The Sticky Situation of Classroom Discipline

Right from the start, it’s ideal to establish classroom policies and expectations with students and their families. As educators, we all expect that if we catch a student cheating or plagiarizing, there will be consequences. A drunk or drugged student  at a school-sponsored function? A child bullying or hitting another? There is no question consequences should follow, and with strong support from admin.

For International Educators, however, enforcing rules, expectations, and consequences  may result in a very different experience than back home. School boards, administrative school owners, influential parents and wealthy students may wield far more power and control over discipline than most Western educators have experienced in their careers.

Simply assigning a “time out” to an unruly primary child may cost you your job. Dare to fail  a student’s work because he/she plagiarized straight from the Internet and you could find yourself facing the Board of Directors to explain why you think little so-and-so could ever do such a thing, followed by “if you were a better teacher he wouldn’t need to copy…..”

Sometimes our tried-and-true discipline procedures are completely out of sync with our new culture and community, especially when students and parents may look at us as just another nanny or driver in a long line of servants.

We invite the ISR community to share their impressions  of classroom discipline in international schools. With the new academic year about to get under way, now is the time to support each other in this, often delicate, area.

Also See: More on the Sticky Situation of Classroom Discipline —  How can we help difficult students become cooperative class members?

44 thoughts on “The Sticky Situation of Classroom Discipline

  1. Classroom management depends on the teacher and administration. I left American schools as the left gained complete control of public schools. The “correct” way in the United States became bribe students, lie to parents about how great the children are doing, and pass everybody. U. S. schools placed BD/Ed students in the regular classrooms with students that could not speak English. Principals hid in their offices.
    I have found overseas international schools to be a blessing. Just be careful. I will teach at a top tier or middle tier, but not a bottom one. Time out is a joke because it is such a short time. It is simple, if the principal is weak, run.


  2. For sure there are some schools in certain cities, for example referring to themselves as something like Modern, or English, or School in city where you might find Pyramids.
    It would certainly seem that angry students or influential parents can sometimes have the run of the place. If they caught for plagiarizing, on mass, complain about the teachers, on mass and they may find themselves getting away with it.

    Such schools are best avoided if you would find it hard to stomach such a situation.

    But to be fair, and not culturally biased, I also know of some high-profile schools back home that completely turned an eye to flagrant cheating in external exams, because they knew those particular students would end up on the State Honour Roll! – Go figure!


  3. Mike said it well. If you can’t stand the injustice, think long and hard about where you are willing to go.
    If I quit every time I ran into somebody that gave me trouble I don’t know where I would work. I have experienced drunken Arab students (alcohol is illegal in this particular country) get not so much as a slap on the wrist because daddy is a high level diplomat, and have been taken into the school owner’s office dozens of times with threats of deportation due to discipline issues(I’m still there, going on a decade now). The society is two-faced and the parent/student component is no different. Then again, I faced many of the same problems in the US dealing with fights, drugs, and weapons. The parents did not support the school there either. It was never their child’s drugs/knife/gun, the fight was never their fault, what’s so bad about making out in the bathroom…. Yes, students can be lazy and parents can be overbearing, but other than the occasional alcohol incident I have not dealt with the nonsense that seemed ever more commonplace in the middle and high school of America.
    Besides, I believe that in my time here I have made a positive difference. Not every parent is a bad parent and not every student is a bad student. You just have to accept that you will not change the culture, especially among the affluent 3d-worlders, in a day.


  4. These disciplinary nightmares do happen, but not in isolation. A school in which they happen will have many of the other characteristics of a “fake” international school — inexperienced or incompetent administrators, payroll and contractual disputes, high staff turnover, local for-profit ownership, no accreditation, all local students, many local-hire teachers, etc. etc. One finds more of these situations in the Middle East but, in truth, they can happen anywhere.

    If you are an experienced, aware teacher who does due diligence before taking an overseas job, you won’t find yourself in this situation. But if you are brand new or weak, desperate for anything, unwilling to learn the ropes of international education, you may land here, in which case all the “classroom management” pedagogy in the world won’t help you.


    1. **These disciplinary nightmares do happen, but not in isolation. A school in which they happen will have many of the other characteristics of a “fake” international school — inexperienced or incompetent administrators, payroll and contractual disputes, high staff turnover, local for-profit ownership, no accreditation, all local students, many local-hire teachers, etc. etc.**
      Exactly! Well put!


