Readers' Submissions

KidStuff

  • Written by MUD
  • June 2nd, 2006
  • 20 min read


I've written here a little bit about teaching at the different grade levels. I've found some methods that seem to work well and allow me to keep my sanity. It's quite a trick to remain calm sometimes when it's last period and the kids are wound up from some event that occurred prior.

I'm guessing there are a fair share of teachers that read these submissions. I have read the article about teaching both on Stick's site and the major online employment site for teachers here in Thailand.

I've taught for a year and a half here and I'm just starting work at my 3rd school. First school – Government school – I taught Prathom 3. Second school – Private "Christian?" university – Assumption College where I taught Prathom 2, 3, 5, 6 and Mathyom 3 and 4. Third school is a large and they say "well-respected" government school comprised of Mathyom levels 1-4. This is equivalent to the 7 th through the 10th grade but in truth you'll find kids 17 and 18 yrs old in the M4 level often times. I'm teaching M3 math at this school.

I was never a teacher in the U.S., but I did coach soccer and I did work with kids that were quite a handful in the mental health system. Kids and teens with severe depression, manic-depression, borderline personality disorder, paranoia, delusions, and the whole realm. I have a good feel for what it will take to make a particular kid behave or do what I want. I think I also have a healthy "fuck it" attitude when I've either exhausted my mental resources or I've decided that I can't quite understand WHY it's so important for the kids to learn during that one hour they seem to be freak alien spawn.

The "fuck it" attitude is important. As an American I think we have less of it than perhaps some other cultures. In school we were made to be good. It was not a democracy in the classroom. We didn't just get rowdy as an entire class if we all felt like it . And I find it hard to believe that we EVER got as loud as a classroom of Thai kids when they get going. Picture 45 kids mainlining liquid crack via Intravenous during the class right before yours.

Yes, it's that bad at times. So, for us Americans I think it's hard to just give up some days and say F-it. All teachers need to see the BIG picture. The big picture is that if the kids are fruit-loops that day and you're at your wits end… just let it go. Well, either let it go or make them put their heads on the desk and not make a sound if you really can't stand the noise at all anymore. If they stay like that the entire period – better for you and better for them. You just earned some respect for having made them all do something and for it being something stupid. While they are quiet tell them something like how disappointed you are and that their parents will be hurt when you start calling EVERY ONE OF THEM.

An example of "F-it" attitude. One time last year during second term I walked into the Prathom 6 math classroom and they were all watching the video playback of their parent's night performance… I was already feeling like we hadn't done SQUAT that entire semester and yet the kids probably wouldn't see it any other place so I let them watch it. It lasted all period of course, but the kids were so wound up after watching the first few minutes of it that I wouldn't have been able to get anything through their skulls. I think the class that day was to have been finding the area of circles, triangles and other stuff. It would have been wasted effort so I said "F-it" and I watched the TV too.

We'd regularly have teachers come into the staffroom just blowing up and incredulous that they hadn't taught ¼ of what they were scheduled for that 2 nd term. The amount of extra-curricular stuff that goes on is bewildering to foreigners. The 2nd term is a complete blowoff term people. In America we have one show a year. There were 3 shows in the second term alone at Assumption. I wouldn't be lying if I told you that overall among all my classes I got 1/3 done what I thought I was going to get done. Some of my classes I had only on Mondays and Fridays. Those classes got less than 1/6th of what they were scheduled for!

F-it. It's the Thai system. The Thai teachers understand what happens during this term. It happens EVERY 2 nd semester. WE as foreign teachers need to understand it too. We won't change the Thai education system as much as we think we can or should. I think personally that we shouldn't. Who are we to put our beliefs about the education process before theirs? We're in THEIR country. We need to assimilate into their culture… they don't need to change to ours.

The Thai teachers can command a level of respect that most of us foreign teachers will never get from the kids. Something about being able to remind them of their upbringing and respecting teachers and being "polite" (soo-pahp). Many Thai "co-teachers" can be of immeasurable help in the classroom. They may not always be able to follow your lesson about Factoring Polynomials but they can get the kids to shut up pretty quickly. Don't turn down the offer if you have the chance to get their assistance for some or all of your classes!

