Last week I was reading an ajarn blogger giving advice on how to discipline students in Thai schools, so I thought I'd tell you about a few of my memories of disciplining students from my (so far) 20-year teaching career.
Back in 2006, I'd chosen to work as a cover teacher for a semester, that's a teacher who's on call to fill in for other teachers who are sick, lame, or have something personal to attend to. The irony is that I wanted to acquire some of the benefits of working in some different schools because I'd only worked in five at this point, whereas today I've served my time in no less than 54!
Although I was only on call on Mondays and Fridays, on alternative Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would teach at a government school, while on Wednesdays I'd take a journey just outside Bangkok to teach at a military school. Though as this was Thailand, it wasn't a military school as they are in other countries. No, it was just like any other school except the students were all sons or daughters of either soldiers, police persons, or 'nurses.' Why nurses? I have no idea!
Curiously, a good few of these students though not especially tall had huge over-developed torsos. On the first lesson of the first day, they were all set to try me out, as after I'd finished giving my teaching instructions via the whiteboard I'd asked them to get their notebooks out. Nobody moved, all eyes were on me, so a little louder this time, 'Get your notebooks out!' Once more nobody flinched and every student was staring directly at me when the biggest kid with a 'Flintstone' physique sitting strategically central at the back, said "No!" with complete and utter defiance.
Having by this time already taught thousands of Thais, I knew they had a built-in respect for teachers although not as much for foreigners as Thais. I walked straight over to him whilst smiling all the way. Now standing there directly in front of him, I beckoned him to stand up, while saying 'Okay, you and me!'. He seemed to consider this, then held up his left hand and next shook his head. (Obviously, I didn't want to get into a brawl with this kid apart from anything else, he was only 15 years old still I wasn't going to have this class make my life hell every Wednesday for a whole semester).
I stepped briskly back to the front of the class, turned back around facing them, and said once more whilst smiling at each and everyone "Get yer notebooks out.'' Which they each did and began to write down everything I had written on the board.
Walking between their desks, proctoring, checking, and praising; 'Nice writing!' 'Good boy!' along with 'Great job!' I couldn't help but remember some of what 'chirpy chappy Darren' the previous cover teacher had told me about this school. He'd said they were the biggest kids he'd ever seen and that they were the sons of Thai soldiers and police officers so they thought they could behave however they liked with a foreign teacher. He'd gone on to say that he'd given some of them a clout across the back of the skull because it was the only way to discipline them.
At the time I was taken aback, 'slapped them across the skull' I thought, surely that's complete BS. Still now it all sounded tangible, and sure enough, even though I'm neither proud nor ashamed of my actions before the semester ended I'd clouted a few skulls of my own.
Barry the caner
Another teacher called Barry, who was employed at the same school, also had issues with his students' behavior.
Full-time Prathom teacher Barry was even taller than me (I'm 6 ft 2 1/4), with longish auburn hair and relatively young at twenty-nine. He was a Londoner and although he'd been here for only a few years; appeared to be fairly fluent in Thai.
Barry possessed a wooden cane and at the beginning of each lesson, whether they were a boy or a girl - he'd give this cane to the largest student in the class he was teaching. Next, he'd explain to him or her (in Thai) that if any of his or her classmates were naughty, talked, or didn't get on with their work, as Barry had instructed, then this child that he'd selected had to hit their classmate with the cane, and best of all, if they didn't beat them good and hard, Barry would be coming after them!
Barry also had a female Thai coordinator from our agency come to assist him from time to time. What I mean is if coordinator Suk was at hand, then the wooden cane would be in her not unattractive hand, although she'd generally the persona of a wet public holiday weekend.
The worst school in Bangkok
Turn the clock forward 7 years and I had an unbelievable start to a new semester. First I thought I had secured a position at the school which held the number one English program at the time - only for my agent to cancel the contract with the school after just one day! Secondly, having originally been offered 11 individual teaching positions from 10 different sources, I was now back job hunting.
