Teacher Nicholas McKay writing for Hello Teacher!

Updated March 01, 2022
By Nicholas McKay

Students in China

Regardless of who we are teaching, whether it’s students in kindergarten, primary, secondary or tertiary level, managing behavior is always involved.

Inevitably, however, teachers will encounter students who have serious behavioral issues, where our typical strategies for managing poor behavior just don’t work.

In this case, what do we do? Well, stick around – I have some tips that might work for you when you are teaching in China.

Rule 1. Play baseball

You may take one look at that sub-heading and think I’ve lost my mind. Well, I haven’t – not yet at least.

With my students, I have turned behavioral management into a bit of a game. It has even worked on some of the more troublesome students.

I ask students if they are familiar with the sport, baseball. I then explain to them the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ concept.

The first time a student misbehaves, I issue a warning. The second time, I give them a detention. The third time they misbehave I temporarily send them outside.

Your Chinese students, across all levels, should be able to understand this rule. If there is any confusion, you could draw pictures on the blackboard or even act it out.

Rule 2. Don’t be afraid to exit a student

Most schools have their own policies when it comes to exiting students, so be sure to adhere to the school’s regulations when teaching in China.

Some schools do frown upon it, but many support this strategy. When I send a student out (on the third strike), I expect them to wait outside the door until I privately speak to them.

After about five minutes, the student will have had the chance to cool down, and reflect upon their actions.

I ask the student, ‘Why did I send you outside?’ or ‘What were you doing wrong?’ The student has the chance to acknowledge their misbehavior. I then explain to the student the behavioral concern I had with them, and the kind of attitude I want them to model.

Rule 3. Always follow through

Have you ever said something like ‘the next person who talks will have a lunchtime detention with me’, and then never followed through with it? Even when a student has misbehaved?

We are all guilty of this. When you issue an instruction, you must be willing to follow through. If you do not, students will exploit this.

Students have a very good (albeit convenient) memory, and will take notice of the times when you do not put your words into actions.

Rule 4. Become angry

This isn’t a bad thing, unless of course you’re the Hulk!

I find students pay attention when they are being yelled at. Students in China are no exception.

I’ve met some teachers who said ‘I didn’t know I could get angry.’ We are all human after all, and sometimes we have to yell to show students our concerns.

If you are yelling at the whole class, be sure to acknowledge those who have not done wrong. When doing so, comment how proud you are of them (you don’t have to mention names, just say ‘you know who you are’).

Telling misbehaving students how disappointed you are will often get their attention. Even the most troublesome teenager wants to be liked by their teachers.

As the language barrier can be a problem when you’re teaching in China, use words that the student will understand. Body language goes a long way too.

At the same time, don’t get in the habit of yelling. I observed one class recently where a student asked me, ‘Why is our teacher yelling at us?’ Sometimes yelling is best used as a last resort, when multiple students are not following instructions.

Rule 5. Tactically ignore

If we were to punish every behavioral issue we encountered in our classrooms when teaching in China, there would be no room for teaching whatsoever.

If after you have issued a misbehaving student with a punishment, and they mumble something beneath their breath, or roll their eyes, it is best not to engage.

Teenagers typically want to have the last word, and it is not advisable to continue punishing them for the little things.

Rule 6. Contact the coordinator

Again, schools in China have their own policies when it comes to involving the coordinator in matters concerning misbehaving students.

If you’re really concerned with a student’s behaviour, escalate it to the year-level coordinator. When doing so, highlight what the student has done well before discussing areas that need improvement.

In serious cases, the coordinator may contact the child’s parents.

Chinese parents are known for being especially pushy and wanting their child to do well in all areas of their education. They should be glad to be kept informed about the progress of their child.

Experiment with the rules

The strategies I have discussed are some that have worked for me when experiencing serious behavioral concerns.

Behavioral management can be very ‘hit and miss’ – there is no blanket strategy that will work for all students, and often it’s about experimentation. So while you’re teaching in China, just try to do your best!

Just be sure the student knows that regardless of what happens, you like them as a person. Though poor behavior gets in the way of learning, if a student feels a teacher hates them, this can be equally detrimental.

How do you manage students with serious behavioral issues? Please comment below.

Next, read about student punishment in China.

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