I realized after teaching Prathom 3 at the first government school and watching some of the older kids in the Prathom 5 and 6 classes that I needed to have a plan. The kids are quite different from American kids at the young age. No, American kids are not angels. In fact… I would say that after 6th grade everything goes to hell. I'd never in my life teach 7 th grade or older kids in the states.

I learned that the most important tool we have for keeping control of the classroom is the Thai "co-teacher" as mentioned before. As far as I can figure out the 2 nd most important tool we have is US. We need to present as a consistent person that has clear rules that don't change. A personality that doesn't change. The third most important tool is using this thing that Thai people cherish…the concept of "face". The worst thing to a Thai person is "losing face". It's a complicated idea at times, but Thai people kill for it, kill themselves over it, and hire people to kill others over it.

Kids are well aware of the importance of preserving face for themselves and their families. You can see it in the classroom when classmates will cover for their friends no matter WHAT the issue. They will ALL blatantly lie to cover for someone. Often too they will say, "I don't know." When, they do know, they are just preserving face by saying that they don't.

Foreign teachers need to learn to understand the concept of face and apply disciplinary measures designed to directly affect "face". Now, young Thai kids won't kill you over it. I would NOT recommend doing anything too harsh if the kids are over the M3 level. After this level the kids are pretty much adults and can make decisions to exact revenge. It's a very serious issue as the kids reach adulthood and anything can happen at this stage of the game. There are horrible fights. There are bottles to the back of heads (never to the front it seems), knives in the back, clubs to the back or machetes to the back of motorbike riders.

There are levels of hierarchy in the classroom. Especially in the higher grades (Mathyom 1+). These are social levels or levels of respect. It's most easily seen among the boys. There will be boys that are at the TOP of the totem pole. They are usually supported by other boys at the top. They are more cocky. They may have (usually have) families that are more important in the Thai social strata than other Thai families. More money, more prestige, more power… The parents or a parent may have a high government position… military position… political position. The kids have grown up feeling like a big dog. They say more things when the teacher's back is turned. They outright lie about whether it was them that said it. They are very interested in keeping the status quo. The status quo that leaves them at the top.

However, when I come into the classroom I am now the big dog. There is no other big dog. I don't allow it. There are just little dogs and no little dog is any more special than any other little dog. I won't have it. Most of the little dogs understand and get in line. However, there will be a brief power struggle with members of the previous big-dog crew.

Here are some things I believe about the different grade levels. My experiences may not be the 'norm', but I'm guessing that they're close. You may find some things you can relate to or you might use them as a starting point if you are a new teacher and have no idea what to expect.

Prathom 1, 2 and 3…

Very easy to deal with the kids. Easy to be nice and then demand respect at will. The kids are fun, respectful, eager to learn and to please… eager to make the teacher laugh if the teacher will allow it. I had some of the greatest experiences teaching these levels.

Example… The kids are to complete their workbook – coloring and filling in different English words and then present the book to me when they are finished with the page… I then have to check the bottom box with a red checkmark and they can consider it a good job and move on to the next page or the next activity. Well, one girl decided it would be funny to write some extra words at the bottom of her paper when she handed it in… it said, "Fat Mr. John (name replaced for preserving anonymity)". I saw it as I was checking her paper and she was watching my face to see what I did. When I saw it I TOTALLY overreacted and blew the issue way out of proportion in a fun way… "WHAT IS THIS??? WHO DID THIS??? I CAN"T BELIEVE THIS! Etc. And I had crazy expressions on my face… the kids were all thrown for a loop… The girl was smiling so big, she had got the reaction she wanted, and more.

The rest of the class was wrecked by kids bringing up their papers with things like "red mr. John", "Mr John long arm", "Mr. John fat foot" and other things. Their vocabulary was limited to body parts, colors, and sizes of things but they were ingenious in combining them. One boy, the most "off" boy in the class… the skinniest kid… with the funniest expressions… and the most off-base answers and actions… came up just as class was ending. He had been watching with amusement the whole scene… he was watching what his friends wrote and handed to me… he was loving my reactions… he had nothing written on his paper when he handed it in at the end of class. I was VERY surprised. I expected SOMETHING.

