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 Thai Education and TEFL Class Management

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John V Asia Teacher
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PostSubject: Thai Education and TEFL Class Management   26.03.18 12:25

Thai Education and TEFL Class Management
TEFL class management

Thai Education and TEFL Class Management

There remain few subjects in the field of education able to produce the emotive responses contained in the title, ‘class management.’ Class management, unlike the content knowledge of education or its delivery, is an abstract.

Classes in Asian state schools often contain from 30 to upwards of 60+ students. New TEFL teachers often have a problem with class management, often another term for loss or lack of control and leadership. Unlike the west, throughout Asia and the Far East, the teacher is more than a neutral referee or facilitator, responsible for both providing information and upholding society’s morals. Teaching involves more than just holding up a flashcard, pointing and mumbling dog, tree, or sun. Consequently, if you have no experience of man management, or lack assertiveness, teaching is going to be an unpleasant eye-opening experience.

Progressive Education

Ever since the demise of rote, corporal punishment and the introduction of progressive education, in which each learns at their own pace in supposed nurturing surroundings; class management has assumed the alpha and omega; the search for the Holy Grail without which knowledge cannot exist. Although not wanting a return to the days of forced education by violence as it’s commonly referred to, the desire for a western progressive system of education in Thailand unsurprisingly produces similar effects to the declining standards of behaviour in the west [1] from which arises the hitherto unknown problem of management. Providing a major reason for both the poor attainment of foreign language levels [2] in Thailand compared to the rest of Asia and helping to produce a western copy dumbed down generation.

"Failure of previous educational reforms admitted as new solutions proposed." [3]

A frank admission from Thai Education Minister Teerakiat Jareonsettasin that another previously undisputed, this one definitely works, we’ve finally solved the problem set of beliefs bites the dust. A major problem in current education is the loss of what was once taken for granted, common sense. Common sense didn’t just happen; it’s the result of centuries of trial and error producing what works discarded for a myriad of ad-hoc committees, think tanks and organizations determined to fit those round pegs of Human Rights Acts and equality based progressive education ideas into the square pegs of disruptive behavior and failing education standards. If you listen closely, you can hear the Chinese laughing as they race into the 21st century producing leading Asian innovators, entrepreneurs and technically skilled and this from a country that resembled a basket case only half a century ago. If they know something that has evaded the equality focused educators elsewhere, it’s as simple as equality based opportunities don’t produce equality based outcomes. In other words that the leading minds of a future generation can’t be produced without competition, self-discipline, or individual effort.          
Eventually, the Thai Education Ministry will realise that in its eagerness to westernize, they went down the same road of failure as progressive education in the west and it’s then that the penny will drop and they’ll understand that progressive doesn’t necessarily mean progress. The fault remains the system, yet when apportioning blame, foreigners who joined in the progressive charade also need to accept their fair share.

Understanding the System

The phrases, ‘creating learning cultures’ and ‘effective teaching’ assume total student commitment to learning and aim at perfecting a system of behaviour in which this occurs. Yet conversely, if all wanted to learn there wouldn’t be a need for class management. Only a few decades ago, a common knowledge consensus agreed that certain students naturally adapt to academia, yet others to the arts or trades which require different skill sets. The students who fail in one discipline often excel in another, yet with the onset of equality all now succeed in everything, with added expertise at the click of a mouse.

As the TEFL community eagerly await the practical answer to class management, the continuing silence of progressive educational experts becomes self-explanatory. Class control, although employing techniques, isn’t so much a process as a mind-set requiring a separate skill set from that of delivery, a point often missed in progressive education orthodoxy. Nevertheless, let’s briefly state three practical examples.

Practical Class Management

Ban mobile phones 

Let’s begin with a truism; the best educator in the world is unable to compete against Facebook and twitter. Don’t even think about it and therefore remove the cause and eliminate the competition, which is standard practice elsewhere. Banning mobile phones in the classroom initially produces effects similar to being taken off life support, yet in the long run produces results. The usual suggested ground rules of clapping your hands for silence and expecting positive results based on the belief that 16 year old testosterone fuelled teens hooked on Facebook will suddenly behave as responsible mature adults is about as optimistically naïve as it gets. Similarly, asking the school to intervene in discipline is a wasted endeavour as they haven’t a clue either and it’s why they hired a foreigner, in the forlorn hope that if all else fails you’ll substitute the missing entertainment link.

