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Monday, December 17, 2012

Two Very Different 9th Grade Classes

Class 9A photo:  I'm the English teacher and Norbu is the Dzongkha class teacher
In addition to teaching fifth grade English and being a librarian, I also taught two ninth grade classes.  The differences between my ninth grade classes were like night and day; one was good in studies, well behaved and cheerful while let’s just say the other one was the exact opposite.  The later would take me on a roller coaster ride, but would forever touch my heart.

My first spectacular ninth grade class (section 9A) was what I called my party class because they were always in a good mood like they were at a party.  When I entered the class, all I could hear was a thunder of chairs being pushed back as they hurriedly stood up and shouted, “Good Morning Miss!  How are you today?  Looking beautiful Miss!”

9A classroom is so bright and beautiful just like them
I could never jump right into teaching because they were so giggly, social and happy that I couldn’t help but join in with their chatter.  So I always started the class off by saying “How are you all doing today?  What’s new?”  After I heard from them, sometimes I fulfilled their request for a short story about anything interesting that happened to me.  I’m a good storyteller, so when I said, “Ok I have a story for you” they immediately hushed each other, the class became silent within seconds, large smiles took over their faces and they leaned forward ready to be entertained.  I usually told them scary, yet funny stories about my dangerous, black, stray dog that was occupying my doorstep.  They loved my dog stories and I think that they will never forget my madness with my black dog as they asked me everyday if anything new happened with him (If I had more time, I would write a whole book about him).

I also loved this class because there were a handful of girls who I dearly admired for their outspokenness and how they wouldn’t put up with any BS from the boys.  Nevertheless, the boys were respectful to the girls and they treated them like their sisters.  The class acted like one big happy family.  The class was also filled with leaders and they were not afraid to correct each other if someone was misbehaving.  For instance, if someone was repeatedly talking while I was teaching, all I had to do was give them a cross look and the students would scold who ever was talking by saying, “Miss is trying to teach, stop it and apologize now.”  They were so easy to love.  

9C Class
On the other hand, my next ninth grade class (section 9C) was the complete opposite from the other ninth graders (section 9A).  In fact, the beginning of the year with them started off a bit rocky, but slowly over time, the class underwent a huge transformation.  In the beginning, the class was notoriously known as the naughty class because most of the boys in the class would get in trouble for breaking school rules and the boys dominated the class like big bullies while the girls were quiet and often submissive.  Most of the teachers disliked subbing in the class and would often storm out of the class, including one guest Canadian teacher who refused to ever go back claiming the students were similar to “bad western students.”  On several occasions, when I came into the class, I found some girls weeping due to the boys bullying them.  The feminist in me would light up and I would give the boys a good scolding.  Almost all the boys had bad attitudes as well as manners and they would frequently shout out obnoxious remarks.  I became very strict with the class, otherwise, I thought that they would walk all over me.      

Then one day, I was thinking about how my two ninth-grade classes were so different.  I was contemplating how 9A was bubbly and their classroom was bright and beautiful just like their personalities.  In contrast, 9C was a dull classroom and the students didn’t seem so enthusiastic and positive.  I started thinking about how people attract people, forming groups.  It was amazing thinking how all those happy, smart 9A students somehow attracted each other to form 9A while the naughty boys and shy girls of 9C also attracted each other.  Then it hit me, “OMG somehow I have attracted naughty 9C to my schedule.  I can see how I could attract bright 9A, but why naughty 9C?”  I started thinking and the only answer I got was that I used to love working with tough students in urban schools because I could always see through their toughness and I enjoyed helping them.  I felt inspired to help 9C turn around their attitudes, but first I would have to change too; I would have to change my strategies for dealing with their behavior; I would have to become more loving towards them.   