  5. This is all about knowing the cultural differences in attitudes toward discipline. It’s telling that some of the people who have taught in the middle east have what seems to be a more cynical view about what teachers can do in a difficult situation. My experiences in Turkey taught me a lot about how culture can affect a teacher’s ability to effectively use discipline and manage a classroom. Things to contend with:
    -Children are not punished, or told no, by parents because they don’t want to damage their “psychology.”

    -If a parent does not want their child to suffer consequences, the administration and teacher are powerless.

    -Bullying is an established tradition (Abi/Abla system), in which physical violence and intimidation are the norm and ignored by Turkish administrators and teachers.

    Turkey is a boisterous and emotional culture too, so one can’t simply shout to get the attention of students, it just adds to the din. What I eventually found to be the most effective was appealing to the students emotions, telling them how their behavior made me feel.

    A lot of the ideals I came from the States with had to be let go so I could survive the contract with my sanity in tact. Some of the problems I faced could be attributed to the particular school where I worked, but I’ve heard similar stories from many other teachers from all around Turkey.

    If you’re headed there be prepared, but don’t think that it’s all bad. The Turkish people will impress you every day with their hospitality and incredibly welcoming nature.


    1. I absolutely agree with you. When I talk to my students as a “person” rather than as the “teacher,” I almost always get better results. All they have ever known in the Arab system has been abusive ranting and they know how to get around that one. Approaching them with respect and compassion seems to work a lot better for me.


  6. If you are in a decent International School; all of the ‘threats’ to a teacher’s classroom discipline as outlined in the intro to this blog are nonsense. Any school that does not support its staff fully in terms of beahviours and student expectations is a school that is not worth working at and I would advise anyone who found themselves in such a situation to tender their resignation, or at least see out their contract and not renew. There are so many good schools out there. What nonsense!


    1. “Any school that does not support its staff fully in terms of behaviours and student expectations is a school that is not worth working at and I would advise anyone who found themselves in such a situation to tender their resignation, or at least see out their contract and not renew.”

      Echoed for truth.
      I will never understand why some teachers roll over and take it lying down instead of sticking up for themselves.
      No matter how bad a school is, there is always some poor sap willing to work there:(


    2. I have to say that “support” is more than about classroom management. It’s about supplying resources and other things to the teachers. here is so much more then an admin not backing you up that would mean a bad enough school to quit. I’m simply saying if you like the school you work at OVERALL, then letting a little thing like a classroom management problem and not getting your way doesn’t mean it’s automatically a bad school to work at. I just think some teachers are spoiled and if they can’t always have things their way, they want to quit and move on becuase it’s SOO easy to do and there is a high demand.


    3. I think it’s important to remember that, in some cases, western teachers are hired to be tools for transformation within international schools. With that said, while we might have an admin that wants to support us, their hands are often tied by the owners in for-profit schools – a category in which many international schools fall. It’s important, as far as school culture is concerned, to remember that when the western teacher says, “We don’t do it that way back home,” we are in their country – usually making a lot more money and living in a fully-furnished apartment that they are not provided. Sometimes we can’t expect cooperation and support if we haven’t shown it ourselves.

      And, Jeanna, you are so right about teachers sometimes being spoiled. Not having our way is part of the job and we must learn to be both flexible and creative. Leaving is often not the answer for, when we go, who will take up the cause? The key, I feel, is in choosing your battles and letting the little stuff go – when you can!


    4. not being supported or backed up by management in the case of behavioural issues is far from a ‘little thing’.
      Yes there are other factors that make a good school (equipment and resources etc…), but having the respect and trust of SMT with regards to your professional judgment is pretty damn high on the list of essentials.
      It’s incredible how many teachers are willing to bend over and just take it when push comes to shove. Case in point, teachers pay, and the ever increasing poor behaviour in the UK. “thank you sir, please can I have some more”. Once upon a time people were willing to stand up for what they believed in.


    5. I totally agree. Do your research before interviewing. Ask important questions. If you don’t get answers you like, why even take the job?? The administrators are interviewing you, and you should be interviewing the administrators.


  7. I’d like to take another angle. Maybe focusing more on engaging students could improve class culture/climate. Know your students, accommodate, and meet them where they are with their learning. (I acknowledge that this may be easier to do in a 1-1 laptop setting.)


