Teaching English in Thailand: Round 4

Teaching English to Students in ThailandA guest post by Robert Meeks.

Teaching English in Thailand, my new style is like a token system.

It’s the end of the year, semester 2 is finished and I can better assess what happened this year as I varied my teaching styles from semester 1 to semester 2.

The Thai kids are used to speaking when they want. They do NOT understand or listen when the teacher says quiet, shut up, silence, ngee-up, etc. They keep right on talking. They will talk whether you are quietly asking them or yelling loudly. Makes no difference to them. They have some mechanism inside that has been created over the years of living with Thais’ and dealing with only Thais’. Their brain tells them – when someone tells you to be quiet, it doesn’t really mean QUIET. It means – be quieter, and don’t talk as much. But, if you do anyway – the person giving you the command is not all that serious about it anyway – mai pen rai prevails in nearly all circumstances.

So, a foreign teacher that was brought up believing that someone talking while he/she is talking is rude and showing disrespect doesn’t understand Thai culture and must somehow either change that culture in the kids that are in the class, or change him/herself to adapt to the culture and map pen rai everything also.

I’m somewhere stuck between the two.

I know that the yelling and being very serious and strict doesn’t really work. It works for me – in the short term, but at the end of the day or semester when I sit and think about whether it was fun to teach the kids – I have to answer – NOPE. It sucked. I don’t LIKE to yell at the kids, yet, I believe if they aren’t silent while I’m teaching then they can’t learn. Then I’m not able to do my job. Which is unacceptable.

So, here’s what I did 2nd term.

I told them I was tired of yelling and that I wasn’t going to do it much anymore.

Instead I implemented a daily token system of sorts. Everyday each student would get 3 points that goes toward their grade at the end of the semester. These points, when added up among 40 classes for our basic math – added up to 120 points that were possible for the whole semester.

My tests are all worth 100 points. That meant that kids had an opportunity to score a perfect 100% on a 120 point test each semester. This would help some quiet kids immensely, and hurt others that might be good academically, but clowns in the classroom.

The other thing I did so that the kids got a better feel for what was going to happen for each class is I came in and wrote 2 numbers on the whiteboard. I wrote the word “Seriousness” and under it put a level from 1-10. If we had a lot to learn that day I put an 8 or maybe a 9. I tried to usually have 7-8 on average. Somedays were 10’s. If a kid opened his mouth on a 10 day – he was outside with his nose on the wall quickly. 10 days were no fun. But, the kids understood that 10 days were NO FUN. If they didn’t act accordingly they lost their 3 points for the day, and possibly up to 9 other points for 3 more days depending if they wanted to push me further after putting their nose on the wall for 15 minutes outside.

The other word I wrote on the board was “lines”. Under this I wrote 2 numbers. The first was usually 100, and the second usually 200 or more. This was the number of lines they’d write if they screwed up bad.

The kids never knew what I’d do if they screwed up during class. That’s a little secret to the effectiveness I think. They never knew, would I make them write lines or take away their bonus points for the day. They knew something would happen though. Enforcing the system is VERY important for it to work.

An example… The kids knew by 2nd semester that they are never to talk while I’m talking. So, if I’m talking and writing on the board and I hear someone and I’m able to identify who it is – I just write their name on the board with a -1 or -2, or -3 up on the board – corresponding to the number of times they had acted inappropriately in class that day.

I had to be fair – never carrying over bad feelings for certain students to the next class. I had to treat everyone the same. If a bad kid or a good kid spoke out inappropriately they both lost the same number of points. Thai kids WANT fairness. If they don’t get it they’ll raise hell behind your back. For Thai kids to call you “unfair” as a teacher is a real blow since it is something they have very high on their list of priorities for a teacher.