My first step was talking with their class teacher about my concerns for the class and she set down her expectations with them.  The class knew I had an ally!  Next, I changed my strategy of scolding the boys to more of a counseling style.  I would sit on the corner of my desk, put teaching aside and have a heart-to-heart talk with them.  I once told the class, “When I hear other teachers complain about you, I feel really bad because even though I’m not your class teacher, I’m still one of your teachers so it hurts me to hear when you act bad.  Yet whether you behave good or bad, I am always going to care about you because you are not just my students, but you are like nephews or nieces to me since we see each other everyday.  I know that 9C can be the best class in the school, but you have to change your attitudes.  We have a whole year together, so something has to change.  I can’t continue going on like this.  So how can we make this change happen?”  The students looked guilty hanging their heads and they murmured apologies.  Then we brainstormed about how the class would act from that day forward: don’t be disrespectful, no shouting, be kind to the girls, etc.  That day was the first day of a slow transformation.

Additionally, throughout the year I taught the boys with some made up stories about how to be a gentleman.  Some of my stories were funny and I would start off by telling the boys that I was really worried about them because I didn’t think that they would ever get a girlfriend or married due to their bad habits and so I wanted to help them transform their ways.  The class would giggle and I would try to keep a straight face while saying, “I’m serious, girls like gentlemen and you boys need some help in that category?”

My other strategy to helping the class was trying to empower the girls by having a few minutes in the class where only the girls could give answers; otherwise, the boys would eagerly answer while the girls were too shy to raise their hand let alone speak.  And if the girls were too shy to speak, I would read their answers for them and tell them that their written responses were wonderful.  Sometimes I would even joke, “Geez girls, speak up, please tell the class your answers, your smarter than the boys” and the boys and I would exchange a sly grin while the girls blushed with confidence.  I also counseled the girls to not tolerate being bullied and I modeled how to do so.  In private, I often followed up on the boys’ demeanor to the girls and they would report that the boys no longer bullied them.  Slowly but surely, the girls started to share their voice in the class.  The class was changing!

Although I was sterner with 9C than my other classes, I tried my best to be the most tender with how I corrected them.  As time went on, the boys became more and more respectful as well as hardworking.  The class atmosphere felt different and they became very serious about their studies.  Even their classroom looked cleaner and they added some beautiful decorations, which matched their new change in attitude.  Then one day, when they were all working hard writing summaries, it hit me that this was no longer the same class and I just smiled at them saying, “Wow, you are one of my best classes.”  I’m not sure what exactly caused the shift or what strategies other teachers implemented, but all I know is that over time they became one of my favorite classes and I always looked forward to teaching them.

On the last day of school, they gathered around me with sad faces and teary eyes saying, “We are going to really miss you, please don’t forget us.” I told them that I could never forget them and not only was I so proud of them for their improvement in writing, but also for their huge behavior transformation.  Then one boy who was twice my size said out loud with a frown, “Miss, I feel like crying” and the students could barely giggle because most of us felt like crying and we were all doing our best to hold it in.  

I gave them my last lecture, but it wasn’t on English.  Instead I said, “Some of you might not be satisfied with your English grade, but instead of dwelling on your grade, I want you to focus on how much you’ve improved because everyone has made progress and I am so proud of you.  Remember the most important thing in life isn’t necessarily your English grade, but how you treat others and the choices you make.”  I went on like an aunty advising them to never give up on their dreams and to always follow their heart.  As I walked away with a knot in my throat, I turned around one last time to say, “Awe, I’m really going to miss you all!  We will meet again, in this life or the next.  I love you!” 


  1. Another very inspiring post Sabrina! You have made a huge transormation in those students attitudes which may have a huge influence on their life. You really inspire me to be a better teacher :)

    1. Thanks Andrea! After learning about your traveling and teaching background, you also inspire me. I can't wait for you to come to Bhutan and have your own heart felt moments. Good luck packing!

  2. Good job Brina! You're making a huge difference in their lives and they're very lucky to have a caring teacher like you!

    1. Thank sister and you're lucky to have me in your life haha. JK it's the other way around... xoxo