Friday, December 20, 2013

Reflections on the 2013 school year 2: Anger

Avoid it as much as possible.

I’ll confess to losing my cool and yelling at students for misbehaviors. It’s not something to be happy about. It didn’t do anyone any good because it not only worsened the situation; it gave the kids their much-needed dose of attention. They got what they wanted and I got a headache and a sore throat. Korean society emphasizes the concept of “face,” which I definitely lost a few times over the years here. I took care not to ruin the class and quick switched a more positive mood to get the class rolling. Sometimes it was too late, but we usually got back on the right track.

On a similar note, Pink Floyd’s immortal warning of “No dark sarcasm in the classroom” proved all too tempting to ignore because there’s nothing a good harsh quip to put a student in his place, right? Wrong. Sarcasm doesn’t do anyone any good either. Life isn’t a movie script. There’s no peanut gallery watching the classroom for cutting lines or deft jests, there’s just me, the co-teacher, and the students. Moreover, sarcasm wouldn’t bring about any behavior change because it says nothing about the behavior that’s best for the classroom (or anywhere else, for that matter).

Here’s how: Saying something like “Oh, I see you’ve graced us with shining presence” to a tardy student may gratify for a second, but it won’t make him get in the door any sooner. Something like, “Good to see you, Joe. Arrive sooner next time,” would work better because it’s neutral and also points to the desired behavior. It also speaks the truth—I am truly am glad to see Joe and would like it even better for students to learn that expression to use among themselves. But, there’s another, more effective solution: Wait until the students are off and doing an activity and leave Joe a note or talk to him privately. Doing so allows for two things:
l       Joe gets no unnecessary attention when he enters the room.
l       He’s reminded of his misbehavior.
l       The conversation’s kept private.
l       I (the teacher) have time to cool down.

Contrast that with the aforementioned sarcasm and see which method’s more effective for yourself.

On a final note, I've found that telling the students I’m angry works because saying so always prompts a question as to why, and then I can explain. Yelling doesn’t work, but saying what the problem is—or demonstrating it, one of the two—always yields better behavior.

Let’s conclude by saying that sometimes voices need raising. One example comes to mind here: It happened during a word game we were playing at the boys middle school. One boy’s turn to speak came up and before he could say anything, another boy fired off a salvo of “You’re stupid” and “You don’t know anything” quips. The words cut the boy to the bone and he broke down and cried. As this happened in Korean, I missed the words and only saw the boy crying. A quick question to the co-teacher had her explaining what happened. It was no ordinary joking—it was verbal abuse. I yelled “Stop!” and halted the game so that we could review what showing respect and speaking at appropriate times means. By this time, everyone had gone silent. The other boy knew he’d done wrong, but rather than talk to him privately, I addressed the entire class, for they needed to hear this. They needed to know that taunting and verbal abuse is uncalled for. My co-teacher also talked to him after class and noted the incident in her log. 

More reflections coming soon...

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