  8. I agree with the person who said to look in the mirror. I taught elementary for 35 years in the US and then 2 years in Germany at an International School. The most difficult parents I ever dealt with were the Americans. Many had unreasonable demands and thought their child was my ONLY student. I handled this by smiling and saying things like, “Yes, I hear what you’re saying.” or ” That’s one way to look at it.” Many of these parents just wanted to be heard.

    A classroom management plan must be in place and children need to know what is expected of them. In my classroom I considered any behavior issue to be a challenge- Children do not want to be “bad.” If there is a behavior issue then there is a reason for it. Sometimes it’s a misunderstanding- more often when language is an issue. The problem disappears when the student is made aware of what is being asked of him/her. Sometimes the problem is the teaching- lessons may not be differentiated enough. Students may find the activities too difficult- too easy- too repetitive- too long…etc etc. If you are keeping your students “engaged” and learning you will avoid many problems with students. The difficult children will stand out from the rest because they have needs that are not being met- either by the school or the home. Those are the children who must be looked at closely. You must discover the problem to find a solution. Sometimes this is not possible for the classroom teacher and professional help is required.


  9. muh, I guess I have fairly old fashioned expectations of my classes (which is odd considering I’m a young teacher). I am the master of my classroom, not SMT. Entering my classroom is a privilege, not a right. Students are there to learn. We can do it the easy way and have some fun, or we can do it the hard way.
    As I mentioned previously, I’m not interested in anything but educating and inspiring. If admins want to get in the way they can find a new teacher.

    I surely can’t be alone in thinking that teachers should be respected, and so should the oppertunity to gain an education?

    “Some countries have limited awareness of Freud and every psychoanalyst/educator that we may be following – psychology and issues surrounding them may have a low standing/awareness among parent/educator/admin types in that country.” GOOD! Freud was a quack, plain and simple. His psychoanalasys hypothesis does not stand up to scientific testing.

    One thing I actually like about teaching internationally is that many admins do *not* have an idea of whatever trendy fad is currently in favour in the UK.

    The quality of educational research is poor at best. Education needs something akin to the randomised double blind placebo controled trial as used in evidence based medicine. Common sense can be very misleading and lead to BS like VAK (origins based in NLP, a quack therapy), or Brain Gym (who’s teachers manual contains basic factual errors that a GCSE student should be able to spot as rubbish) getting in the way of seeking the most effective way of educating.


    1. Time to wrestle control of the classroom back from students and admin. Anyone for martyrdom? Seriously though, Jut, you have the right attitude. But I have been terminated from my position for taking such a stance when admin refused to back me.


  10. I think some countries act like an extended family at the elite level (I just thought): they don’t mind creating an injustice, being wrong but strong I guess, protecting their brothers (and sisters).


  11. I really like the advice to play parents off each other in rich, third-world teaching situations. Nice strategy to work toward if needed. Thanks Mike.


  12. Mike, could have written that one myself – excellent.

    As my wife says, the only way out of one of the situations you mention is that you have to have better contacts/pull/influence than the parent/kid/family in question, if it comes down to such conflicts (way beyond the norm in most healthy classrooms).

    In most cases you outline, Suzy or Jeffrey teacher just heads back home to resume their teaching career, vowing to come back with a Phd from an Ivy League school or something to have more credibility to stand up to the treatment. But if you have that, you ain’t gonna head to that school again I assure you! You’ll try to consult with the Minister of Education on a nice contract, so …(fill in the blanks yourself).


  13. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree… If you’re teaching the richest kids from the most powerful families in an exceptionally corrupt society, it’s folly to expect the school to be the one entity in town that has any sort of leverage over the kids/parents in question. School boards (shadowy figures in a lot of third world international private schools) often hire stooge administrators whose top priority will clearly be to expedite their every whim in exchange for country club memberships and greasy kickbacks etc. Of course these typically mediocre students turned mediocre teachers turned puffed-up administrators tend to think of themselves as cocks of the walk, but they’re usually just minor pawns in a fixed game that local oligarchs have been running for generations. The quality of education in places like this doesn’t matter all that much (certainly not as much as asserting caste) since the young “haves” will automatically be grandfathered into the rackets while the endless legions of “have-nots” (barring a miracle) will be cleaning toilets or working construction jobs for starvation wages and often facing violent persecution should they dare to resist. Old news for old hats, though…

    I’ve found that a teacher with a problem kid/parent should always try to emphasize the other students who are being cheated out of something (equity, usually) by the actions of the hoodlum in question. If Johnny’s errant behavior is causing Suzy and Sally and Timmy to miss out on something, then Johnny’s parents are going to have a harder time pulling rank because the principle issue is no longer that of the upstart servant who dares to chastise noble Johnny. Parents/principles may not care at all about the daily sufferings of a peon teacher, but if other aristocrats are brought into the equation, the balance tends to shift. It’s a trapeze act though, make no mistake. If you’re dealing with the ridiculously privileged types whose status dwarfs that of even the other local big fish, you’re probably out of luck any way you slice it.