Target your audience

Begin by understanding your audience. There’s a reason the teenage group remains attracted to quickly changing images and consequently, why the average attention span equals that of a goldfish. Learn to spot the glazed expression, fidgeting, the rising noise levels and act on it. Introduce participation requiring a collectivized response to save face; boys v girls for instance, a like for a correct answer and an unfriend for wrong. Who voluntarily wants to be unfriended?! Hangman or words guessing games such as ‘I spy’ provide ideal starters. Don’t introduce activities because they’re fashionable; use them as a double edge sword to achieve class management, as well as learning.

Stand and deliver

Organize your lessons around age related topics. [4] Learn to disguise English grammar using food, travel, mobile phones or music. With a little ingenuity, it’s amazing the amount of grammar and conversation squeezed out of a simple word such as ‘French fries.’ One of my original favourites included silence. When the noise levels initially began to rise I’d stop, sit down and pick up a book. As the speaking ended, rows of faces suddenly become attentive wondering why and it’s then that I’d quietly explained that the lesson comes first and every noise interruption decreases the topic related ten minute Mr. Bean video at the end by one minute. Invariably, as the best punch lines occur at the end, the groan as the class came to an end half way through the video wasn’t usually repeated the following week, proving that memory retention remains alive and kicking.

Do’s and Dont’s

Don’t walk out of a classroom in frustration. If anything happens to the students in your care it’s your responsibility, including accidents. Additionally, by leaving you’ve just revealed your weak spot and that’s difficult if not impossible to repair. Take care what you say in exasperation. Off the cuff comments hurt and what is often said as a throwaway remark and forgotten, can have an adverse effect and last for decades or even a lifetime on children.

Don’t shout it’s not a competition of teacher versus students in producing noise decibels and you won’t win. If the levels reach a situation where the need arises, rather stop the class, give a free period and consider introducing the basic practical management alternatives above the next time. Student teens the world over lack sympathetic leanings! Once you lose control of a class, it's difficult if not impossible to regain it.

Don’t despair if every lesson doesn’t go according to plan as theory isn’t practice. Concentrate on improving content adapted to a specific audience. There will always be the class from hell in which no amount of effort works. Stick to visual aids, yet these are the students you’ll go to when you’ve messed up the settings on your mobile phone, or want a drawing done.

Do maintain a professional attitude and appearance, which means friendliness and approachability, yet at a respectful distance.

Do develop your own syllabus which reflects your subject area and use this as a foundation to build your TEFL on. The degree subject is your expertise; combine it with TEFL to produce a knowledge based practical set of lesson plans.    

Do learn to differentiate between management and teaching as they are two separate entities, yet run in tandem and one doesn’t work without the other.

Summary

The TEFL certificate proves basic knowledge; the demonstration class proves ability and now comes the litmus test in the separation of creating a receptive audience while imparting that knowledge. The first few weeks went fine, yet by the end of the month that keening sound in your brain reached fever pitch? The reason isn’t that your delivery and ability declined, but boredom produced by employing a set repetition format that you’re told works, yet doesn’t. Applying constant change remains the key, relentless and unremitting, figuring out what works, improving your delivery style and as an example, introduce an occasional Thai guest speaker, whose command of English provided success in a globalized world.

Yes, it’s hard work. Faking it by going through the motions becomes obvious both to the school and students and arguably the reason for the high staff turnover in a majority of schools. Previously, education revolved around teaching; in today’s world it’s about reducing your own stress levels to prevent a burn out resembling a nervous breakdown! Did that book you read last week fail to provide the answers to class management? Never mind, the next one containing similar promises will be out shortly.

References:

[1]    Poor classroom behaviour results in poor academic performance
[2]    English proficiency in Thailand now third worst in Asia
[3]    Thai failed education policies
[4]    ABL TEFL Syllabus

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