Thursday, November 24, 2011

Keeping your Cool

In Asia, "Losing Face" is a big no-no.  An easy way to do this is to publicly express your anger in a loud/confrontational kind of way.  This causes either you, or the group/person that your anger is directed at to lose face and cause embarrassment and shame.

Teachers, anywhere in the world are tempted to lose their cool, become angry and start shouting at their students.  In Korean Universities, this is even more tempting because we often teach students in required classes who are apathetic, lazy and just don't care about our class.  Their highest goal is often not failing and having to take the class again.  Of course, there are good students mixed in and even certain majors (fashion/nursing/ international business, etc) that see the value of English to their lives who are a joy to teach.

And so when you're in a class, and students are sleeping, texting, talking to their friends, don't have books or pencils and generally not paying attention, it can be extremely hard to not get angry.  I've been there.  And done the yelling thing.  And it NEVER produces the result that you want.  It just sets up this antagonistic kind of relationship where it's teacher vs students, instead of the students getting on the same page as the teacher and working together with them to improve their English skills.  My coworkers that lose their cool never seem to get that great of evaluations.

What's the alternative to losing your cool?  My tips:

1. I try to avoid the situation in the first place by shifting my attitude.  I get that many of the students don't really want to be in my class in the first place and don't take it personally when they don't seem to care.  It's not that they don't like me, it's just that they don't like English.

2. I set up my class in a way that gives me the power.  If a student doesn't have their book or pencil, I kick them out of class from the start (They have one free chance).  I don't allow late students (after 10 minutes).  I don't accept excuse slips for absences for minor things.

3. I have a variety of fun, and interesting activities and games so that the students on the edge of caring/not-caring will be engaged and get on the same page.

4. If one student is fraying my nerves, I use 3 strikes and you're out (2 verbal warnings and then on the third I ask them to leave).  And I'll do it all with a smile, and in a very calm way.

5. If the entire class is getting to me and I feel on the verge of losing my cool, I'll step out into the hallway for a couple minutes to collect and calm myself.  I rarely get to this point but about once a year, it's necessary.   The students can sense my annoyance and stepping out for a minute often has the effect that teachers think yelling will have, but it does so in a way that nobody loses face.

6. Remind yourself that it's just a job and not worth sacrificing your mental health over.  Of course, with the better classes and the good students it's often more than a job and there is the potential for actually having a positive impact on student's lives.  But for the poor students and the terrible classes?  Don't stress out about it and know that all semesters eventually come to an end. 

7. Be kind to your students and treat them respectfully.  Students will not respect you if you don't offer it back.  Students will not be kind to you if you're not kind to them.  Students won't follow you and accept your leadership if you're not a person that they want to be around.

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