Disciplining my students was the most challenging aspect of teaching in China.
However, learning to do it well was probably the most valuable teaching tool I acquired.
In my public primary school classroom, I typically had at least 50 kids per class. That’s a lot of energy to (attempt to) control. But I knew I needed the students to not just love me, but respect me.
Chinese children usually view foreign teachers’ classes as the most fun. That’s great, and I loved having a good time with my students. On the other hand, if students only see your class as a good time, they won’t fully respect you or learn from your lessons. Discipline maintains a healthy balance between fun and fear.
As time went on, I learned some methods that were both effective and culturally appropriate.
First, Set Rules.
If you set classroom rules from day one, your students will know what you expect from them. Thankfully, there is always at least one model student who holds the other kids to your standards.
In my class, I had 3 rules: English only, be respectful and be prepared.
One of my favorite moments as a teacher was the time a second-grader answered me in Mandarin, and a fellow seven-year-old yelled, “ENGLISH ONLY!”
Practice Call and Response.
Chinese teachers love to use the call and response technique. With so many students, these chants are probably the easiest way to get everyone’s attention at once.
Here are some examples of popular classroom chants:
Teacher: One, two!
Students: Three, four!
Teacher: One, two, three!
Students: A, B, C!
Every teacher has their own method. You can choose your favorite and consistently use it in every class, or ask other teachers what chant they use and then adapt it for your own classes.
Take Away Points.
A common way of getting kids to participate is using a reward system. Divide the class into 4 or 5 groups and grant points when members of a particular group answer questions correctly or are well behaved. Students get pretty competitive, especially if there is a prize for the winning team at the end of class.
If a student behaves badly, take away a point from their team. Their teammates will freak out, which usually keeps the rowdy child quiet for a bit.
This is also a good method if some students don’t participate in your call and response. Generally speaking, when students respond during the chant, they all sit up straight and fold their arms on their desks. If they fail to do any of these things, take away a point.
If students are reading a book, drawing a picture, or playing a game, take that distraction away from them. They can have it back at the end of class or retrieve it from your office at the end of the day.
You may notice some students are very resistant if you try to take away a book. You should understand that many teachers rip up kids’ books when they are caught reading, and the children don’t want to lose that book forever. I can’t stand the thought of tearing up a book, so once my students realized I wasn’t going to destroy it, they were usually more willing to oblige.
Use the Wall.
If a kid is being particularly naughty, command them to get up and stand with their face against the wall. If you have them do so in front of the entire class, they will definitely be ashamed to have all their friends witness their punishment.
Send them Out.
This tactic is a last resort.
If a child’s behavior is terrible, send them out of your classroom. Don’t have them stand in the hall alone, however. Instead, send them to their home room teacher’s office so the instructor can decide how to discipline them.
You certainly don’t want to leave your class, and you probably can’t trust the misbehaving student to make it to the intended destination of his own accord. In this case, the class’s head student usually volunteers to accompany their classmate to the office.