    Teaching internationally (ESPECIALLY in the “developing world”) is certainly not for everyone. You must decide whether the pros outweigh the cons. Teachers who can’t help but stand up for their principles and/or have a hard time digesting injustice would be wise to think long and hard before signing on with a private school for third world elites…


    1. “Teachers who can’t help but stand up for their principles and/or have a hard time digesting injustice would be wise to think long and hard before signing on with a private school for third world elites…” This is very profound and thought provoking.


  14. As for some comments and hair-raising situations where discipline was ignored, or students could not be brought under control and the teacher was blamed-

    the cliche always rings true: common sense is not so common.

    That being said, some obvious solutions I have heard of/thought of/hoped to use:

    a) every school that has a bullying problem should have a policy in place based on programs that work –
    bullies need to be treated as having behavior problems, and action needs to be taken given that observation.

    b) Kids with behavior problems should not be ignored by admin types, as a stance using a more permissive approach has repeatedly failed in places all over (the world) that I have seen. A more authoritive stance works better in my experience.

    c) conflict resolution doesn’t work very well at any level when there are serious power imbalances between staff/admin types. Admin types need to get out of their power pyramids: think soul to soul.

    d) admin types, people in authority consistently seem to underestimate the influence their behavior/attitudes have on their employees, subordinates. They need to listen like they are wrong more, on more issues than they have been doing if there are staff issues at the school. Reactive behavior always gets everyone in trouble said the wise men.


  15. I believe that the problem at the heart of this issue is the fact that international schools often (not always) attract administrators who are lazy, not committed with poor ethics. I strongly believe that too many international school administrators get too comfortable on the international circuit. If they are challenged in any way, they simply move on and often up the administration ladder. It is definitely an old boys/girls club and I think it is disgraceful. In my 15 years of working in international schools, I would say that 70% of the administrators that I have worked for have been this way. I also believe that they tend to align themselves with school board members to protect their cushy positions. They threaten, bully, mismanage, show favouritism and basically do as little work as possible and they should be ashamed of themselves. I think there should be more administration accountability especially during accreditation cycles. Teacher, parent and student opinions should be collected confidentially so there is no fear of reprisal. That evidence should be considered in giving a school accreditation.


    1. My current school underwent evaluation for WASC cert last year. As part of the process, a small team of teachers were interviewed in confidence by the WASC reps. I believe this is what made the difference between the school being “tentative” vs. “approved.”


  16. There is nothing wrong with doing whatever admin recommends! I wouldn’t call that cow-towing. I would agree that it is the smart thing to do.

    What is even more effective, though, is to prevent misbehavior so there is no need to discipline it. This is most easily done by “getting ahead of the child.”

    If you know a child will act out when changing classes, get ahead of the situation by asking the child to separate from the group to “go back to my desk and get my… (keys, grade book, watch, whatever). Instruct the line of students to leave the room at the same time. This separates the student in question from his potential audience and keeps him busy with an “important task.” By the time he catches up to everyone, you’ve probably about reached your destination, the potential problem student is receiving kudos for doing an important job for you and has no need for additional attention-seeking behavior so is not in trouble and not likely to get in trouble.

    This is not a temporary fix. The students who are handled in this manner soon learn appropriate attention-seeking behaviors and the teacher has to do less and less “preventive discipline.”

    No parent from any culture or economic status will take exception to a “Prevention Model” classroom management experience. Teachers using this model consistently will have a very well-behaved classroom and will receive kudos from admin and fellow teachers. This can only help you during salary negotiations and bonus time at the end of the year!

    Teachers who are liked by parents (in the international realm)get more perks, larger bonuses, and higher salaries, for the most part! So, do yourself a favor and “get ahead of your students.” Behavior problems in a classroom are almost always the direct result of a teacher’s management problems. To paraphrase a Michael Jackson song, change starts with the man or woman in the mirror! Everyone should take a closer look and stop making excuses for their own problems. Blaming the students and their parents doesn’t make change happen. Blaming yourself and promising a better tomorrow will!


