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    • Join Date: Jun 2007
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    #1

    Keeping cool - problem students

    Hi there,

    I have been teaching English for about 13 years in England and Japan, the past nine years. I teach adults.

    I got my CTEFLA in 1993 (now CELTA), and have been reading books, attending seminars etc. on EFL/ESL since then - I consider myself a half-decent teacher I have always thought I have one good skill, and that is my ability to stay cool, and have a high-level of patience with students. Until recently...

    There are three particular students I have, in different classes; please allow me to describe them:

    1. Male - late 40's. Sexist, xenophobic, selfish, stubborn and immature. English ability - Advanced.
    2. Female - early 30's. Proud, insecure, egotistical and stubborn. English ability - Intermediate.
    3. Female - early 40's. Aggressive, overly-confident, and condescending. English ability - Intermediate.

    Classroom scene:

    1. Speaking to female student: "Why don't you undo the top button of your blouse?" Or, speaking to me in front of other students especially female, "Boobs... Tits... Mother F*cker".

    *Teacher mode off: This guy needs a serious slapping.
    *Teacher mode on: That will accomplish nothing.

    2. Other student says: "I went to this place recently, it was great!" Problem student says, "Oh, that's a cheap place, I went to a really expensive place recently...". Or me and her talking: "You made a grammatical mistake", her, "You're not listening to me, I didn't make a mistake!" me, "I don't want to listen to you repeating the same mistake over and over." her, "You're still not listening to me" - she repeats the same totally incorrect sentence...

    Her boyfriend pays for everything by the way, including the school fees...

    3. New teacher joined recently and this happened in their first class:
    New teacher: "I don't like smoking because it kills".
    Student: "I love smoking, and you will probably die before me anyway".
    New teacher: "How is that?"
    Student: "You'll probably get hit by a truck".

    And that was their very first meeting - conversation. Or another situation:
    Me (joking): "I've lived in Japan for 10 years now, wow it's like I'm Japanese!".
    Her in an irritated and condescending voice: "No... No! You are a foreigner. You can't be Japanese. You are a foreigner." - I've known her for over two years...

    These are just a very few of what we get every day in my school. And the Japanese staff? Well they just teach grammar and drills. They don't see the personal sides of these students, they get good behaviour. In the 'Native' class, we get the real faces. When I explain to, I actually just explained this to my Head teacher, he just laughed. As it is in Japan. Japanese staff do not know and often do not want to deal with such realities. So it is left to us to deal with things alone.

    But what can I do? When I see a student be blatantly rude to another, I lose my cool. I take it personally when a student insults another. This didn't happen before... But now it does, I am being affected... Infected by the inappropriate behaviour of my students and it is damaging my lessons.

    To those who think the Japanese are all so polite - you have never lived and worked here. I have had, and still have so many adult students with zero respect for anyone but themselves.

    I am actually starting to express my anger in the classroom - and that is a big no-no in Japan.

    Any advice is GREATLY appreciated!!!

    Peace.

  1. Casiopea's Avatar

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    #2

    Re: Keeping cool - problem students

    Welcome, Frosty Rei.

    What you have written is indicative of someone who is under a great amount of stress. As a teacher, as well as someone who has lived and taught in Japan for 6 years, my advice to you is this. You need to decide what's more important, you or the job, and then you need to act on it. You have a choice. Remember that; You are in control. There is a solution. You just need to realize it.

    All the best, and good luck.


    • Join Date: Jun 2007
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    #3

    Re: Keeping cool - problem students

    Hi there:)

    Thank you for the reply. The stress I have is hardly what I would call 'great' though, I have had far worse in the past;)

    Short of quitting my job, which you only recommend, does anyone have any 'general' advice for dealing with your own emotions in the class when dealing with problem students? I'm talking about discipline etc. What do you do?

