seek to understand

“One challenge teachers face is disruptive behavior in their classrooms. In a 2004 survey, 75 % of teachers noted that they would spend more time teaching and teaching effectively if they had less disruptive behavior in their classrooms (Public Agenda, 2004). Disruptive behavior (e.g., speaking without permission, getting out of seat) often interferes with students’ engagement in the learning process. Another challenge for teachers is to find classroom management strategies that are proactive, preventative, and relatively easy to implement, and which provide minimal disruption to the classroom. ” (

Classroom Management: the topic the tends to conquer most conversations with my co-workers and Teach for China fellows. “How are your kids? They are chatty. I confiscated a knife. They are disrespectful. I can’t keep them focused for more than 3 minutes. I had to shut down class 3 times this week.”

During Teach for China’s summer institute (a fast paced month long training program) we spent a large portion learning how to manage a classroom, as well as discussed and practiced different techniques, including, activity differentiation, teacher actions vs. student action, affective filter, positive consequences, and how to handle disruptions without giving up valuable class time. We practiced non-verbal and verbal cues and discussed various tracking methods (a point system) to motivate students to stay on task. Recently I have spent a good amount of time dealing with classroom management and figuring out how to handle my most 调皮(naughty) students while upholding my own dignity and most importantly, the student’s dignity as well. Management to me, at times, becomes a game of chess and sometimes even a battle of wits.

My third week of teaching, I was tired and feeling the swooping depression that all Teach for China fellows eventually feel. However, I realized that I had been yelling all week. I was exhausted, frustrated, and fed up. I felt disrespected and my first thoughts were, it’s because I am not from here, it is because I am American and vulnerable.

Later I thought that was pretty selfish of me.

There are teacher actions and there are student actions, and as a teacher you have to believe that you can make an impact on student actions. I decided to yell less, and ask more.

Scenario: While teaching students how to say “Do you like bananas?” You see a student passing notes, and you have a decision-make an example out of them-or confiscate the note and wait.

This was not my first run in with this student, who had repeatedly been completing other homework during my class. She stood up, apologized and asked me not to read the note out loud. While I had no intentions of doing so, my knee-jerk reaction was to be upset. How dare you stand up and speak out of turn. She already disrespected my class by passing notes and now she was asking for a favor? I continued on with class and pocketed the note.

It is age-old advice, but a deep breath and beginning a conversation with “how are you doing today? Did you have a good break?”-certainly goes a long way.

The student’s best friend from home was going through a rough time. Her friend quit school after completing elementary, was not eating, and refused to see anyone. My student was worried for her friend and the note passed in classed read words of encouragement.

Since this incident, this student chats with me during lunch time, eagerly participates in class, and makes an effort to practice her English with me outside of the classroom.  Her behavior in the classroom drastically changed and she now volunteers to answer questions.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

7th graders at LaoYing Middle School

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