Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Student Whisperer

A favorite show of mine back in the US was "The Dog Whisperer."  If you haven't had the chance to see it, I recommend it to anyone having difficulty with a pet or human.  The idea is that to be the leader, you must be the top dog in the pack.  We used to have our DVR record it ahead of time and we would spend Friday night seeing what problems he would solve.  With that in mind, I began to see that I was in the same position in my classes.  I needed to be the leader of the pack.

My teaching experience is now a month old and days are good and days are bad.  My education taught me to use a scientific methodical approach to gain understanding.  I used that in my years as an auditor and it  gave me the ability to see a bigger world than just the group I was reviewing.  Now I find myself each day seeing up to 200 faces with the goal to give them the ability to gain employment in a world that will be nothing like the one their parents grew up in.  My work in the past let me influence individuals and small groups but never in such a cacophony of noise and energy I get from my teenagers.  Sometimes I would leave class feeling totally deflated as the noise overcame anything I could teach them.  Then I remembered the dog whisperer.

Thai teachers can be a pretty tough lot.  They carry sticks to smack annoying students, use microphones to be heard over the din and few ever smile.  My smiling face was at first welcomed and then quickly ignored.  The back row was often the noisiest and I would have kids actually turn their back on me to continue talking to their friends.  This week, I made some changes.

First, I learned to say, "Taew lang ngyep!"  "Back row, shut-up!" When I first said this, the class was shocked to hear Thai from my mouth, then they laughed and repeated what I said.  I had gained some respect.  The back row quieted though they still needed an occasional reminder.  When that didn't work, I began to take individuals who seemed to be the gang leaders and brought them to the front of the class.  "Sit here," I would say as I pointed to a chair or the floor, whichever was available.  None argued with me and each sat quietly, looking a bit embarrassed.  I didn't make any further comments to them, letting them just sit and listen.  To my shock, these two little acts of authority brought a certain peace to the class and a few more smiles from the front and middle rows.

The class before my last of the week was usually a troublesome class, but another teacher gave me some word-search puzzles for them.  For the first time, there was total silence in the room.  I even turned on some music such as "Morning Has Broken"  and "Annie's Song."  They were all so focused on their assignment, I didn't have to do anything for the rest of the class.

Nothing is perfect, though, as my last class on Friday, my most difficult class, managed to gain the upper hand.  I did get them to complete my assignment for the day, but I was drained by the time I went home.   Thus I was humbled once again by my last class but haven't given up.  My successes make me know I am on the right path and I will continue there.  The last class hasn't seen the last of me.

This may be a new trick but even old dogs can learn a few new tricks.


  1. being top dog is esp important in Thailand .. Thai's always have respect for those with more money or power than they have ...

    one thing to be careful about.. don't make your students lose too much face .. that would be a bad thing for them ..

  2. I hadn't considered the last comment though I do avoid talking to them once I have rearranged them. Also once they have been there for a few minutes, I tell them they can go back to their chair so long as they are quiet. One kid I did that to later apologized to me.

  3. Hiya Roy! Its Darcy! My friend advised that perhaps you need a very sturdy, loud bell to ring when the noise level gets too high.
    Very interesting about the small, but critical, steps you did to gain some control over your class. You can do this.

  4. Thanks for the suggestion, Darcy. I discovered if I stand in the middle of the whiteboard below the speaker with my mike on, I get some very loud feedback. That gets their attention. Whistling in the mike works, too.