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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Different Teachers, Different Management (Singapore)

Sorry for the sudden bombardment of posts!

Classroom management in Singapore (or at least in the classes that I have seen) finds its difficulty in the amount of students in a classroom. During my first pre-practicum in the US, there were 18 students in the classroom. In my second pre-practicum, I had 22 students in the classroom. I already felt the added difficulty with just four more students. In Singapore, each classroom has around 30-40 students. A general class is normally 40 students but because of pull-out programs, 20 or so students may leave during math or English. With so many students in classroom, I really understand the necessity of “having eyes everywhere.” Even with two teachers in the room, it is hard to keep an eye on each student. Since my students sit in rows, you can imagine that the students in the last few rows are actually quite far from the front of the room, where the teacher and the board is. It is not too hard for these students in the back to fool around during the lesson and teachers need to remind ourselves to pay attention to the back of the room. These students in the back may also fall behind because the teacher is in the front doing the work on the visualizer and it is easy for the students in the back to be distracted.

Although the large class size is a challenge, my experience with classroom management in Singapore is something I consider positive because of the respect students seem to have for teachers. While I did not hear about any official classroom rules, it seems like students are expected to know proper behavior and they are generally disciplined in the classroom. When a teacher walks into a classroom for the first time, the students stand up and say, “Good morning/Good afternoon, Miss. ___/Mr. ___.” Then they would bow their heads to you and you reply to them and tell them to be seated. This took a while for me to get used to. I think I was still awkward about it towards the end. Thirty students bowing to you is something I do not think I will ever experience again. The times that students do get rowdy or misbehave, teachers usually give them verbal reminders of how they should be acting and that is usually enough to solve the problem. There are times when the verbal discipline can get a bit harsh (by American standards). For example, once when the students were getting dismissed class by class from the auditorium, they were ordered to be quiet and a teacher had said, “Why do I hear talking? Your feet are not so stupid that you need your mouth to tell them to move.” However, the students seem immune to this and take it as they would any other form of discipline.

When verbal reminders are not enough or when students misbehave on a larger scale, parents are involved. I remember an instance where students were skipping their remedial, supplementary, or enrichment classes and going to an arcade instead. These three students changed out of their school uniforms after their regular classes and changed into casual clothes to go to the arcade. When the school had found out about this, the teacher called each student’s parents and informed them of the situation. The teacher also informed the parent that the students would be punished by having to stand against a wall for the first fifteen minutes of their lunch break. The teacher asked the parents if it was an appropriate punishment and all the parents agreed. I had asked my CT if there were any instances of caning (hitting students). My CT replied it is very rare and used only as a very extreme form of discipline. She said that she has never seen it happen in the school and general teachers are not allowed to hit students. If caning is being considered as a punishment, the school will definitely ask the parents if they agree to it. My CT also informed me that there is something called public caning for secondary students, when students are caned in the auditorium in front of everyone else.

It is difficult to give a general description of the classroom management for Singapore because, just like in the US, different teachers have different management techniques. I was lucky enough to be able to work with two different teachers and it reminded me that I should not take what I see to represent all of Singapore but just the particular classroom that I was in. For example, the two teachers I worked with had different ways of dealing with students who did not do their work. The math teacher would write down the names of the students who had not done their homework and put it on the visualizer. She would say that these are the students who I did not receive the homework from and then she would proceed to ask the individual students why they have not handed it in. The English teacher I worked with seemed to have a lot of faith in the honor system. She would just ask students, “Who did not read? Who did not do the work?” Students would raise their hands and she would make a mental note but it did not seem to be that big of a deal. (Most students did their work anyway.) She trusted the students to be in honest. The students in each class were well-adjusted to the technique their teacher was using.

The math teacher had the students in different groups that each had leaders. When work is assigned, once each member of the group has finished his or her work, the leader collects the work and races to get it into the work bins. Whichever group wins this race ggets 10 points added to a chart. At the end of the unit, the group with the most points gets a prize. This is similar to some positive reinforcement techniques I have seen in the US. I think that, in the end, classroom management is really more a representation of each teacher’s own values rather than a representation of a whole culture. Each teacher manages their own classroom the way they find the most effective and the students adjust accordingly. There will be similarities and differences across all cultures.

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