Then he hands me something with his other hand… a folded up little piece of paper about 1 inch by 2 inches that didn't say anything. It was just a picture of a pile of steaming turd. It was his way of saying, "Mr. John is a pile of shit". I laughed until I couldn't breathe… all the kids insisted on him telling them what it was, but he never told… he just sat there with this smile on his face that was worth 30 bat gold.

So, I found these levels very easy to teach and the most fun…

Prathom 4, 5, 6

I have not taught Prathom 4, however, the horror stories I heard about them was enough. The Prathom 4, 5, and 6 kids seem to be experiencing the crack phenomenon about every 3 days or so on average. If you have a large class – over 25 of them, heaven help you. My P5 and P6 classes were both with 30 kids and they were quite a handful. I was teaching math so quite often the lesson was wasted because they were too wound up to get anything out of it. I was able to get maybe 80% of my lessons done in a meaningful way with these grades because of the tactics I'll share with you later. Some teachers came to the staffroom in tears multiple days because if you let them run wild from the start, they will run all over you and tattoo your skin with the treads in their converse.

Don't make the mistake of naming the kids "Monkey number 1", "Monkey number 2", etc all the way up to 8 as I have done in the past with a Prathom 5 class (grade 5). They actually get WORSE so they can outdo each other. All the monkeys want to be "Monkey number 1" for some reason. Lesson learned. I thought it would be a good way to embarrass them since instead of their name I would disrespect them by calling them this other more creative name. Go figure…

Mathyom 1-2

I taught a few lessons to cover for another teacher's absence. I found them to be generally OK. The "attitudes" really start in this group. The silent treatments, the passive aggressive stuff. I was able to completely control this group and I think long-term probably same result. They weren't yet confident enough to challenge me multiple times.

Mathyom 3-4

Mathyom 3 and 4 I taught nearly everyday. They have the potential to control YOU and the class. They are smart, they are strong as a class… they back each other up on things so it's you against 20 – 30 of them. 50? Good luck. I was able to control these guys about 95% of the time. The classes were not always fun, but we had our share of very good times in each class. It's a power struggle and if they win you're in for a long year.

Here's what I did to control the older kids. You might not agree. You might think I'm an idiot. A control freak. A barbarian. Jai Dam! (Cruel heart). I am none of these… I just realized quickly that I needed to be the big dog in these older classes and the only way I'd be able to STAND teaching these levels were if I was the big dog and we got a lot of teaching done and didn't deal with too many attitudes or problems.

I decided to be as strict on them as possible for the first couple weeks of classes.

I walk into the class. The kids shut up because they don't know me yet. They have NO idea who I am, what I'm like, whether I'm a push over. They may have seen me laugh with other teachers or kids on the school grounds, but here in class they just don't know "me" yet. That's a good thing, because if they already knew me they'd know I like to laugh, joke and have more fun than THEY do… just not in the classroom. ANYWHERE else, yes. I love it. Classroom, no.

I put my stuff on the desk and stand at the front in the middle. The kids get up and give the standard greeting. If it isn't earnest enough I make them do it again. Already they are looking out of the corners of their eyes to their friends. I can see them thinking… Something isn't right… nobody does that…

I haven't smiled, and won't until the end of class and only briefly. I tell them to sit down and get out some paper, pencil. I start writing the rules on the board. I say, copy these NEATLY in your notebook now.

Invariably someone says something. I turn around and ask WHO said it. Sometimes they admit and sometimes not. If the offender admits his guilt I go up to him and tell him clearly while looking 1 foot from his eyes – When I'm talking or when my back is turned, YOU DON'T TALK. Do you understand? I make him say, "Yes, I understand."

I return to the board. Here are the rules I write…

1. When I'm talking nobody is talking, laughing, playing games.
2. When my back is turned, nobody is talking, laughing, playing games.
3. If I tell you to do something you must do it as quickly as possible and without talking.
4. If I tell you to go outside you stand up quickly, pick up your papers and pencil, and walk outside. You stand with your nose touching the wall until I come out to talk to you. (I bring a kid up to the front to demonstrate how to stand outside.)
5. If I tell you to go outside you don't say a WORD outside.
6. Nobody hits, pushes, jumps on, anyone else in class.
7. No sports balls are allowed in the classroom.
8. If I give you lines to write you will copy them EXACTLY. If there are mistakes you do them again. I want the lines on my desk at 8 am the next day.
9. You call me "teacher".
10. If you have an answer you raise your hand.
11. When I'm done teaching and you have your assignment for the day you can talk quietly with your friends to get it done or raise your hand if you have questions for me to answer or if you want me to show you another example.
12. What you see hear, hear here, stays here when you leave here.