So, the results of this experiment in teaching 15 year olds math for 2nd semester…

NOBODY had to write lines except one boy that irked me good. He lost 9 points for failing to do what I told him to do in one day. Then he refused to write lines for homework saying, Ajarn Rob, I don’t have time at night – I have special class… He gave me this excuse 4 times as each time I increased the number of lines he was to write. When we got to 400 lines and he said it again we marched down to the English Program director and set him straight.

The director was a push-over in every instance of discipline and never wanted to call the parents of the student for ANY reason. The kids knew this and also refused to do what she wanted. I wisely handed over the discipline to her to save face myself – because all the kids in the class saw this kid’s blatant refusal to do what I told him… The director made him write 100 lines total.

I never asked – but another kid told me – I said, oh, Aj. Zim is handling that now, I’m not sure what she agreed to with him. So – I saved face. Aj. Zim saved face. The kid saved face AND got what he wanted – to not do the lines. BUT, he also lost 24 of his daily points just over that episode, and got a 0 out of 20 on “Responsibility” assessment in his end of year pink book record which the parents DO see. He got a “B” that term instead of an “A” and everyone was happy… well, everyone but him.

So – nobody else had to write lines but we had a handful of jackazzes go from A’s to B’s and from B’s to C’s and from D’s to F’s on their final grades for Semester 2 because they couldn’t control themselves in my class (or anyone’s class). We had some students go from a B to an A and from D to C and F to D also – which was nice since they understood and exploited the system for their own good by being perfect students.

For the extra point system which added up to 120 points in basic math…

Out of 100 students 83 got an “A” grade resulting from the extra points. There were 15 F’s. Only 2 in-between. So – 83 students got a better grade because of this system, and 15 got a worse grade. The other 2 – about same as first semester.

I rarely yelled during the second semester and I didn’t need to do much more than start writing names with minus the numbers of points they were receiving as they talked to each other. When they kept talking I kept subtracting points. It worked really well because they all tell each other when they see someone losing points and the person doesn’t know it yet…

I believe this system was vastly superior over last semester’s drill-instructor system. I also tried during this term to do some fun stuff that lightened everyone up. We had about 10 classes that were ranked seriousness levels of less than 5. We played some games and had some bonus point contests where I did a problem on the board and asked for answers to different parts of it. If someone raised their hand first and answered correctly they’d get a bonus point. Some kids that never raised their hands started to do it – and got some bonus. That was cool to see…

Author: Vern

I'm an American expat living in Thailand. I like to write informative pieces about life in, living in Thailand, including topics like: Thai People, Thai Culture, Nightlife, Technology, and I have published a lot of photographs, videos, and even books on Thailand that you can find at ThailandeBooks.com. There are many photographs of Thailand here - feel free to share with attribution (a link back to the home page). All written content on this site by Vern Lovic. Contact me at Google+.

3 thoughts on “Teaching English in Thailand: Round 4”

  1. Hello there,

    It was good to read your comments about discipline in Thai classrooms. I’m trying to draw up my new list of rules for my next year of teaching. I think you are very right , that some consideration needs to go into leveling rules slightly so they are more geared to Thai culture. But I find it very difficult to decide where the boundaries lie here.
    Are you still teaching? Any new ideas? Have you found any other interesting posts about this subject?

    Thanks for writing the thought provoking article… I’ll have to give it a go myself one of these days


    1. Hi Simon, thanks for writing. I am a bit lost about how to go about teaching Thai kids in a large class (over 15 or so). They’re quite out of hand – and for my own sanity I was strict in the past. Not teaching for years now… I think if you can’t have fun in the class with them – why teach. That’s my current feeling. Thai kids need it FUN. That’s an essential ingredient – or you’re not going to have much learning going on.

      Now – for high school kids that are out of hand? How do you make that fun and not let them run the class? Tough line to walk man… I was overly strict – but got my whole gameplan taught. Some did really well. Some failed miserably…

      Not sure – maybe Jason at IsaanStyle.blogspot.com can help. He’s been teaching like 4 years now in Isaan -all age groups. Good luck whatever happens…!

Comments are closed.