Amanda's Epistle

The continuing story of my life in Thailand

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What is a “tattle-tale” and why is it supposed to be discouraged?


“Teacher! She is eating chips in class!”
“No eating in class. Put those back outside.”

The offender takes her bag of chips out of the classroom and then returns. The other students snicker a bit, but then class resumes as normal.

And I am totally confused.

My Chinese students will “tattle” on each other all the time, mostly on those breaking the “no food or drink in the classroom” rule. And yet all of them are good sports about it and it doesn’t bother them at all if a “squealer” spills the beans.

I scratch my head. After all, when I was in school, we were told that it was wrong to be a “tattle-tale.” You’re not supposed to purposely try to get your classmates in trouble. I accepted this and would say nothing, even if I saw a classmate breaking the rules.

Now I’m a teacher and I’m beginning to question this practice. It doesn’t seem to be indoctrinated here in Asia. Kids seem to think that they are EXPECTED to point out rule-breakers. They must be the eyes and ears for the teacher. After all, there’s only one teacher and two dozen kids.

So why do Americans discourage tattling?

What I was told was that it’s wrong to “purposely get your classmate into trouble.” This seems to be an attitude check. A kid purposely squeals on another kid because he doesn’t like him and this is not a good attitude for a student to have.

But when a kid tattles on another kid, how do you know he’s doing it out of spite? In my class, they seem to be doing it more out of a sense of fairness, rather than just to get others in trouble. “I can’t eat chips in class and you shouldn’t either.” And even the kid who was tattled on seems to accept this. “I broke the rules and I should face the consequences. It’s not your fault if I’m the one not following the rules.”

Even if it is done out of spite, does this mean the teacher has to ignore the transgression and punish the tattler instead? This doesn’t make sense to me. If a student is breaking the rules, regardless of how the teacher finds out about it, the student needs to be held responsible for his actions, be it detention, a lecture, or whatever consequence is in place for said rule.

I do not believe in letting ANY of my students get away with breaking the rules. It undermines the authority of the teacher and teaches them that rules don’t mean anything. Big rules or small rules, they should be treated the same, as you can’t expect kids to follow the big rules if they think they don’t have to follow the small ones at all.

If a teacher puts too much stress on “don’t be a tattle-tale,” what will happen if a student witnesses a bully taking a smaller child’s lunch money? Is he going to report it? Or is he going to keep his mouth shut for fear of being labeled a “squealer?” If a fight breaks out on the playground, are the kids surrounding the fight going to stand there and watch? Or is one of them going to report it to the principal?

On the other hand, I do see where tattling can get a little bit annoying. But this just means specific rules should be in place. One student reported to me that a classmate was doodling. I have no rule against doodling. I do have a rule against being out of your chair without permission. I told the “tattler” he needed to go and sit down, as he had no reason to be out of his seat.

When my four-year-old neice comes to visit us, I had to put some limits on Ben, my eight-year-old. He doesn’t like his cousin and is constantly running in to “tattle” on her and try to get me to punish her. But in this case, as it’s my kid, I know what he’s up to. Again, I lay out specific rules. If his cousin breaks one of those rules, feel free to tell me. But those rules do not include her staying away from your stuff and not eating any of the food in the house. If you don’t like her playing with your toys, PUT YOUR TOYS AWAY SO SHE CAN’T GET INTO THEM!

If you follow the rules, you won’t get tattled on. Simple as that.

Does the “don’t be a tattle-tale” idea apply in adulthood? Are not convicted criminals given lighter sentences if they help the police locate the ringleaders, the mafia bosses, and the crooked dealers? If you witness a drive-by and take note of the liscense plate, is it not your duty to report what you saw to the police, even though it’s “none of your business?”

It seems to me we ENCOURAGE people to “tattle” on lawbreakers when we’re adults.

Back on the flip-side, consider Nazi Germany, where an “informant” is one of the enemy. Why is this? Because the governing authority was, in fact, the enemy. What the government was doing was flat-out wrong. They were hunting down Jews who had NOT broken any rules or laws. They were simply Jewish. Last I checked, a Jew cannot change the fact that he was born that way. Now those hiding the Jews WERE breaking the rules, but they were doing so because they deemed the rules to be unjust and the ruling authority to be wrong.

Perhaps that’s an extreme example. But the point is, most of the time, the authority over the situation is not the enemy. Be it the government, the police, the parent, or the teacher, the person in authority needs to know when transgressions are taking place and who is doing them. If someone takes it upon himself to alert the authorities when a criminal has been sighted, a child is being bullied, a sex-offender is on the prowl in a family neighborhood, I see no reason to discourage him.

Perhaps being a “tattle-tale” should be a GOOD thing.

What do you think?


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Classroom Issues in Asia

photo4I 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.

1. Cheating

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.