Difficult Children

Help, tips and advice in teaching English

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Difficult Children

Unread postby JamesV » 27 Oct 2011, 19:28

Hello Lucy,

I'm a new teacher with about two months of experience teaching in South Korea, and while some technical aspects of my job are difficult I'm sure I'll be able to deal with them in time.

What I'm having a real hard time wrapping my head around is classroom management for difficult (disruptive, easily distracted, resentful, and often disrespectful) children. In case you're not familiar, children in South Korea have one of the most rigorous schooling schedules I've ever heard of. Public school is actually rather light, only about 4-5 hours a day, but that's only half the problem. What sucks the life out of these children and turns so many of them into difficult to manage nightmares is the academies. An academy is an after school program that typically lasts for an hour or more, and while there are children that don't go to any academies, they are the exception to the rule. From paying attention to the diaries I've recovered, I've found that some of my children go to as many as 4-5 academies a day. Each of them assign homework. Whenever I ask my children what they were doing on the weekend, most of them tell me that they spent the weekend studying, and barely had any time to themselves at all. Some students manage to stand the pressure and thrive, but many others become embittered with the expectations heaped on their shoulders. I can't blame them at all.

However, not blaming them doesn't make dealing with them any easier. I don't have much freedom with my schedule or my curriculum when teaching at my current academy. My syllabus is set by the Korean English teachers. Add that to the fact that my lessons can and have been changed at the last minute (or the few memorable times I only found out my schedule from the students when I walked in the door) and planning a particularly interesting lesson doesn't seem impossible so much as futile. My success as an instructor relies almost entirely on my personality and on the fly creativity, both of which are straining to the breaking points with children who curse you, complain about the simplest of tasks (such as writing down words on the board and then repeating them), and (on occasion) feel like discipline is just one big game of chicken that they can win. While before I was determined to figure this out on my own, it took an encounter with one of my students who can easily qualify for all three qualities of misbehavior.

Jessica (the English name she goes by) frequently brings and attempts to use her cellphone in the classroom despite it being taken away multiple times. I have caught her flipping me off and using the Korea equivalent on me and other students in class several times, and no attempt at discipline I have tried to use has ever curbed her behavior. So earlier today (or I suppose yesterday) in class, she began making unarticulated whining noises while I gave classwork. Remembering too many failed attempts to control this student, I instinctively did something I knew I shouldn't have the second it was over: I mocked her, imitating the tone of her whine as I said "My name is Jessica and I can't do anything." It worked, and it stopped her actively disrupting the class, but I recognized the lowered head and shaking shoulders as crying signals almost immediately. She then tried to make up an excuse about her suddenly feeling ill and left the class. I let her go.

Jessica is just one of the students I have to deal with that presents a real problem for me, and honestly she isn't the worst. Considering my teaching situation, do you have any advice for helping me control students like Jessica, or any tips on how I can better deal with my own personal stress in these situations?


James V

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Re: Difficult Children

Unread postby Lucy » 30 Oct 2011, 19:08

Dear James V,

I have a very brief experience of teaching Korean children and I can say that it was the most difficult of my teaching career. I fully understand what you are up against.

You haven't said much about your teaching style and I am making assumptions that may be wrong.

I’m afraid the opinions of the students may be that English lessons are a game, a breeze and don’t require the same effort or work as in other academies (I’m assuming they work in traditional style classrooms, but this may not be the case). You may need to manage your classroom in a way that is more in line with their expectations of a classroom: individual work, repetitive or rote learning. When you feel in control of the group, you can ease in the pair work, group work and games. I normally advocate the use of pair and group work but some situations warrant putting that aside for a while.

You need to enlist the support of other members of staff for mobile phones. Ask what they do and what is the school policy. You may have to introduce a policy of students leaving their phones with a member of admin staff while they are in the classroom.

Jessica is obviously upset by what happened but that doesn’t make her behaviour right. I suggest you talk to her next lesson and explain, or elicit it from her, that flipping the teacher or other students off is just not acceptable. To help you deal with such situations better in the future, I suggest you write down bad behaviour that you have seen and a suitable punishment or reaction from the teacher. You can make a scale of this going from the least to the most serious. This will help you to make a rational decision in the classroom when you are confronted with bad behaviour. This is preferable to reacting to the emotion that they bring up inside you. I can fully understand that you were upset or angry at her behaviour; what she did was unacceptable. You need to control your reactions. If you upset a student or get emotional and punish severely a minor transgression, it leaves you with nowhere to go. You then lose control of the situation. That is why I am suggesting a scale of “punishment” (for wont of a better word). You may also consider making the scale visible in the classroom.

I hope this will help what sounds like an awful situation. Please write in again if there is anything that isn't clear or if you want more ideas.


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