    1. Actually, a preventive model is great, but not always the last word on student management.

      I will give you this situation:

      in Middle Eastern countries the scholar Lewis outlines three traditional identities found there:

      a) family b) place c) religious identifications

      A teacher coming in may have excellent management skills, but cannot change the above: problems built in to the culture through prescriptive thinking..

      Kids/parents know who has the “wasta” and may decide you don’t.

      Can’t see how you can anticipate your way easily out of that one, sorry dude.


    2. I agree with you. However, by trying to navigate within these paradigms, we stand a much better chance of success. For example, when I’m dealing with a student’s behavior in Kuwait, I ask the student how his family would feel about his/her behavior. I also ask if he/she is following the 99 ideals of Islam – and sometimes, this actually works. Of course if it’s a kid related to the biggest families, there is that to deal with but, for the most part, I find using this strategy usually works. By working within their cultural boundaries, I think I actually develop my own “wasta” by letting the parents know that I respect both their priorities and their religious faith.


    3. “Behavior problems in a classroom are almost always the direct result of a teacher’s management problems.”

      Wow, what a statement! And you have obviously never taught in (some) Middle Eastern schools. While preventive measures are obviously a part of a good teachers’ repertoire, they only work in a situation where only one or two students may act out. Believe me, there are schools where the entire class is the problem.

      I worked in a school where we had to lock the front doors to keep the students in the building during class time; otherwise, they would be out on the soccer pitch, whether there was class in session or not. Students had been kicked out of at least three other schools by the time they reached us; it was a for profit school and there was no way any student was ever going to be seriously disciplined. One student got in a fight with another and was swinging 2x4s in the foyer; he broke out the plate glass windows, the trophy case, and the windows in the office. He was back in school next day. Students could buy grades, so there was absolutely nothing to hold over their heads.

      Yeah, I’m sure preventive measures would have worked very well there….


    4. Any suggestions for a child who strangles other children? Yes, that’s right, I did write ‘strangles’ and I don’t mean as part of a game, this child is so strong that he leaves large red marks on the throats of other children after an incident. I have tried everything I know, plus I have consulted with others and have researched, but still nothing has worked. Just to list a few things; have worked very closely with parents, tried ‘getting ahead of the child’, meditation, merits, time out, pairing with positive influences (other children), consequences, shadowing, the list can continue! But everything has literally hit a brick wall!


    5. Farfalla,
      It is clear from what little you have told us about this boy that he has serious psychological and emotional issues that are beyond your control and possibility to change. His agressiveness and particularly his tendency to “strangle”others is a sign of his need to “strangle” their ability to speak to him and his anger is a symptom of possible ODD (oppositional defince disoder)or a similar socio-affective disorder. Have him referred to a competent psychologist, since he poses a serious risk to the safety and welfare of others.


  17. I was reading the posh Harvard Business Review on the internet and one business writer there suggest that new employees have or make a transition plan when they start a new job. What a great idea for admin types reading these comments and privately fuming: make an outline of what a teacher needs to do to fit in to the school culture. Of course, that may seem like more work than wanted, but better a plan than an F on an admin report card from this site. Then we teachers can start having more fun going abroad to work, wouldn’t that be nice.


    1. You are right on here. Upon arriving to my new position in Kuwait, our curriculum director explained to us how to deal with the parents in the Kuwaiti culture. It involved making sure that the teacher first discusses the positive attributes of the child – noting previous success and strengths. This was then followed by getting to the point of the meeting and working together to find a way for the child to improve their inappropriate behaviors.

      As both a special educator and a regular educator, I have ALWAYS made it a priority to do two things upon taking on a new class of students:

      1. Contact each parent immediately to develop a personal relationship with them. By doing this, when/if a sticky situation arises with their child that will involve sensitive issues, the trust and connection that a parent needs to feel that their child is in good hands, is already established.

      2. I always make sure that I send notes home pointing out each child’s success in the classroom – especially if I begin to see potential behavioral issues in a specific child. This way the parent knows I am interested in the positive as well as the negative parts of each child’s life and I’m definitely not out “to get” their child.


    2. Thanks, Susan! Both of these comments are to-the-point and show positive ways to make the discipline issue easier to deal with.

      I would say, however, that both seem more inclined towards young children. I find that by the time kids are in MS and HS that the problems are bigger and easier to ‘nip in the bud’ as you seem to be doing successfully.

