Thursday, April 30, 2009

Classroom management and teaching abroad

There are times when I have to realize my limitations as a foreigner. Part of me wants to just blend in like a normal person, but the fact is that I will always be different in certain ways.

As a foreign teacher, I do have limitations. One of the challenges is in the area of disciplining students. Although I try to take on the Russian culture as much as I can, classroom behavior is one mentality that is very ingrained and difficult to alter! Even though they behave badly, it’s certainly not the children’s fault that I’m an oddball.

It’s funny, because a lot of Americans teach abroad, namely children. Do any of you other teachers have trouble trying to get your pupils to remain in their seats?

Teaching is a big responsibility. We are called to strive for excellence. However, I don’t think this means that we are not allowed to show our humanness. When I teach Sunday school, I sometimes have misunderstandings with the children. But in general we are teaching about God, so if there is a serious issue, I can always talk with the children or his parents privately, and get to the heart issues.

But it’s harder with language teaching because 1) I have not been given the authority to talk about God and 2) the point of the lesson is to stick to English.

I’ve felt conflicted recently because my desire to be a good language teacher does not always complement my desire to have relationships with the children that lead them to Christ.

If I discipline in Russian, the children get used to my speaking Russian and use it as an excuse to not speak English. Plus, most of the time for language learning is then used up. If I discipline in English, they pretend they don’t understand, and it falls short of reaching the heart. It’s a battle of wills.

The kids recently told me that they like their other English teacher better because she translates everything and teaches in Russian. Meanwhile, I had painstakingly prepared visuals and set up a scenario in which they would learn unambiguous definitions of words in context, not in translation. But I wasn’t about to explain methodology to an 11 yr old. I understand that they like everything systematic: the chart with the English, Russian, and transliteration. The triangles and squares representing different parts of speech.

My point is not to criticize teaching methods but rather to question my own approach. Is there a way that I can balance communication in the heart language (Russian) with quality and relevant instruction in a new language (English)?

Since discipline is not as much of an issue with adults, maybe I should focus more on teaching adults, and find a different way to connect with children. It feels hard to be accepted as someone who works with children, since I have a different way of relating to them. But it doesn't mean I can't be an advocate for them. I can't throw that desire away.

Although I think it is easier to be accepted as a foreigner in the U.S. and develop one’s career, I can think of a few teachers whom we laughed at because of their accents. And yet, there were others who earned our respect.

There was a husband-wife team from South America who led our orchestra and chamber ensembles in high school. I remember their accents and eccentric ways of instructing us through sound effects. Yet we deeply respected them. And they really taught us something.

Maybe I should go back into music…


  1. You make some good points above.
    However, I also think that this can be helpful to you:
    The book and Training Video: PREVENTING Classroom Discipline Problems

    If you can get this book and video: [they are in many libraries, so you don't have to buy them] email me and I can refer you to the sections of the book and video [that demonstrates the effective vs. the ineffective teacher] that can help you.

    If your library does not have them, you can get them at:

    that are also used at this online course:

    See: Reviews at:

    If you cannot get the book or video, email me anyway, and I will try to help.

    Best regards,


    Howard Seeman, Ph.D.
    Professor Emeritus,
    City Univ. of New York

    Prof. Seeman

  2. Hi Elizabeth!

    I happened to find you through YLCF and thought I'd give your blog a peak.

    You might be interested in reading Rebekah's blog: She is a Christian living in Kinman, Taiwan as an English teacher. She is so devoted to "her children" and desires to see them come to Christ. She doesn't post a whole lot any more but you might enjoy reading her archive or e-mailing her. She proably comes across the same problems as you do. I hope this helps!


  3. Oh, dear.... I have AWFUL problems with some of my middle school speech students. Right now I have 8th grade boys and they all fancy themselves comedians. Well, frankly some of them ARE really funny. But - as you can imagine, they don't understand when to stop.

    I have to work so hard in there....because - it IS speech! I want them to be comfortable expressing themselves. It is a conundrum.

  4. Prof. Seeman,

    I will check out the materials the next time I'm in the U.S. It seems that they are mostly geared towards an American classroom. Do they cover cross-cultural situations?

    Jennifer, thanks so much for the link! It seems like her blog is very inspiring.

    Annie, I had a class of all boys here once, teenagers. It was a similar situation. Funny, but out of control.

  5. You're on the right track. Keep it in English, but make games out of it. That will keep the kids constructively involved, without having so many disruptions or discipline issues requiring the use of Russian.

  6. You are probably right. Easier said than done, though. As you mention on your blog, some students are really crying out for attention, and those needs have to be addressed in some way, although it doesn't have to be verbal.


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