  2. Casiopea's Avatar

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    #4

    Re: Keeping cool - problem students

    You are in control means, you have the power to take control of your class. You have after all taught for 13 years. You have the tricks of the trade on your side.

    In Japan, discipline is exercised through peer pressure. By the way, how do the other "adult" students in the class feel about the behavior you described? If you want to find out, turn the problem you see into a lesson. Discuss the topic with the class; don't make it about you and the problematic students. Make it about culture or agism or business etiquette. That's how you handle the situation, especially when your head teacher is unwilling to support you.

    Open the discussion up to the class. Find the senior members in the class and ask them their opinions. Peer pressure works miracles in Japan.

    If that doesn't work and the verbal abuse continues, you have two more options.

    [1] Continue to remind the students that their behavior is inappropriate. Don't comment any further. Stand silently, stare, don't show your emotions. Silence has meaning in Japan, as you know. The very instant you show emotion is the very instant you lose face as well as self-respect. You have other students to consider. Keep them in mind. If the problematic students aren't willing to behave like adults, then give them make-work assignments to do at the back of the class. Grammar them up!

    [2] If all else fails, you may want to reflect on your teaching style. That's what seasoned teachers tend to do. Self-assessment is also a miracle worker. Ask your head teacher or someone you respect to sit in on your class and evaluate your teaching. If your teaching is fine, and it turns out that you are indeed doing the best you can in an unbearable situation, then you will now have a witness. Win, win!

    That's the best advice I can give you having not been to your class to see the dynamics at play.

    ___________________
    Please note, that someone's boyfriend pays for the English lessons has nothing to do really with you, the teacher, or how you should conduct your class. In all honesty, what you have written (Post #1) reads more like a vent than it does a request form a person with 13 years' teaching experience needing advice from fellow teachers. Teaching, as you know, means keeping to the issue, not getting personal, and above all, remembering that 1 or 2 unruly students pale in comparison to the 20 or so others that showed up to learn from your experience and knowledge. You are in control. You have a choice. You just need to realize it (i.e., act on it).

    All the best, and good luck.


    • Join Date: Jun 2007
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    #5

    Post Re: Keeping cool - problem students

    Hey there:)

    Once again, many thanks for your input, it is much appreciated!

    Venting... Well yes I am but then all teachers do that: we need to!!

    I mentioned that I have been teaching for a while because I wondered if other teachers, who aren't new to it, also experience new problems as I am now. I have in the past easily dealt with problem students because adults tend to not want to make themselves look bad in the class with rude behaviour. But recently, like luck, the trouble has come in three's... In three different classes so it has really shocked me that especially two of my students literally don't care about offending other students in the class, and do not realise or maybe not care that they are hurting the classroom atmosphere.

    The good news is that my boss, superior to the Head teacher has taken it seriously. He apparantly spoke with the older man, the sexist one, and the man apologised to him. I doubt highly that he will apologise to me or the students that he offended though;)

    The thing in my school is that we have few students, and I see them two or three times a week, and after having known them for two or more years, they are more like friends than students. So I guess that is why I feel more offended by this situation. Which opens the interesting topic of how close should teachers get to their students?! Well anyone else reading, I would advise: back off! Be friendly and helpful, but don't make the school relationship anything other than that. This is a big reason why I don't like to go out with students outside of school, keep my private life private.

    Familiarity breeds... Really? Maybe so.

    Find the senior members in the class & ask for their opinions/help? It is the senior ones I am moaning about now!! Perhaps this is Osaka's trademark, middle-aged people become very selfish and rude oftentimes...

    Yes, reflecting on myself is something I constantly do. Sometimes I judge myself too much in the classroom. I simply want a really good, comfortable atmosphere, and when students challenge or break that with blatant rudeness, it really affects me. Maybe I'm too sensitive or too idealistic... But this is why I choose to work in an adult learning environment, because they are supposed to be adults and act accordingly.

