Lack of Confidence

Any teacher teaching above the level of Kindergarten surely recognizes the stigma the Taiwanese educational system is imbueing on its students. I am referring to this gawd-awful penchant for laughing at a student who dares to answer a question and makes a mistake. How can our Taiwanese counterparts allow this to take place. It is such a poison to learning and its really pissing me off. I am now teaching adults and this stigma has been carried with them into my classrooms. I spend more time lecturing about the need for confidence than actually teaching. Okay, I exaggerate to make a point.

Have you encountered this and how do you deal with it?

Frustrating indeed Toe Save.

I applaud the mistakes, reward the mistake-maker, and chastise the laughers. I usually only have to do this a few times before they catch on to the utter un-coolness of laughing at fellow learners. All new classes start out with a short, corny blurb along the lines of “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning. The more you make, the more you’ll learn. If you don’t make any, you won’t learn a damn thing.” Doesn’t always work, but a few usually get it.

A very bright student of mine almost had a melt-down yesterday during a composition lesson. He was terrified of putting pen to paper and messing up because if he doesn’t bring home flawless results to mom he is severely punished. Peers, teachers, home…confidence killers in every corner!

The perfection pressure put on the kids in this country boggles the mind.

If you screw up then you usually learn something, and that’s what you’re paying for. The ones who never make mistakes obviously don’t need a teacher, so why the hell are they throwing the money away? How stupid is that?

I’ll usually smile at mistakes, but tell the class not to laugh at anyone (except me) - to the point of being stern with the worst offenders. Often the laughter is relief at not being the one making a fool of yourself, so the sudden realisation that they might be next is enough to make most of them bite their tongues.

I’m always making mistakes on purpose, telling funny stories about how I called my mother a horse in a chinese lesson etc., to raise a laugh and make it OK to make mistakes. If there is a lot of laughter in the class anyway then students will often join in with smiling at their own mistakes, especially with a little positive reinforcement. If they can correct themselves, or you can show them where they went wrong, then try publicly congratulating them for getting their money’s worth out of you.

OK Joe, well done. You learned something tonight so you can go home. (more laughter) What about you (laughing dude)? What have you learned? Nothing? Why are you here? Don’t you need the money?

Now who are we laughing at? Next time around all it takes is a stern look. My adults are generally lacking in confidence, but don’t give each other a hard time. The Junior High kids will still give it a go (usually) but are the worst for being cruel to each other.

At Senior High School level (lower ability groups) I’ve encountered the opposite problem. A student came to me to complain about his low grade for conversation, which was based on his performance in class. It turned out that he was actually quite fluent but afraid to speak because his classmates were giving him a hard time for making them look bad.

What to do in that situation?

Then doesn’t he deserve the grade simply because of that!

I would have sympathy for him, but I wouldn’t change his grade.


The grade was based on his observed performance - in practical terms won’t speak is the same as can’t speak and until he came to see me I had no way of knowing that he could do better.

I changed his grade after we had talked about the issue, and he set the example in class thereafter. This gave a few other kids the kick they needed to get over their reluctance, usually by talking to me in private first.

I think that in this society it takes quite a lot of balls for a kid to complain that he has been unfairly graded. He didn’t come to me directly, I got the message via my HoD, and I think everyone was a bit surprised when I said “Well tell him to come and show me what he can do.”

There was another thread somewhere about how ‘gradings’ are supposed to be nice encouraging little pieces of paper rather than real assessments of ability.