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Mandatory Classroom Rules Teachers Should Have When Teaching English (EFL) to Children in Thailand or Rest of Asia

copyright Kowit Phothisan -- Creative Commons License
copyright Kowit Phothisan — Creative Commons License

When I first moved to Thailand to teach English, I must admit, I was lax with rules in my classroom. Wanting to fit into a relaxed Asian culture, I didn’t want to make many waves so let go of some of the classroom rules I’d normally insist on.

Soon though I realized, if I allowed the students I taught to behave in a way not conducive to learning, it was simple – they wouldn’t learn. Now, in every English (EFL) class I teach in Thailand, I insist every one of my students follow certain rules and if you’re teaching anywhere in Asia, these are some of the ones you should insist on too.

Rule 1 – Stand Up When The Teacher Enters – While this is still quite common in government schools throughout Asia, some of the bilingual or private schools are moving away from this in Thailand.

Standing up when the teacher arrives and saying “Good Morning” or “Good Afternoon” is a must in my classroom. It makes every child pay attention and begin to prepare themselves mentally for the class. It also shows respect for the teacher and, if children have that, you’ve already won half the battle.

Rule 2 – No Cell Phones – When I first moved to Thailand, it was amazing to me how many of the children I taught not only had cell phones but seemed to think it perfectly appropriate to use them in the middle of class. Bringing a cell phone to class turned on, and speaking on it while the teacher is teaching is the height of disrespect, but it’s common all over Asia.

Every kid in my classrooms is told right from the first class, if they have a cell phone with them, on their desk, in their bag etc. to turn it off and not turn it back on until the class is over.

I also speak to the parents of the children I teach at parents’ mornings and ask them to please not allow their children to bring cell phones to school. Not only do the kids constantly lose them (and some are as expensive as $500-900) but some of the children also use them as a way to tease other kids in their class – ‘borrow’ their cell phone causing the poor kid to frantically scour the school to find it.

Like in any country, the smart parents listen, the not so smart ones don’t but, of course, they’ll be the first ones complaining to the school when their kid loses their cell phone or have it stolen.

Rule 3 – No Games or Game Consoles – Kids are obsessed with computer games all over Asia, and many Thai parents spoil their kids, which means most kids from a middle class family or higher will appear at school at one time or another clutching computer games or game consoles. The third rule in my class is absolutely no computer games or game consoles – ever.

Every child should be able to spend eight hours at school, without feeling it necessary to play a computer game. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a computer game geek myself but there’s a time and a place for them and in the middle of my classroom or at breaktime, making the kids late for their next class while they finish their game isn’t that time.

My students are told from the first class, if I find a computer game or game console in my classroom, it will be confiscated and not returned to them until the end of the week. A second offense, and they won’t get it back for a month.

Amazing how fast most of my students begin to leave their gaming equipment at home. After all, imagine having to live without a game for a week when you’re right in the middle of it.

Rule 4– Homework Must Be Signed By Parent – Schools in Thailand, like many other places in Asia, often have problems getting children to turn in homework. Thai kids can be quite lazy and, if they can get away with not doing homework or copying from their friends most will.

That’s why at the beginning of every semester, every child in my English (EFL) classes is given a small notebook. The notebook has space for the parent to sign that they know the child has been given homework. They then must sign it again when the homework has been finished.

I check the books every morning in homeroom, and if the child forgets to get signatures more than three times, I call the parents into the school. As the parents have better things to do than trek to school to check up on their kids, it’s amazing how fast most of the kids remember to get signatures.

Rule 5 – Speak English Unless You’re Dying – A silly rule, and I make it intentionally silly, but I always tell my students “You’d better be dying and desperately need help if you speak in my English class in Thai”. Some EFL teachers are lax letting the kids speak Thai if they can’t explain in English. The children are there to learn English. They already speak Thai, (Japanese, Chinese, Korean etc.) so why would they need to practice it in my English class?

Of course, there are many other ‘common sense’ rules in an EFL classroom – Don’t Run, Don’t Shout, Don’t Throw Things etc., but these five are rules my children had better have a darned good excuse for breaking and, as none of them appear to have been deathly ill yet, I’ve still to hear a good one.