      Got any good suggestions for unruly and/or uncooperative teens in our classrooms?


    3. Actually, I teach Language Arts for the entire high school girls class in our small international school for mostly LD kids. I have found that adolescent girls can be a real handful and, while boys can cause problems, too, girls seem to be more manipulative and can cause major divisions in the classroom.

      I actually gave my students a lot of control in decision-making this year. I had always used “respect” as the cornerstone to our classroom interactions and the girls also wrote their own classroom rules so as to provide ownership and, therefore, a commitment to the guidelines the class would have to follow in order to learn.

      At mid-year, while the class leaders were doing well in my class, some of the less academically-inclined were beginning to cause a ruckus and I decided to lay down the law. So, I decided to put the kids to the test of making their own decisions and taking responsibility for their learning.

      I told the girls that while I was supposed to be their instructor again in the 2010-’11 school year, I needed them to decide if they wanted me to return. For several days in a row, I had them gather in a circle in the back of the room and discuss the pros and cons of keeping me as their teacher. At the end of the week, I had them take a vote.

      Most of my colleagues thought I had lost my mind but if there was one thing I was sure of, there was no sense in my spending next year in a classroom full of teenagers most of whom already had decided that they weren’t going to work with me. I also believed that if the girls were going to commit to the program, it needed to be of their making rather than mine.

      That Friday, I was voted in to stay by a narrow margin. However, I continued to have them vote monthly as I told them I would not return unless it was by a majority vote. I also told them, after the initial vote, that I would also be deciding if I wanted to return and that the final tally would happen the last week of school.

      As the year headed towards a close, I saw a big change in my students. Completed homework assignments increased and talking decreased. Attitudes improved as did class participation. On the second to last day of school, I received a majority vote and I told the girls I had decided to stay. It was a win-win situation for everyone. Also, for the end of year testing, all but three of my students improved in all areas of Language Arts with two others only missing out in one area.

      So, I guess if there is one thing I would suggest for better class performance both academically and behaviorally it would be to trust in your students’ abilities to control themselves and to establish their own rules in order to learn how to accept boundaries. I think there is no better example of how well this can work than the book/film “Freedom Writers.” What Erin Gruwell did exemplifies how, when a teacher sets her/his expectations high and trusts in her/his students, the students can meet those expectations if they are treated with respect and allowed to have ownership in the classroom.


  18. You know, this is one of the most difficult issues teachers in a foreign country face. More trouble follows from classroom behavior issues than academic or scholastic performance issues in my experience over a number of countries.

    a) the central issue is that you are not of a similar identity as people in the host country – you are not of that family, clan, neighborhood, region, country or even family of countries often. So you are treated as the “other” often, which is one big headache for fitting in. Your school, parents and students expect that you will leave them and go back home in some cases, therefore your power to influence events may seen to be limited. They may see you through the same lens as the see Westerners, and/or any and all combination of what your country represents in the world. My American friends complain about this especially, but I have myself faced being isolated for what I supposedly represent, as opposed to the content of my character. When I realized the off-putting treatment I was getting was a result of these factors, and the fact that my northern European weight issues was frowned upon, I started to make a lot of jokes at my own expense among my closest confidants. I told them that if I became thin I would be elected president of my adopted country…

    b) more seriously, I suspect that a lack of familiarity with other cultures in your host country plays apart. If they have never met someone like you, sometimes the trust factor takes a long, long time to develop. You might expect that the children you teach might be able to change how you are perceived when they are adults, but the admin, parents may have to retire from the scene first in some cases. And when trust doesn’t exist, misunderstandings get blown up into a crises situation before we know it. Then we are heading back to teach in Kansas and wondering what happened.

    c) some of the more current research on student behavior suggests that teachers are unfairly blamed for unruly behavior (as we always knew), as some brain development issues happen before kids even make it to school, and is difficult to change in the (classroom) time we have allotted.

    d) Some countries have limited awareness of Freud and every psychoanalyst/educator that we may be following – psychology and issues surrounding them may have a low standing/awareness among parent/educator/admin types in that country.

    e) In summary, if we are on a different page than our parents/admin/students, then trouble/misunderstandings happens more easily: making people see what we see may seem an impossible goal… and under-estimated task for teachers coming into a situation.


  19. MY experiences in chaperoning school activities has repeatedly proved to be my most challenging situations involving discipline.

