Teaching in Thailand: Discipline Problems in the Classroom

Updated on May 9, 2020
Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul has spent many years teaching EFL and ESL. He taught EFL in Taiwan during the 70s, ESL in the U.S., and most recently EFL in Thailand.

Sixth Grade EFL Students in Thailand


The Teacher as a Policeman

For the past few years, I have been teaching EFL to fifth graders in a Thailand school. It has been a very interesting and rewarding experience; however, I have lately come to the conclusion that in many classes my presence in the classroom is more of that as a policeman than as a teacher. After first describing my classroom environment and culture as well as influences on students, I will detail discipline policing actions in many of my classrooms which take precious time away from teaching and learning.

Classroom Environment and Culture

The classroom environment and culture of the EFL school in Thailand where I teach is diverse and challenging. For starters, there are 42 students packed into a small classroom in almost half of the classes I teach. There isn't much room for the students to move around, much less adequate space for the teacher's desk and chair in front of the class. Although an optimum class size for instruction would be no more than 20 students, the school obviously would make less money with half as many students.

My students are all girls and as fifth-graders, they are either 10 or 11 years of age. Most of the girls are from upper-class families of Thai-Chinese ethnicity.

The biggest challenge is that all classes are of mixed ability. This streamlining of all abilities has been in effect for the past few years due to parents' objections of grouping students by ability and previous academic performance. A streamlined class will include the gifted and talented, average, academically challenged working below grade level, and students with special needs such as dyslexia, autism, and attention deficit disorder.

As 10 and 11-year-old kids, there will also be students of different physical maturation. Some of the girls have already entered puberty and seem almost physically grown up. Others seem like peanuts and are about as big as first or second graders. This presents other challenges in the class for physical and emotional reasons.

Influences on the Students

In addition to the classroom environment and culture, students are also the recipients of other influences from the school, Thai society, and their homes. School influences include holding all core subject classes in the students' homerooms, the policy of passing all students, and not paying attention to starting classes on time.

Except for art, music, computer science, and physical education classes, all core subjects like math, English, and science are held in the students' homerooms which teachers visit on a regular schedule. Since it is their homeroom, students have regular access to all of their art and music supplies which are at times used as distractions in class.

Sanctioned by the Ministry of Education, all schools must pass all students regardless of whether they are attaining the minimum passing score of 50 percent. Since all students know they can not fail, many are lazy and unwilling to do classwork and homework.

Another bad influence is the policy of not beginning classes on time. Classes for the third and fifth periods which follow the morning recess and lunch hour respectively are consistently 10 minutes late in starting. This is due to the policy of students waiting for a song to be played to call them for assembly and then to go to class. Unfortunately, the song is not played far enough in advance to allow the students sufficient time to make it up to their classrooms. Time is not valued in Thailand as it is in the West; consequently, many students waste it and don't value it in the classroom.

Finally, many of the parents don't insist that their kids practice English at home. For many of the students, the only English they actively use is in the classroom. It seems that English is not spoken outside of class.

Policing Actions in the Classroom

Classroom environment and culture and influences on the students have led to the teacher taking an increased discipline policing action in the classroom. These actions include:

1. Making Sure Students Are All in Their Seats and Not Tardy

The teacher has no control over whether a class starts at 10:20 or 1:00 after the third and fifth periods. School administration controls this by playing a song to call students to class. What the teacher must police, however, is making sure that all students promptly sit at their desks upon entering the classroom, and that there are no stragglers who are tardy. At times there are students who are wandering around the room or talking to their friends. These kids have to be ordered to take their seats.

2. Make Sure Students Have Learning Materials and Open Books to Assigned Classwork

After the students are seated and give a customary greeting to the teacher, the instructor has to ensure that every student first has her books or notebook needed for the lesson, and then to check whether every pupil has her book open to the assignment of the day. It never fails that a few students don't bring their books to class. They must be ordered to share a book with their seated partner and warned not to forget their book next time. Other students who have their books don't open them immediately. This being the case, I must walk around the room and stop at each desk to ensure that every student is complying with my order. At least five minutes of instruction time is lost here. The assigned page is written boldly on the board, but it never fails that some students will still ask me for the assigned book page.

3. Confiscate Material Not Related to Lesson

It's amazing the amount of non-related lesson material I confiscate during most classes. During every English class, there will always be some students doing other homework such as math, history, Thai, or Chinese. Students who aren't doing other homework will be drawing pictures, playing with toys, using their camera, reading comic books, or doing an art project by cutting colored paper with scissors.

