Discipline in a Chinese University

Discipline in a Chinese University takes on a different form to the discipline I was used to implementing in an ESL class. Most students at universities are very motivated and want to study very hard. However, you may find some students in your university have issues with discipline, motivation, or responsibility.

TEDx in China Universities Community Hangzhou Aug 2012 (19)Here are some issues I have seen and how my colleagues remedy them and how I’m trying to remedy them.

1.       Cell phone usage

This is probably the biggest problem I have seen in class. When I walk around to see other classes, I see teachers speaking on a microphone and students on cell phones. It isn’t a surprise that your students will want to use their cell phone in your class as well.

All my colleagues have banned cell phones and make their students purchase dictionaries. When my colleagues see a cell phone they will take it, they will tear it apart and remove the sim cards and memory cards, I have even seen one throw it out the window.  

I see the value in this but I don’t want my students to pay more money and waste more paper. They will abuse their cell phones, though, and it is detrimental to the whole class.

I’m slowly removing cell phone usage in my class. And if I see a student blatantly not paying attention I’m doling out consequences and taking their cell phone away. I might even pull a student aside and tell them that it is disrespectful to me—they will usually come ask for their cell phone back and my response will be playing on my cell phone in front of them. They get the point quickly.

2.       Sitting in the back of the class

It never fails, especially in the first class of the semester, you will have a set of students who always plop themselves down in the back of the classroom. These students are also the students who have a higher propensity to be on their cell phones and not participating in the lesson.

Most of my colleagues force the students to get up and sit in the first three rows. I didn’t do that because I knew some (most) students tend to be a little shy. I know that feeling.

After a couple of weeks assessing the student’s levels, motivation, and abilities, I will assign them to groups. At this point, and especially after the first group project, most students start to come out of their shell a bit.

They might start moving up to the front of the class. If not, you can always ‘assign’ seats based on groups. Or simply tell them to move up to the front! They usually do what you tell them to do.

3.       No notebooks

Even though I said at the beginning of my class and every class thereafter that notes are 20% of their grade, some of my students have a bad habit of forgetting their notebooks. Even though I take the notes as well to show them an example and the first part of my class is always the same, they still rely on their neighbor’s torn pieces of paper.

Most of my colleagues will kick the student out of class and send them home for not bringing the required materials. Again, there is value in this, especially just for the scene in front of the rest of the class, but that student is also losing a valuable lesson.

I remind my students about the notebook grade every class, I will lend paper once, and I will collect notebooks at midterm and at finals. The students don’t know when I will collect notebooks until the class before and I have not yet tried this strategy but I’m hoping, by the time finals arrive, they get the picture.

4.       Not speaking/answering in the target language

I’ve only had one instance of this happening but some of my colleagues have had this happen often. Or maybe a student shouting any English word they know out into the class as a response or answer.

“What country would you like to visit?”

“Giraffe!” (the class laughs)

While it can be good energy to have a student egg on the class, and surely you can banter with the student to make the class more light-hearted because most students are too shy to call and respond, but sometimes it can be rather disruptive and a little disrespectful.

My colleagues have kicked students out and sent them home, they have left the class, they have taken students out to talk to them, and they have made students apologize to them directly.

One of my rules is to try to speak as much English as possible. I try to explain to the students that I’m here for them, they need to use me while I’m here, and if they don’t I should go home. There’s no reason to help if they don’t want it. I can give them homework and busywork if they don’t want my help. They seem to understand what I’m getting at, and they are very respectful of teachers.

I have had two instances of what I felt was disrespectful speech—I did take a student outside to talk to and I talked to another in front of the class. Both of those students bring some goofy, gregarious energy to the classes now and so far, it has worked out!

5.       Copying/Cheating

My colleagues have warned me about students copying and cheating on tests. I haven’t seen it yet—I haven’t had any tests or homework to speak of, only group work. They say they have identified at least one-hundred different ways that students cheat.

Even my students say that this is a problem with homework especially—a teacher tells a class they must hand in their notebooks or homework on a random day and that class will send their friends a message. Then, before you know it, all the other classes will find one person that did the homework and copy them.

I’ve heard stories where students will pay for homework or pay a friend to go to class!

Most of my colleagues seat their students apart during tests. They make them turn in cell phones, give them clean tests and pencils, and make the students keep their hands on the desk. If they hear the students talk, they take away their tests, or if they see a student look somewhere other than their own test, that is an automatic failure.

I haven’t had a test, but I’m going to split my class into two testing periods so I have less students to spread out. Then I will do the same with my students—I will review a bit before but when it comes to testing, I believe it is a pretty serious show or opportunity for my students to demonstrate that they have learned the material.

It is not to be taken lightly and I think the less opportunity they have to try to think about cheating, the better off they will be.

6.       Turning in incomplete work

Sometimes it seems like students want to find the path of least resistance or the path with the least amount of work, anyway. Either they will hurry to complete their work right before class or they will openly admit to not completing the assignment.

My colleagues will walk around with their class roster, show the student their name, and explain that they are taking away points for that assignment or class if they do not complete it. Some colleagues will, again, kick a student out and send them home.

My homework is done and graded in class and classwork is worth forty percent of their total grade. I remind the students the importance of this every class as well. This is the easiest opportunity they have to pass the class—I’m just looking for effort! If they try to complete the work I give them, they can earn the points. If not, I will go by the student and alert them they are missing the points or they are being counted absent. If they have more than three absences, they fail the class.

If they try to complete the work I give them, they can earn the points. If not, I will go by the student and alert them they are missing the points or they are being counted absent. If they have more than three absences, they fail the class.

I tried to introduce the idea that if you are sleeping, daydreaming, or on your cell phone then you aren’t really in class and thus you are absent. Students will still try to push the limits of these rules to see what they can get away with and sometimes it’s more work for me to be super diligent and hold their hands through those rules, reminding them every time I catch someone doing something they shouldn’t.

I have a rubric for group work and one of the things I grade is content—so if they don’t turn in any content, they get a 0. I’ve given out some 0’s in classes and, while the students aren’t too happy with it, I think they are beginning to get the picture on this as well.

Teaching in any location can have its difficulties, especially with discipline. Every level and ability will come with its own set of issues as well. And it gets even harder when students don’t speak the same language as you.

Giving some clear instructions in the first class is vital and following through with punishments and grades throughout the semester is a must. Hopefully, this article gave you some ideas on how to do so—I know I’ve learned a lot from being here and from my colleagues! If you ever run into trouble, always ask your colleagues!

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