    An example: A student came to a school-sponsored dance/party and was obviously inebriated. The influential parents had the attitude of “kids will be kids”, and accused me of ‘having it in’ for their son. The school stood behind the parents (customers) and left me utterly without authority or the ability to reprimand or demand consequences. I became the villain and enemy of this family for the rest of the school year, and felt the heat in many awkward ways.

    Another time/school, a girl and boy sneaked away during a school field trip and were caught in a compromising situation by me. The school wouldn’t back me up because this boy was the leading soccer star of the school and community–the school would not let any discipline disrupt his fame-creating soccer stardom, so ultimately he was not reprimanded in any way. The girl’s family were influential and didn’t want the publicity of the discipline to impact their daughter’s reputation. To take the attention off the kids, MY effort to discipline and my every move was then scrutinized until the very end of my contract time at that school.

    When discipline cannot be administered, very quickly the students know it, the families know it, and once you’ve lost your place of respect and authority, you might as well move on. I know I did.


  20. Sorry Jut, but I have some bad news for you! Even getting poor public school results is no longer an issue. As one student informed me, ‘we scan it in and Photoshop lets us change bad results’. So a student who you know has got miserable marks suddenly announces they have been accepted for a university course in dentistry or medicine. If you hold any sort of ethical standards be prepared to have them seriously challenged.

    And yes, Sheree, you are quite right. Make sure parents know about the good and the bad all through the year, backed up by solid evidence. Make sure keep a record of it along with a copy for their school file. It still won’t make much difference when emotional blackmail comes into play at results time. Years of successful demands and wanton corruption have shown some parents they can get their most seriously cranially-challenged offspring through the system.


  21. “Simply assigning a “time out” to an unruly primary child may cost you your job. Dare to fail a student’s work because he/she plagiarized straight from the Internet and you could find yourself facing the Board of Directors to explain why you think little so-and-so could ever do such a thing, followed by “if you were a better teacher he wouldn’t need to copy…..””

    If I ever found myself in that situation, I would quit there and then. Heaven forbid I’m expected to have standards.

    I morally could not turn a blind eye to plagiarism or poor behaviour, it’s my responsibility as a teacher to tackle it head on so it’s no longer a problem come university.


    1. I have to say, jut, that your response is just not realistic in the international teaching world. I agree that morally we do have the responsibility to teach children right from wrong in preparation for university and for life.
      However, from a “moral” perspective it may (and does) happen that families feel deeply (and morally) that no matter what it takes, it’s absolutely necessary to get their child through to graduation. If their child needs to “quote” an expert in a written paper for example, you and I would know it was plagiarism/cheating, but parents may do whatever is necessary to see their child “succeed”. Not right, I agree, but the world of an international teacher is definitely less black-and-white when it comes to effective discipline.
      For example: Do you believe in murder? Of course not, but would you hesitate to kill someone who was directly threatening the life, holding a gun to the head of your loved one? Again, it’s just not as black-and-white as “quitting there and then” don’t you think?
      Really, jut, do you think that if you had traveled around the world to take an international teaching job, and you brought your children and spouse, and everyone was happy in their jobs/classes, that you could just “quit, there and then”? What if the school was holding your passport? What would you do for health insurance, jobs, classes for your children, money to fly home (and to what?)? To whom do you owe this sense of responsibility and moral high ground–yourself, your job, your family and career future? OR, does the responsibility to prepare ‘that’ plagiarizing student for university life trump all your family and personal responsibilities?


  22. I have seen that in the past giving a kid a yellow card is effective. Outside the U.S., soccer is more popular and everyone knows what a yellow card means in soccer. I saw that it worked in El Salvador when I was there because it was culturally significant.


    1. True! We started it here in El Sal for that reason, and it’s having reasonable success so far.


  23. I find that letting the parents know ahead of time or as soon as any problems start to arise and then document the contact and then when problems persist let the headmaster know and then ask for their opinion on what to do. I always ask for guidance from the school leaders. If things don’t turn out the way I think they should well I am used to that. This way I have ways less stress and let them deal with problems while they let me do my job which is teach. I simply say “tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” Some people call that cow-towing..but I call it being smart. It’s a good way to stay in a school that you like for a long time. Besides you cannot change the way the system operates so why make it so tough on yourself?


    1. I agree; the system is too big and will swallow you up if you rail against it. I learnt that one. Let it be someone else’s follow-through. Karma will get them, anyway.


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