I teach a group of Chinese kids in the evenings. These kids speak Thai, as they go to Thai schools, but every night they get an hour of Chinese script and then an hour of English at our little program. It works for the most part, but there are some classroom issues that I have here that I never experienced in the U.S.
In this culture, looking off of your friend’s paper is not considered “cheating”, it is considered “helping.” This is a society where the group as a whole is considered before the needs of the individual (opposite of the US). I had to hammer into their heads that I want them to know the answers “without help.” I also tell my students that when it is time for the exam, I will be testing each student individually so they won’t be able to “help” each other.
2. Boys on one side and girls on the other
This is not only true in schools, but also in many churches and meeting halls. Men and women do not sit together. Yes, I know it is a cultural thing, but it’s not a good idea in a classroom. The boys sit with their friends and talk during class. The girls are doing the same thing. When I taught in the US, a boy/girl/boy/girl seating arrangement was usually (although not always) an effective way to keep the students from yapping during class. I’ve thought about tackling this issue with assigned seating, make sure no one is next to their best friend, but then I have problem number three.
3. I don’t know their names!
Yes, shame on me. A teacher should always make an effort to learn the names of the students. But when I ask them their names, they answer with the question, “Which name do you want?” These kids have one name in Chinese, another in Thai, and possibly several nicknames. If I ask for their Chinese names, I get a name that I could never remember as I do not know Chinese. Thai names are slightly better, but are usually rather long. I may start the next term with giving each student a very easy English name (they have dozens of names already, so one more won’t hurt, right?) and then tell Bob, Joe, and Henry that they are not allowed to sit together.
4. My own kid is in my class
This issue is rather unique with just me. Benjamin, my nephew who calls me “Mommy”, is in my class. This raises multiple issues just by itself.
4-A The students think Benjamin is teaching the class.
When I taught English for Ben’s first grade class, his classmates were always asking him, “What did teacher say?”, not realizing that I knew what they were saying. Even when the kids DO catch what teacher is saying, they tend to ask Ben if their understanding is correct or not.
4-B Ben is in the wrong class
Our little program splits the kids up according to their ability in Chinese. Ben knows very little Chinese and is in the “beginner” class. But that also puts him in the “beginner” level of English, even though he speaks it fluently. My first method of combating this was to focus on reading English rather than speaking, as then Ben is on the same level as his classmates. Problem here is that it’s awfully hard to teach kids to read words when they don’t know what the words mean, so I have to tell them what they mean at the same time. But it does give me a chance to focus on the phonetics, as English as a number of sounds (“th” for example) that Thai and Chinese do not.
4-C A kid should never be in his “Mother’s” class
This actually IS the same as it is elsewhere. Ben isn’t bothered by the fact that I’m his teacher, but he does have a tendancy to talk to me about other matters besides schoolwork during class. He also tends to flaunt to his friends that he speaks English better than they do. He actually got mad when one of the girls became just as good as he was in the “vocab game”, but I told him that we WANT his friends to know English and he needs to stop being such a snob about it.
Thankfully, the school year is almost over. Maybe next term I’ll figure out a better way to get these kids to pay attention.