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When Rules Aren’t Enough

[ 7 ] April 25, 2010 |

It’s inevitable when teaching that at some point you are going to come across some disciplinary issues particularly when teaching children.  Children can turn from little angels into little devils in the blink of an eye and even the model student can turn into your worst nightmare.

When I came to teach in China I was fairly confident that I wouldn’t come across to many problem children after hearing how well behaved and hardworking Chinese students were.  Then I found out that I would be teaching only teaching 5 students all from the Middle East in the international department of a primary school.  I thought what a sweet gig only 5 students to teach, easy to monitor their progress and keep a tight handle on discipline.  How much easier I would have it then those teaching massive classes of 50 plus.  How wrong I was!

Shaoxing Experiemental Primary School

 Shaoxing Experimental Primary School

At first teaching only 5 students sounded very appealing.  The first time I met them they were sweet as pie and I thought fantastic this will be smooth sailing I can get on with the teaching and they can get on with their work.  It was not long until I discovered this wasn’t to be the case.

It turns out the 5 students I was to be teaching had for the last few years gotten used to little or no discipline.  They were allowed to run amuck in the classroom, walk out whenever they wanted to, fight with each other, speak over the top of each other, be slack and were allowed to play games (the non educational kind) instead of doing class work.

When I came to the school smiley happy new Aussie teacher the students must of thought great we can try the same on her.  But they were quick to discover that although I wanted them to have fun while learning I wasn’t going to take the same crap the other teacher’s had and I certainly was not going to put up with bad behavior.

I hardly remember my first lesson but what I do remember was having fun learning about them and introducing myself but also not neglecting to lay down the law.  It’s so important that in your first lesson you let the students know just what kind of teacher you are going to be and what your expectations are of them. 

Kids Will be Kids!!!

My second day of teaching I brought in the class rules written down in big letters on brightly coloured paper and stuck it up on the wall right next to the black board so that the students could always see it.  I started off the lesson drilling the rules and asking the students questions about them to check their understanding.

Over the next week I noticed that one student in particular was always playing up, disrupting other students, not doing his work and playing rough with them at lunchtime.  Warnings and punishments didn’t seem to work.  What I did notice was that when he was praised for good work he’d always strived to work harder at least for the next 10 minutes.  I rethought my whole strategy and decided to go with the whole reward good behavior  by giving the students a reward to work towards.

I devised the star award system.  Each student has their own tally sheet stuck on the wall.  At the end of each lesson if they have been well behaved and completed all their work they receive a star stamp on their star award tally.  At the end of he week if they had received 10 stars then they would each get a chocolate and at the end of 3 weeks if they had earned 30 stars they would receive a star award.

This system worked quite nicely for the next 2 weeks with the students eager to do their work to receive their stars.  At the end of each lesson they would huddle around me in anticipation of receiving their stars.

However there are just some days when no matter how many warnings I give them they continue to misbehave.  In this case I will not award a star or deduct a star from their tally.  This worked fairly well with students eager to earn back their stars.  One morning I came into the classroom to find the students cleaning it scrubbing the walls no less in hopes of re earning the stars they’d lost. 

I had one particular day when all the students even my model teachers pet was playing up.  At lunchtime they were fighting and hitting each other and had to be pried apart.  Then one decided to push one in the pond while the other one retaliated by throwing water at them.  I gave them each a very stern talking to and when they refused to apologies that was it I had had enough of their misbehavior. 

To punish them for misbehaving all day I wiped off all their stars earned for the last week leaving them with zero and told them that they continued to play up then I would have to contact their parents.  They continued to play up that day so I cancelled their favourite fun world culture lesson and replaced it with writing, making them write out the rules no less until I could be sure they were drilled right into their brains.  At this stage I had gone from being their favourite teacher to their favourite teacher they’d love to hate!  Despite this I still had them groveling at my desks to earn back there stars and needless to say they have been very well behaved since.

My students happily holding up their star awards, I was so proud of them!

I’m a teacher who puts a lot of effort into planning my lessons and making them as fun and interactive for the kids as possible.  But I’m also a teacher who doesn’t take any crap.  Although it pains and disappoints me every time I have to punish them, deduct a star or make them write out the rules it is essential to let them know who’s boss and to have the upper hand.  It’s important that you set the rules and follow through with the punishments if the rules are broken.  The moment you start to let your students walk all over you is the moment you loose all control and gaining it back is one of the toughest things you can do!

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Category: ESL Teaching

About onurwaytravel: Colin has been travelling the world with his young family for the past 2 and half years. He runs a couple of websites all revolve around travel, family travel and digital nomadism. His websites include,, and now View author profile.

Comments (7)

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  1. Julie Peakall says:

    I enjoyed this story very much. Very interesting and amusing at times. I should have taken a leaf out of your book years ago when my children were much younger. I wonder if it would work now.

  2. Eli

    Sounds like a headache. I have always counted teaching English as an option for income when I head over to Southeast Asia, but after reading this I’m not sure if I would have the patience! Perhaps it’s similar to bartending, where you have to control a mob full of unruly drunks. In that case, maybe I am cut out for it! :) Love the post, Sasha!

  3. Sasha says:

    Thanks for the comment Eli! It’s not quite like looking after unruly drunks although sometimes I do wonder LOL. The key is consistency!!! Once you have them understanding the rules and the consequences as long as you stick to those rules then most of the time teaching is great. You also need to make sure your on the same page as the other teachers on discipline, let them know what you disciplinary expectations are of the students as well so that the students don’t get this whole idea that that can misbehave in front of one teacher because they will be soft. If the other teachers are soft the bad behavior will always rub off on your classes.

    Being an English teacher is easily the most rewarding thing I’ve done with my life, the positives far out weigh the negatives. Good Luck!!! :)

  4. I miss teaching classes. Glad that you didn’t go crazy from the kids and instead found a way to get them to interact, I’ve always found flinging poo as a great threat to stop bad behavior. But beware if you have a fellow flinger in the classroom.
    .-= Cornelius Aesop´s last blog ..New Brew Tuesday: The Battle of the Modelos =-.

  5. Sasha says:

    Sometimes they do drive me crazy LOL and I always have to tell them to stop talking about poo poo so I think if I flung it at them it might actually encourage them LOL

  6. Melissa says:

    Hey sasha u sound like any normal teacher lol i remember in kindy having the start chart lol.
    Im glad u are having fun and the kids love you

  7. Sasha says:

    Thanks Mel!!! :) Teaching really can only be described as an adventure that’s for sure!!! Sometimes good sometimes bad LOL

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