Now, the rules are pretty standard. For the first class maybe first couple classes the kids tested me. Talking when my back was turned… I watched the Thai teachers… they cracked their knuckles with a ruler or short piece of bamboo. Well, the Thai teachers did it with the younger kids up until about P6. I extended it all the way to M3. The kids at that level, when they get hit with a ruler aren't used to it. They thought that craziness was over. They were wrong. I crack them good for things like "drumming on the desk", hitting someone, throwing something, or other small things. I'm not really sure the effect that this has, other than they fear me which is not all that great a result.

I think with Thai kids the embarrassment option is much more effective.

If a kid is talking when I'm talking I will make him stand up where he is. I will get about 6 inches from his face and ask loudly why he is talking and what he is saying. I will then decide whether he should stand in the back of the room with his nose on the wall or go outside. If it's especially hot or the sun is hitting the outside wall I'll usually opt for the outside. I let him bake out there. Thai kids love the Air conditioning and hate to get dark so I'm actually hitting him 3 ways… it's hot, he's getting dark, and he's loosing face in front of his friends. The standing in the sun option works very well for light skinned girls! VERY well.

If the problem kid doesn't stand up immediately after he's told and I'm able to get to his chair before he does I pull him up by the shirt at the shoulder. These uniforms are remarkably strong and I've never ripped a shirt. I did hear the threads strain a few times. I pull him out of his chair and walk him to the door and stand him at the wall and tell him where to put his nose. A kid doesn't need too many of those. M3 students are blown away when I do it to the biggest kid in class. In America the kid would hit you – no doubt. Here, never. I'm not a huge guy, almost 6 foot and 180, but no kid has EVER resisted in the slightest way.

If the kid is giving me multiple problems, like maybe talking once outside, or making faces through the window I will stop class, make everyone put their head down. I'll go outside and jack that kid up by yelling at him and getting in his face… threatening to bring his mom and father in NOW to see what a buffalo he is and everyone thing that comes to mind… often times he is on the verge of tears. I usually don't EVER have to do it again if he comes close to tears. It's easier to get the kids to that point than you might think. They are not used to being yelled at by ANYONE.

Of course every kid in the room has heard the abuse and the class usually goes very smoothly from that point on for a few days until someone else decides to act up for some reason.

After a couple of weeks I am able to start to smile a bit. Joke once in a while. Let the kids laugh. In P5/P6 I let them get a little too loose and won't make that mistake again. I began to have more trouble keeping them in line because naturally I just like to joke a lot. They realized they could really push me when I was in that mood and soon they wanted to push me everyday. I had to reinstitute the drill-instructor mentality and they slowly got back in line…

One trick that works with Thai kids. Often times you'll hear someone talking behind your back. You don't know who. Could be any one of 8-10 different monkeys. If nobody will admit it… I do this.

I pick someone at random. Usually one of the monkeys and tell the kids that THIS monkey is going to suffer because the REAL monkey causing the trouble is not admitting it. When the real monkey admits it then the THIS monkey can go sit back down. I then send the innocent monkey outside to stand but not with his nose against the wall – just stand. The kids in the class don't know though because I go out WITH the kid to tell him – just stand there, I'm not mad at you, etc…

When I go back in the class there is some serious issue with this… the kids are shocked, they don't know what to do… they insist it WASN'T that monkey… and I say I don't care. Which monkey was it? If they don't say, I just continue teaching… eventually it comes to the point where the real monkey admits it. EVERY TIME the real monkey has come forward. If he doesn't he will the next time because his friends think he's an ass for not admitting it to start with!

Try it!

Ok, I'm out of material. I'm not really, but I'm out of finger energy to type this anymore.

Hope it gives new teachers something to start from and experienced teachers something to laugh at.


Stickman's thoughts:

An excellent submission.