4. Keeping the Attention of All Students

If students don't consider something to be fun, you will lose their attention, and they will entertain themselves by doing something else. If the teacher can't make something fun, he or she must constantly call on and single out the inattentive students.

5. Make Sure Students Stay in Their Seats and Don't Hide on The Floor

Some of my students have extremely short attention spans and think it is alright to be constantly out of their seats during class time. A few that do get out of their seat during class without me noticing them will try to hide on the floor behind desks in the back of the classroom. The teacher must catch these transgressors and ensure that they stay at their desks.

6. Make Students Participate in Class and Do In-Class Assignments

In almost every one of my classes, it is the few smartest kids who monopolize the class discussion and have millions of questions and answers while classwork is done. The other students sit passively without participating. Some don't even open their books to do assignments. In situations like this, I will play a game by throwing a cloth ball and having other students throw the ball to unwilling students. If the ball touches an unwilling student, she must go to the board to answer a question. During written assignments at their desks, I must walk around the room and patrol, making sure that every student is at least trying to do the assignment.

When I started teaching kids EFL in Thailand, I never realized that I would have to do so much discipline police work in the class. Although this police work isn't necessary for my smaller, better classes, it is still something that demands a lot of time and effort in other classes. There is very little time left for instruction.

One of my sixth grade classes at Saint Joseph Bangna School in Thailand 1n 2009.
One of my sixth grade classes at Saint Joseph Bangna School in Thailand 1n 2009. | Source

Improving Classroom Discipline

How can classroom discipline be improved?

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2013 Paul Richard Kuehn


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      • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

        Paul Richard Kuehn 

        7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


        Thank you for your interest in this topic of discussion. I really appreciate you reading and commenting on my hubs.

      • Jared Miles profile image

        Jared Miles 

        7 years ago from Australia

        Very interesting Paul, and thank you for your time and insight. I'll be sure to keep in touch and check out your future work.

      • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

        Paul Richard Kuehn 

        7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

        I have heard from one of my followers who is a teacher in New York State in the U.S. that all students must pass through social promotion until high school. In high school, it's up to what the teacher wants to do with the student's grade.

      • Jared Miles profile image

        Jared Miles 

        7 years ago from Australia

        I think that's somewhat concerning, wouldn't you agree? It's not much of an education if the education standards are changed to suit those who don't try to succeed in school, or gain an education. Do you know if something like this is happening in other parts of the world?

      • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

        Paul Richard Kuehn 

        7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

        Jared it is happening. If a student's final average is not at least 50, the student is retested a number of times until he or she passes or the teacher makes the final test (evaluation) easy enough for the student to pass. I don't really understand the basis of the policy, but can only guess that the government is intent on making every student feel good about themselves.

      • Jared Miles profile image

        Jared Miles 

        7 years ago from Australia

        Wow, you've taught me a lot in a short frame of time!

        I'm particularly amazed with your statement: "Sanctioned by the Ministry of Education, all schools must pass all students regardless of whether they are attaining the minimum passing score of 50 percent."

        I don't understand the basis of that sanction, and I can't imagine it happening. Thank you for teaching me something so illuminating, I enjoy reading your views on other cultures.

      • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

        Paul Richard Kuehn 

        7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

        Au Fait,

        Thank you very much for reading and commenting on this hub. I always appreciate your great honest evaluation of my subject matter. In answer to your question, discipline is just as lax with boys and even worse in many schools. Before I came to the all-girls Catholic School where I am presently employed, I had been teaching junior and senior high school English conversations at a coed public school. It was hard to maintain discipline in classrooms which were very small and had 60 students. Right before I resigned from this school, a student hit me in the back with a big eraser as I had my back turned to the class and was writing on the board. This was done in front of a Thai teache

        r who was sitting in the back of the class!

        Social promotion in the States is a change from when I was going to school in the 50s and 60s. At that time kids did fail as evidenced by my oldest sister who failed the first grade in a Catholic school. At that time, kids could even skip grades. My sixth grade nun teacher wanted me to skip from the 6th to the 8th grade. My parents let me make the final decision, and I decided not to do it. I was worried about being labelled a nerd and not being accepted by my classmates. Can kids skip grades today in the school system?

        You are correct in saying that uneducated and poorly educated people are more easily controlled.

        Thanks for sharing this hub with your followers.

      • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

        Paul Richard Kuehn 

        7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


        Thank you very much for commenting on this hub. It's interesting to know that the classroom management issues and concerns in the States are very similar to Thailand. When it comes to effective classroom management, I have found that every class is unique.

      • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

        Paul Richard Kuehn 

        7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


        Thank you very much for commenting on this hub. Yes, with no consequences for failure, there will continue to be problems with discipline in our schools and in society.

      • Levertis Steele profile image

        Levertis Steele 

        7 years ago from Southern Clime

        No student can fail! Well, that is not much help. It seems that the system needs to revamp school policies and procedures and student handbooks. If there are no consequences for failure, there will continue to be problems with discipline.

      • StephanieBCrosby profile image

        Stephanie Bradberry 

        7 years ago from New Jersey

        I find this perspective and insight very interesting. As I was reading, I found myself not even really reading the country name of Thailand. It felt just like home...American school systems. I remember teaching classes of 30-31 students and we were clearly over capacity especially since there were not enough desks to go around, and this was a more affluent school district.

        The classroom management issues/concerns in this article are also very familiar. I think they exists no matter where you teach. Some times they take on a different form and vary by degrees. But for the most part I think it comes with the territory until you find what works for you and your students.

      • Au fait profile image

        C E Clark 

        7 years ago from North Texas

        I'm curious to know if discipline in Thai schools is as lax with the boys as with the girls. It crosses my mind that the Thai government may just be lax with the girls thinking that girls are inferior and do not really need a good education like the boys. They will after all just do menial jobs in addition to getting married and producing offspring. That was once the attitude here and from my experience is an attitude still held by some people here.

        We have social promotion here in the states and none of the children are embarrassed by being held back for poor performance. You would think parents would want their children held back in order to master their lessons on which future lessons will depend, because if you don't have a good base your building will topple. Division and multiplication are very difficult if you do not know how to add or subtract. Managing your money if you can't add or subtract is all but impossible. Why don't modern parents want their children to master basic skills so that their children can be successful as adults?

        It would seem that more and more, mediocrity and poor performance is the goal everywhere. That way the few at the top can easily remain in control without concern of losing their positions. Uneducated and poorly educated people are easily manipulated and controlled.

        A very interesting article to help us all better understand how things are done in Thailand and how our education system compares. Voted up, interesting, and will share with my followers.

      • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

        Paul Richard Kuehn 

        7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


        I really appreciate you reading and commenting on this hub. Your views and opinions are so very correct. Yes, there are too many rules set by parents and educational authorities "that no child be left behind" and everyone should feel good about themselves which are indeed making the teacher's job hopeless. Thanks for sharing this hub.

      • MartieCoetser profile image

        Martie Coetser 

        7 years ago from South Africa

        Oh, this entire hub could have been written word for word by a teacher in South Africa. I think children all over the world are the same, but all teachers are not. All teachers are surely not able to meet all the challenges presented by Education, consequently encouraging chaos and the disastrous situation where children (and their demanding parents) wield the scepter. There are too many unfeasible rules - set by parents and the Department of Education (up there and totally disconnected), i.e. not grouping students by ability and previous academic performance. This is arrant discrimination against gifted students as well as against students in need of special attention. And not to talk about the ridiculous rule of allowing non-achievers to proceed to a more advance grade regardless of their ignorance.

        Down here in SA most teachers are disheartened, impotent and bereaved of their initial enthusiasm to teach. On top of this they are buried under administration beyond believe.

        When I start discussing education, I can literally feel my hope for the future dies. I don't even see a light in the tunnel. We just go with the flow, like sheep on our way to an abattoir...

        Excellent, informative hub!

      • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

        Paul Richard Kuehn 

        7 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


        Thanks for reading this hub and I really appreciate your encouraging comments. When I was a kid in the 50s people did fail in school, and there were no social promotions. Times have really changed. If we want every kid to feel good about himself or herself and not hurt any feelings, it is necessary for everyone to pass. But think of the standards we are setting and the individuals we are preparing to send into the work force!

      • donnah75 profile image

        Donna Hilbrandt 

        7 years ago from Upstate New York

        And people wonder why students are learning... Class size is so important. I helped create and run a program a several years ago that focused on helping students who had historically not been successful. We insisted that classes be 20 students or less. Guess what? They were more successful. Huh. This idea of "no one fails" is another concept that boggles my mind. We have that in our school up to 8th grade. When student enter high school, they have been conditioned to think that working isn't necessary and they have serious skills gaps. And then we, the teachers, are blamed for being ineffective! If we were to hold students, and their parents, more accountable for their efforts, we would improve the quality of education overnight. It is amazing how these problems cross over borders and cultures. Keeping doing what you do, as you are making a difference, even in the chaos.


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