Tag Archives: ESL difficulties

Discipline by awkwardness: a test project

As many of you know, I have had problems with many of my students being noisy while I’m teaching. This stems from a variety of reasons, some of which include: boredom, being brought up to resent foreigners, genuinely not understanding me, pretending they don’t understand me, and so on. The students who don’t like foreigners, there isn’t much I can do with them, other than show them kindness and try to make my lessons interesting and useful. The ones who don’t understand me, even my dumbed-down English, I can only hope that the Chinese English teachers will help them, and I will do my best to help them when I can. The ones who pretend they can’t understand me, because they view a foreign class as a party class with no frightening presence of their Chinese head teacher, I have to figure out how to deal with.

I don’t like yelling in class, but lately, I’ve been using it too much. But oddly enough (duh), shouting at middle school children to be quiet isn’t very effective. Some of them are embarrassed and stop talking, but most of them disregard it, and probably are amused at the fool I’m making of myself. Poor foreign teacher, shouting BE QUIET at the top of her lungs.

I went to sleep the other night feeling foolish and even a little guilty at how much I’ve been yelling at my classes lately, and realizing that it’s not helping them, and it sure isn’t helping me. So, yesterday and today, I tried a method that I’ve heard from other teachers: the awkward stare.

The awkward stare goes like this: when your students are rabble-rousing, don’t yell “be quiet” until you’re red in the face (been there, done that). Just stare. You don’t even have to glare. Control yourself, and be calm. Just stare, and when the noise level goes down to just a few pairs of students talking to each other, stare at those individual groups until they stop talking and start squirming uncomfortably in their seats. They don’t know what to do with it. I try to hold the awkward stare a few moments longer, until all the kids are wondering what the heck I’m going to do next, and then I just continue on with my lesson as if nothing happened. If they start talking again, I do it again, and if the whole class period keeps being interrupted like this, I tell them at the end that I am going to talk to their teacher about them, and then snag the best student to come translate for me. And they do not like this. I have yet to see if this will prove very effective, but I left class feeling much less angry and tired than I usually do, simply because I didn’t lose control of myself, and that made my life easier. I may have lost minutes of teaching time because of the stare-down, but honestly, there is no point in teaching when I have to shout over their voices anyway.

I can’t make my students respect me. Some do, some don’t. However, what I do in class, I am accountable for, and I have to live with it. I would much rather keep my cool than try to get across to a class via yelling how rude I think they are, because chances are if they’re ill-behaved, me yelling this fact to them won’t change them. But flying off the handle, like I’m tempted to do, will change me, and I don’t want that to happen. This country is too hard to live in with that, too. I snapped at one class yesterday, at the end of a very obnoxious class period, with my sinuses feeling like they were exploding because of a cold– “you are all rude, and I do not like you.” I laughed about it later, but I couldn’t help but feel hypocritical in my own rudeness.

I’ll let you know how the awkward stare pans out in the following weeks!  I don’t think I’ll run out of stares…it’s not hard to summon that awkwardness when you’re me.