    The remark about the student's boyfriend was an aside remark, regarding the fact that she has an over inflated opinion of her financial situation - which actually is funded not by her. It was her attack on another students financial situation that annoyed me, not her sense of pride.

    "Teaching, as you know, means keeping to the issue, not getting personal, and above all, remembering that 1 or 2 unruly students pale in comparison to the 20 or so others that showed up to learn from your experience and knowledge. You are in control. You have a choice. You just need to realize it (i.e., act on it). "

    Not getting personal? I have to agree and disagree. I don't want to get involved with any of their conversations to be honest, I want to monitor and correct errors or help provide necessary langauge to get the task done. But oftentimes the students will ask for my opinion, and expect it. And this is where things get heated. It is such a fine line between staying unbiased, and then hearing a student say something terribly inappropriate - and not react to it with a personal counter-opinion.

    The trap is laid, and sometimes I walk right into it.

    Thank you for showing me my fault;) Which brings me to asking:

    What do you do to not get involved? How do you decline entering a debate when the students really want you in on it?

    I got too close to some students, and now I want out.

    Hmmz.

    Yes I am 95% of the time completely in control of what the class is doing and their direction - I am strict! So these recent students really threw me off balance.

    So in my mind now: "Teaching never gets easier. It only gets different. You can prepare as much as you like, but there are things that can or will totally throw you off balance!"

    I'm not good at philosophy;)

    Many thanks again, it really is refreshing to talk about it.


  3. Casiopea's Avatar

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    #6

    Re: Keeping cool - problem students

    You're most welcome, Frosty Rei. I am happy to hear your situation has changed a little, and that support is there for you.

    My comments are rather lengthy. Sorry. It's just that you remind me of me in away. We have had similar experiences, but seem to have taken two different paths. Was I lucky? Maybe ...

    Quote Originally Posted by Frosty Rei
    I have in the past easily dealt with problem students
    Would the same methods you used then work now?

    Quote Originally Posted by Frosty Rei
    ... how close should teachers get to their students?! Well anyone else reading, I would advise: back off! Be friendly and helpful, but don't make the school relationship anything other than that.
    Keep the relationship professional; that is excellent advice.

    Japanese ideology and Western ideology are not one and the same, true, but that doesn't mean you have to treat them as different. There are similarities. In the UK, for example, you can be a friend as well as a teacher to a student--it's rare, yes, but it's the same in Japan. Another example, sexist remarks, especially from an older member of any given society are often ignored and forgotten. (They are set in their ways; can't teach an old dog new tricks--unless that is you feel like a challenge.) Moreover, (this example houses a contentious point so get ready for it) what does sexism have to do with teaching a language? It has everything to do with cultural awareness, I'll agree with you there, but when did teaching a language become teaching the world how to behave accordingly? Language is culture, yes, but English is not a culture; it's a tool for international communication. Why assume that an adult student of EFL should have to abide by the societal norms of English speaking countries in order to use the language? It makes no sense. Of course as teachers we would want to empower our students, teach them about cultural awareness, help them to communicate their wants, needs, and ideas effectively, but we cannot and should not assume, ever, that what we think is what they think or even should think. It's an unrealistic expectation. True, teachers expect their students to show a certain level of respect not only to them but also to the other members of the class as well. Expectations ... Well, don't believe the old adage. It wasn't curiosity that killed the cat; it was its expectations.

    A case in point, I was facilitating an MBA course in Asia; the group of students, 30 in all, came from various countries, and most either had at one time owned businesses that deal in the international market or were employed by companies that required them to deal with international companies. The school was ranked 7th in the world at the time, so my expectations were that my group of students would be aware of sexism in the workplace. An expectation! Ha ha. My colleague, a retired professor from London University, shared the course load with me. During orientation, a student, standing right beside me, said to my colleague in a foreign language (one that I happen to speak), What can she teach me? Did I reply, no, did I care, no. Did that student learn from me, yes. That was my goal. Did that student make my life hell every single day in every single lecture, yes. Did I care, yes and no. I gained his respect. And there, finally, is the point of all of this. You can't expect a student to respect you just because you are a teacher. You have to earn it. Don't expect it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Frosty Rei[/quote
    Perhaps this is Osaka's trademark, middle-aged people become very selfish and rude oftentimes...
    Again, a future expectation stemming from an odious assumption. If you think, even half-believe, that Osaka is housed with such individuals, which I feel you don't, then that thought will indeed realize itself. How unfair to you, not to mention the next middle-aged student who walks through your classroom door.

