This is my take on Stephen Louw's article on ajarn dot com about teacher expectations and low-performing students

Treating kids solely on your ‘given expectations' of them doing well or poorly is a result of poor training or simply being a lazy teacher... Using your own original, intelligent and instinctive grading system can be a purposeful choice that enables you to free up your time and efforts for the best kids and lets the rest just coast through to their guaranteed passing grades.

Sure, it's a natural character trait to follow through with 'given expectations' but how can a properly trained teacher deal with them and where does he or she even get the 'given expectations' from?

If everyone tells you that Game of Thrones is an awesome TV program, you're likely to think it is when you watch it. (I personally think it's bloody awful.)

Disregarding opinions

Similarly, if all the teachers in the staffroom are telling you that little Tommy Parker is a thicko, if you are an unprofessional and unthinking teacher, when you meet him for the first time, you are going to assume he is just that. That opinion is going to be hard to shake off.

Consequently, it'll reflect in how you treat him (and how he reacts) before you even get to know him or start to teach him anything.

But for many of us treading, nay, trudging the boards of the theatre that is Thai 'edutainment', we only see the kids once or maybe twice a week. Not only that, none of us are given advanced warnings about the individual abilities contained in the classes we teach.

Our opinions and assessments are almost always determined only by the behaviour and actions of the students. Over time we generally get a pretty good idea of the realistic expectations we should have for each of them.

'Clean slate'

As for day to day classroom management, it's easy to avoid treating kids with generalized individual expectations if we start every class off with a clean slate. That's what I (try to) do. Each kid is as good and as capable as the last class he or she was 'performing' in.

Of course, there will be anomalies to that. There will be the sharp kids who have a bad day and the troublemakers who are too tired to play the clown. But by and large, Thai kids are very predictable and the teacher should have confidence in his own assessments and not rely on the 'tittle tattle' of other teachers or indeed any outside influences when they make judgments about their pupils.

Steve finishes his article with a gentle reminder of how he (and we) should behave and what he can do to make himself a better teacher. In particular, he stresses that it's wrong to treat kids differently and that all the kids deserve your best effort.

Well, I'm afraid I disagree.

Focusing on the top performers

In the best interests of the students who are capable, interested and who want to learn, some kids have to be left behind. That's why our school has streams. The prathom levels all have a 'King's Class' which has the best students in that year. I focus my best efforts and most imaginative lesson plans for this class. It is these kids who are most likely to find value in learning English now and later in life.

For the other kids, it may be the same lesson but in a simpler and more leisurely format. It may be something completely different from what the King's Class students are learning. But whatever it is, it won't be as challenging or as demanding as the lessons reserved for the King's class.

I'm sure that all children of prathom age should be schooled in English. Not just because English might benefit them later in life, but because it is a good general exercise in brain activity (if done right) but also... well, it weeds out the kids who will (and won't) most likely benefit later in life!

'Wasted time'

I further believe that only about 30% of students at the mathayom level should even be learning English. Too much time is wasted and too much money is squandered on students who will quite obviously never benefit from English classes.

If only the top 30% of mathayom students were given the ‘gift' of further English education, the money saved and time freed up could go to (yeah, right!) paying for fewer but better-qualified teachers and better resourced English departments. (Wake up, man. You're dreaming and writing at the same time!)

But you can't heap all the blame of 'generalizing behaviour' on teachers. There is no real or effective effort by government, school administrations or heads of departments to make any significant changes to the status quo. Foreign teachers will continue to come and go and leave no real lasting impact and Thailand will continually wonder why it fails so miserably on all the global league tables on English and academic accomplishment.


"The likelihood is that English may be so prevalent in the world that Britain obtains no special benefit in possessing native speakers: economic advantage may shift more clearly towards bilingual countries." - British Council report on the future of English. Personally I think that the English language will reach critical mass and all of the Thai people will be familiar with it in the future. Teaching everyone will help this happen. I believe that the standard of English among Thai teachers is improving and at some point in the future NES teachers will no longer be required. Maybe some people think that the Thai teachers use ineffective methodologies, but the Thai government is unlikely to see things in this way. The prevalence of English on the internet is also likely to improve the standard of English among Thai people further as well.

By John, Bangkok (22nd July 2016)

Predictive models attempting to determine future professional success based on academic performance at a younger age (even at the university level) are notoriously inaccurate.

To claim as an English Teacher one knows which students will benefit from education in a specific subject and which ones will not, while the most sophisticated models created by experts can not make accurate predicitons, requires a huge leap of faith.

That is a leap I could not make, and this claim could be perceived to come across as both arrogant and ignorant.

Without the inclusion of any empirical or theoretical support for these opinions which seem to be in conflict with what research in education tells us, it would appear these ideas are extremely subjective and unreliable, therefore one should think two or three times about before using these unsupported opinions as a foundation for developing an approach to teaching, in Thailand or elsewhere.

By Jack, In front of my computer (21st July 2016)

As usual, Mr. Pompous Misanthrope needs to pontificate on how it should be done, and why those of us teaching here are all incompetent boobs who need to ship out. Really shocking read. If u think English is a 'gift' for the select few then u are the one who should leave. Perhaps to another planet where us ordinary humans wont annoy you so much.

By Charles, Saraburi (21st July 2016)

If only 30% of mattayom students continued with English study, the money saved would go directly into some administrator's pocket.

By Guy, Bkk (20th July 2016)

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