Still, I'd soon gotten a 12-month contract, or as I was informed, which turned into a 10-month contract when I went to sign it, then after a long and 'serious' talk with the agent became an 11-month contract. Whereupon, I offered to teach at the school for two weeks, whilst considering staying, if not, I'd give 2 weeks' notice and leave, which I did.
That June I worked at my third school that semester - which I still believe today was possibly the worst school in Bangkok. It was located next to a shanty town where most of the school's students had the misfortune to live. While boasting only three foreign teachers, it consisted of 1,200 odd learners, whereas I was employed to teach Matthayom 1 and 4.
To cut a long story short, teaching there was like few teachers could even begin to imagine, and the best way to describe it is by saying that, I honestly didn't feel safe within my own skin while I was in a classroom there.
To illustrate, the Matthayom 6 teacher having almost completed his third year was clocked over the head with a broken desktop and ended up with a sever injury. However, when the year ended a few weeks later he was still concerned if he'd be asked back the following year because the student who attacked him had mental health problems, which the teacher was aware of so the school half felt that the teacher was to blame.
Well, again not too far from the end of the second semester, that is I'd endured a month short of a school year that no teacher should ever have to. And there I was with an M1 class and for once I'd managed to gain their focus, if only for a few minutes. (This was in complete contrast to the usual noise level of a jet engine, and students running, jumping, and charging, around the classroom often kicking and punching each other for the entirety of each lesson). It was practically a miracle, until six boys came in the usual 10-15 minutes late, but not to the usual affray. One of these boys must have felt affronted by his classmates' good behavior and decided to grab a notebook, pen, and eraser from another student's desk, and hurl them at the ceiling.
I lost it, I lunged at this boy and pulled him by the back of his neck with one of my hands a couple of hundred yards through the school's corridors to where I hoped to find the Thai head of the English program. By the time I got there, I was almost in tears, I knew I'd gone too far, apart from anything else I'd left my class unattended - whilst I still needed to complete the contract as I'd a family.
When I saw her (the amicable Thai English program manager) just coming out of her office, and at the same time, she perceived us. Still feeling emotional I could hardly speak, though I didn't have to as she read the situation and bellowed something at the boy in Thai. Wherein, he came right back and yelled something at her, he shouldn't have! Because she brought up her quite considerable hand and whacked him so hard across the left side of his face that he only managed to stop himself from being knocked down by the support of a wall.
Not altogether sure what happened next, but a few minutes later and we're returned to the classroom and she's giving them a long lecture along the lines of you have to respect Khun Richard and they're unrecognizable as a class sitting agog in total silence.
Later, again I can't exactly recall when the program manager waltzed into the shared teachers' office and called me out. I'd just followed her back to her office when we entered there was the boy and he was looking concerned - I began to feel sorry for him. The next thing I knew, she was bending a cane between her strong hands, and saying something nonsensical like, 'Yes!' . . . 'I have spoken to the director' . . . 'and he agrees.' . . . 'Yes!'. . . 'You are going to.' I soon got the picture, 'Oh, no!' I said, in a single weak objection, as I knew there was no way I could refuse her order under these circumstances. 'Yes!' 'You are going to!'
So while remembering my old school days in an English boys' secondary modern in the '70s, where I was often slippered, sometimes caned, occasionally used as target practice with board rubbers, kicked in the shins by my teachers - in the days of platform soles, and once famously winded by a T-shaped ruler.
Taking the cane in my hand, two more things came to mind, the first was I certainly didn't want to do him an injury likewise I wanted him to know about it, as I didn't want him to think of me as an absolute tosser. Moments later, fortunately, I could see from his facial expression that I had in fact gotten it just right - if there is such a thing.
In brief, in case you're thinking that this is the general way of disciplining here in Thailand, on the contrary, these were a few obscure events that occurred over a period of twenty years. That's to say I can't even remember the last time I disciplined a student, though I do know that it was a long time ago.