Common Classroom Problems when Teaching Maritime

NL 52 Common Classroom Problems

Capt. Ng Yew Hong

Capt. Ng Yew Hong
Lecturer, Malaysian Maritime Academy

I am a lecturer at Malaysian Maritime Academy Sdn. Bhd. (Academy Laut Malaysia) and teach Meteorology, Cargo Work, Seamanship and Collision Regulations at Sea. This article suggests that all lecturers have experienced some classroom or other problematic situation before in class.

All professions have their ups and downs, the challenges a lecturer faces are equally numerous. Therefore, a lecturer’s frame of mind must be ready psychologically and spiritually to handle many frustrating moments created by students that can affect the lecturer’s well-being and teacher-student relationship, Figure 1 refers.

Scolding Teacher
Figure 1 – Frustrations teachers experience

In order to make the classroom more conducive to learning, try to address these problems as effectively as possible by employing psychological techniques that involve motivation, encouragement and scaffolding instructions to reinforce the weaker students. Try to change the negative mindset of disinterested students by emphasizing the importance of education. Classroom problems encountered vary in extent and are sometimes heart-breaking, frustrating and demoralizing, but the steadfast belief is that these students can still be “rescued” if the appropriate “treatment” is conscientiously administered. Highlighting some common classroom problems associated with teaching, it is believed problems can be overcome with controlled patience, understanding and commitment. A ranked ordered list of these classroom problems follow:

1. Students becoming overly dependent on the lecturer are Common Classroom Problems  

This is a fairly common situation. Students who lack confidence in learning the subject will become overly dependent on the lecturer. It is necessary to identify these weak students and plan for them to progress gradually in their understanding of the topic. It is also important not to over-correct them when they are delivering a weak answer in the classroom as it will adversely affect their confidence level and discourage them in future.

One of the more effective methods of avoiding student’s overdependence is to go through a series of short questions that will allow the students to arrive at the correct answers easily based on their prior knowledge, past lessons and experiences. This will undoubtedly help to reinforce their confidence for future learning and avoid seeking lecturer’s assistance endlessly without first pondering over the issue themselves.

2. Students defiance, rowdiness or distraction of others are Common Classroom Problems 

There will always be one or two rowdy and defiant students in the classroom, the bane of the teacher. Analysing the situation carefully, rowdy students may actually suffer from some form of attention deficit and the only way for them to get attention is to be disruptive in the classroom.

On a few unfortunate occasions, I became the victim of their ploys and gave them the “air time” that they had been clamouring for. In retrospective, it was actually not a wise move to be tolerant towards such defiant acts, and a stern warning should have been given the very instance the rowdy student started to misbehave. It should be clear that the school has zero tolerance for such unacceptable behaviour and the resultant consequences for any disruptive or distracting behaviour would entail consequences, such as being sent out of the classroom or reprimanded by the school director, Figures 2 and 3 refer. Rowdy students affect teaching, scheme of work and class time.

Behave Walking the Planck
Figure 2 – First year teachers        Figure 3 – Behave

3. Personalities between students clash are also Common Classroom Problems  

On occasion, students from different nationalities actually wait for an opportunity to show their dislike for one another due to cultural differences and practices. In such a classroom, it becomes evident that little teamwork, communication between different groups and collaborative learning will exist. Students sometimes form different groups in order to antagonize each other instead of taking interest in learning the subject. They spend more time learning how to hate, hurt one another and create disruptive and volatile environments.

 Such students can become very unruly in the classroom if left unchecked and must be counseled immediately as a group in order to get to the bottom of the issue. Bringing them together, helps them to verbalise their problems and talk out their differences face to face in a gentlemanly manner with all parties shaking hands and a promising not to allow their differences to disrupt the peace and harmony of the classroom.

4. Students are bored, inattentive or unmotivated as Common Classroom Problems

Experience suggests students normally feel bored or exhausted in the late afternoon and become inattentive; become unmotivated because of their fear for the subject. The Holy month of Ramadan presents its own special issues with student energy levels. Their lacklustre performance in the classroom is not actually their fault and the cause is probably due to the low energy levels in their bodies causing inattentiveness. Although it is difficult to always keep the students captivated 100 per cent of the time, endeavour to keep lessons lively by employing a variety of tasks and learning activities such as

• The direct lecture method, followed by silent reading so that students can do self-reflection.
• A question and answer session to stimulate students’ interest. • Arrange students into teams for group work and class presentations.
• Introduce paragraph recitation, scavenger hunts, video clips and language games to enhance the lesson.
• Role play and drama can also enrich the lesson and keep the students excited to learn and indirectly promote collaboration in learning.

5. Students unpreparedness are Common Classroom Problems

Some students have a bad habit of coming to the classroom unprepared, giving a variety of reasons and excuses. My philosophy is that, for the weaker students who are not able to catch up with the rest, they should not be allowed to suffer in silence. As a lecturer, I should be sensitive to the situation and provide professional assistance in meeting their needs, such as using scaffolding instructions (to guide them) them or provide tuition on a free evening. In very severe cases, these weak students should be recommended to seek foundation courses.

And, for those students who are perpetually unprepared, or defiant in learning, arrange to meet and give them one-on-one attention, this is very useful as they feel that someone is willing to listen to their problems and difficulties. There have also been occasions where all methods fail and the student does not show any improvement, as a last alternative, students are sent to the DTE’s office where the DTE, together with the school’s counsellor, successfully determine the root causes and recommend a series of stern remedial actions.

6. Tardiness as Common Classroom Problems  

Sad to say, tardiness has been allowed to fester in our society and creeping into the colleges. Our Management Team has rejected such behaviour, practices and norms with zero tolerance for those who turn up late for classes, late for meetings and late submitting assignments and homework.

As a lecturer, one needs to deal effectively with this issue, set good examples and show seriousness so that students will learn very quickly that tardiness will not be condoned and may result in negative consequences. I normally address the problem immediately when non-abidance to class rules and ethics are detected. It must be very clear to all of the students that tardiness is not acceptable and may result in disciplinary action that would have unpleasant consequences. So far, such “threats” of stern punitive actions have successfully kept them in check.

In my opinion, the two most common and dominant problems are “defiant and rowdy students” and “students with personalities that clash”. In my institution, the students are predominantly male and they come from countries such as Bangladesh, China, India, Maldives Islands, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, and Yemen. They come from different cultural backgrounds and have different learning expectations. Handling them also requires tact, skill, emotional patience and strategy.

As for the “defiant and rowdy students” that make the teacher’s life miserable, the only recourse is to refer them to school counsellors for professional help. In such instances, the problem may be much deeper than what the eye can see and the situation has to be handled delicately.

In conclusion, many classroom problems have been encountered, some problems are easily resolved while some require a longer duration and probably intervention or assistance from the CEO, the Director of Training and Education, the college counsellor, the scholarship sponsors or even parents. No matter how difficult the classroom problems appear to be, with dedication, benevolence and a sense of commitment, the lecturer should be able to make the wayward students understand that society cannot accept such irresponsible behaviour and there are laws that can be used to reprimand people who commit criminal acts.

Lecturers these days do face colossal tasks in overcoming classroom problems, but then this journey of educating and guiding young minds, is not at all impossible or unachievable; we must do, as these students will hopefully someday mature into Captains and Senior Engineers who command ships that will traverse the mighty and treacherous oceans. Thanks for reading!


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1 Comment

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