    Deal with the man in question first, before jumping to conclusions that serve no other purpose than to generate a vicious circle. One man doesn't make a city. You may want to talk with the man first ... or have you already?

    Quote Originally Posted by Frosty Rei
    ... when students challenge or break [the atmosphere] with blatant rudeness, it really affects me.
    Don't let it. I know that's easier said than done, but like everything else in teaching it's a challenge well worth the try.

    Quote Originally Posted by Frosty Rei
    ... they are supposed to be adults and act accordingly.
    Yes, they are, or at least that's the assumption, right? I've taught every level, from pre-school to MBA, and I can tell you from experience that an approach based on expectations will always fail. Moreover, teaching 3 years olds taught me more about how to teach adults than did my 18 years' teaching experience in four different countries. The golden rule: know when to pick your battles.

    Quote Originally Posted by Frosty Rei
    ...her attack on another students financial situation ... annoyed me, not her sense of pride.
    As in the planning of any battle, you not only need to see the whole picture, you also need to know what good will come if you choose to act on your feelings. If you decide to do battle in class with a student, be it a look, a word, or an opinion, be prepared. Know your facts, know your opponent, and know your audience. Otherwise, you will walk into a set trap--one you unknowingly set yourself. Know when to pick your battles.

    Quote Originally Posted by Frosty Rei
    ... oftentimes the students will ask for my opinion, and expect it. And this is where things get heated. It is such a fine line between staying unbiased, and then hearing a student say something terribly inappropriate - and not react to it with a personal counter-opinion.
    Use your classroom as a forum for discussion. Open the question, the one requiring your opinion, up to the class. That's what seasoned teachers do. They do not offer their opinions first, if at all; they have the class discuss it. A case in point, when I was teaching university courses in China, my students, advanced "speakers" of English, who would one day be employed by the Chinese govenment special services offices, would forever ask me my opinions on the political situation in the world today with emphasis on G. W. Bush, a topic about which I have much to say and would love to talk about for hours, especially given the eager audience (I love a debate) and yet my response was always, "I don't have an opinion on that. Let's get back to the topic at hand."

    Quote Originally Posted by Frosty Rei
    The trap is laid, and sometimes I walk right into it.
    Recognize the signs. Tread softly. All questions are potentially loaded. Learn to respond in a way that accommodates your audience as well as yourself.

    Quote Originally Posted by Frosty Rei
    What do you do to not get involved? How do you decline entering a debate when the students really want you in on it?
    I take control of the class, Rei, by swaying them in a direction that I want the lesson to take. If they refuse, I open the topic up for discussion by first clearly stating the topic to be debated and then by having the students pair or group up to discuss how they are going to debate the issue. I stay neutral, walk around and listen, help with expressions, and then when it's time to debate, I go over the rules, and moderate. You have class rules, right?

    Quote Originally Posted by Frosty Rei
    I got too close to some students, and now I want out.
    There's hope. There's always hope.

    Quote Originally Posted by Frosty Rei
    So in my mind now: "Teaching never gets easier. It only gets different. You can prepare as much as you like, but there are things that can or will totally throw you off balance!"
    You can count on it. It's one of the reasons, if not the reason that I adore teaching. The challenges will either break you or make you a better person.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.
    Last edited by Casiopea; 08-Jun-2007 at 15:59.

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