There have been a flurry of stories of teachers physically striking students in Thailand as a form of punishment over the last six months or so.
I’ve seen stories where parents had publicly shamed the teacher involved and others where the story had been brushed under the carpet after a couple of days.
The outcry from most was that these teachers were dinosaurs, stuck in the dark ages when it came to classroom management. However, it seems that some parents have supported teachers using these methods and said that outraged parents should send their children to different schools if they didn’t approve of physical punishment.
The topic of school discipline came up in one of my classes a couple of weeks ago and it was pretty illuminating to me what happens in some schools here. I talked about it with some Thai friends over the weekend and they had pretty mixed views over discipline and in their experiences here.
Looking back on our schooldays we all have different memories. For many Thai people I speak to, there are a few topics which always come up. Judging by my discussion with current students, these practices are happening today in some Thai high schools.
What shocked me was that my current high school-aged students said that the cane is still used in a lot of their high schools. Pretty much all of my class said they had been hit at some point. Some said they suffered a lot of pain and others said it wasn’t too bad. Regardless of the force used, it seems barbaric that this is still done.
Most of my current students, and Thai friends, hated teachers for doing this. Of course not every teacher hit their students my friends said, but those who did seemed to have little remorse for doing so. Whilst some teachers use a cane, others use rulers or other objects to strike students with.
Sent To military-style camp
One of the most shocking punishments given out is that some students are sent to a military-like camp for four days if their behavior isn’t up to standard. The students also have to pay for the camp themselves.
I only found this out from my current students but it is seen as a way to force students to behave a certain way, conform to dress codes, finish homework and complete extra tasks for their teachers. Imagine being threatened with going to a four-day camp if you wore the wrong socks or your hair was slightly too long, it sounds incredibly harsh to me.
It turns out this is based on a points system where you need to maintain your points by sticking to the rules. I understand the rules but the punishment certainly doesn’t seem to match the crime in this case…
Forced hair cuts
I worked at a Thai high school for a few months and have first-hand experience of students being forced to get hair cuts at school.
Whilst I was teaching a class, an older Thai teacher walked in and interrupted by calling out four boys. I stood in shock wondering what was going on, whilst thinking the teacher was pretty rude to interrupt my class, and saw most of the class laughing. When I walked to the door to see what was happening, I saw the teacher taking a pair of clippers to each of the boys and giving them a buzz cut. When they walked back in they didn’t seem too unhappy and the class all laughed.
I didn’t think much of the incident as it seemed like a usual event for the class. I was only there around three months so it wasn’t until I started my next job at a language school where I heard the negative of school hair cuts.
A lot of students, mostly women, talked about harrowing experiences of getting their hair cut by teachers. I can imagine it would effect female students more and, whilst some laughed looking back at the mandatory school hair styles, some had stories of awful things done to them.
Most said that teachers just took out scissors and cut, obviously not worried about keeping the style or for the feelings of the students. Pretty much all of the students said they had to go to a salon after school to attempt to fix the mess the untrained teacher hair-stylist had caused. This happened to my girlfriend once and she still hates the teacher who cut her hair to this day.
I think that most students, begrudgingly, accept their school hair style policy but not the way it’s enforced.
Run around The pitch
If you’re late to school in the morning then you run around the football pitch several times in the baking sun. This is a practice that seems to be old as time in schools here. Most of my friends said they skipped school if they were late or arrived at lunch just to avoid this punishment. I don’t blame them.
I wrote a while back about gate duty and how much it sucked to do. However, some of my friends said that certain teachers volunteer to do it just to pick on students.
Certainly my experience was that Thai teachers were extremely harsh on the arriving students. Some teachers would either make students do jumping jacks or other physical tasks if their socks weren’t pulled up or they were missing something. Indeed, my Thai school had a small room next to the gate where I later learned students were taken to to get their hair cut if the gate monitor wasn’t happy.
Many of my friends would either arrive super early to avoid the gate monitors or would make a bee-line to the foreign teachers who didn’t pull them up for small infringements.
What Drives A Teacher To Use Physical Discipline Against A Student?
As a teacher, there are certainly times when we get frustrated, maybe even annoyed with a class but having the internal desire to scream your head off is a world away from hitting a child. This topic was the main part of my discussion with friends over the weekend, why did a teacher resort to these methods?
My first thought was that there was pressure on younger teachers to continue these practices from older colleagues. I thought that maybe younger teachers didn’t really want to do this and that perhaps using violence to control a class would die out. I was shouted down by my friends who said that, in their experience, age and school standing didn’t play a part in the willingness of a teacher to use these methods.
A lot of teachers here must be under a huge amount of stress I pointed out. Just this last week a report came out saying that the average school teacher is 3 million baht in debt.
I also know that teaching classes of 50+ students isn’t easy and the workload must be huge. There is also the pressure to keep up appearances as a teacher and not to show weakness. Whilst these aren’t reasons to use violence, it certainly shows stress I argued to my friends. They agreed that teachers must be stressed but that a lot of teachers seemed to enjoy giving out harsh punishments and it wasn’t always when they seemed stressed out by a naughty class.
I also felt that it might be because of a lack of training or ability to control the class. My friends seemed to think this was partially correct in that hitting students and giving harsh punishments did help control a class. However, my friends also have lots of teachers they still love as they didn’t use such punishments, they said it showed that teachers do have the ability to control classes without violence if they wish.
My final suggestion was that teachers did these things as they thought they could get away with them. Without social media, cameras etc these issues weren’t shared as frequently in the past. Nowadays it’s easier to share a story online and get attention to issues.
My friends somewhat agreed but also said that it was still widely known that these things were going on before the internet, it happened to their parents too who shared their stories. Perhaps now attitudes are changing both in students and their parents.
I didn’t get to a final reason why this type of punishment happens with my Thai friends. Most agreed that some teachers here give out violent, or harsh, punishments because they enjoy doing it and it’s seen as the right thing to do. Hopefully the continuing publishing of issues will encourage these practices to change in the near future.
Another important point I got from speaking to my friends was the love they have for some of their Thai teachers. Many of my friends still go back to their old high schools and meet their old teachers. This certainly shows that not all teachers use physical punishments against students.
Hopefully these teachers can help others see the error of their ways.
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