In the Adventures in TEFL series, I will be recounting stories from my year in Thailand Teaching English As A Foreign Language (TEFL) to students age 11-16. Applied philosophy is used to take these lessons for utilization outside the classroom.
Managing Difficult People
There are always going to be some individuals that are more difficult to work with then others. And its been said that we are the sum of the 5 people whom are closest to us. Briefly, the reasoning behind it is because we are social by nature and it is only natural that we try to fit into the group to which we belong as we come to rely on the other members.
As we are influenced by our environment, the presence of one individual within a group that is unabashed in disrupting the norm has an effect in disrupting everyone else.
My first hand account was in the 8th grade class I taught English to in Thailand. The group as a whole was decent, but there was always one boy who liked to make a scene. The details of which go beyond the scope of this article. What matters is I did everything I could think of at the time to resolve the issue. From reprimanding in class to pulling him aside afterwards to ask what is the problem.
I was unable to resolve the behavioral problems and it was having a negative effect on other students. My authority as the teacher in the classroom was knocked down a few notches as this one student’s behavior began rubbing off on others.
Eventually, I made the personal decision that I had enough.
Chop Em Down
There was just over one more month left in my tenure as a TEFL teacher and rightfully or not, I didn’t want to deal with the added stress of needing to deal with this boy anymore when I already felt burnt out.
One day, I walked into the classroom with a stern face. Asked said boy to present himself to the front of the classroom, opened the door and told him to leave. I then proceeded to slam the door in his face.
The remaining students were dead silent.
And Cool It Down
In an instant I lighted up my face. Telling the rest of the class I had a special surprise for them.
New nicknames 🙂
Now Thais have ridicoulously long names:
Somdetch Phra Paramindr Maha Chulalongkorn
This is the name of a Thai person (a king specifically)
Try having 90 of these names to remember on a student roster.
Don’t know about you but I’ll pass. That is why Thais have nicknames such as:
“Bass” or “Keen”
Back to the students. As it was the end of the school year, I made things a bit more lighthearted by giving them new names with a heavy American South influence. Names such as:
“Sweetheart, sweetpea, sweetcheeks, babe, babyboy, babycakes, etc.”
After the uncertainty of seeing one of their classmates permanently excommunicated from all remaining classes, the kids got a real kick out of their new nicknames. I signaled that these names were just for fun and they were quite amused.
Most importantly, the class became the most well behaved out of all my classes for the remainder of the school year.
Why You Need 2 Faces
Being mean and nasty to everyone is counterproductive if your objective is to get to get other people to do what you want. It only serves to antagonize others and have them wishing for your demise. But if you target one individual and go after them viciously, everyone else would not have been harmed, but it will lead to them pausing and reflecting on whether their current actions warrant the same unfavorable outcome.
As a result, people become more compliant to your will when you have shown you are willing and capable of hurting others if they provoke you. This giving pause leads to individuals being more easily influenced. And as we tend to conform to the norm as was explained in the beginning of this article, people will revert to the mean, with that mean being doing what we are supposed to.
Another way to put this, it is important to define your enemies, ruthlessly destroy them so that you (presumably the leader) have less need to worry about political manuevering and more time to actually lead said group to wherever it is they need to be.
This is a variation of good cop/bad cop, where the unpleasantness of the bad cop leads to an uneasiness around you. An uneasiness which leads to respect.
Machiavelli put it by saying it is better to be feared then loved.
Life does not need to be a zero sum game though. So I will say, being feared is a priority (willing to throw someone out of a group) and being loved (having those under you have a positive impression of you) is an important compliment to the former.