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How to deal with a student sleeping in class

42 Comments
By Peter Edmondson

Our curriculum at a university in Tokyo requires us to have at least 15 minutes of silent reading every class. As such, it should not be surprising that often students will open their books during this 15 minutes, place them on their desks and fall asleep. Some students, it seems, have gained a talent and mastered the art of sleeping with their eyes open. Instead of leaning on the desk they just stare blankly into space without so much as turning to the first page, grasping the closed book in their hands as though it is evidence that they are in fact doing what they are supposed to be doing.

I can’t blame them for being tired. Every day that they have English, they have it in three-hour sessions, which is a terrible experience. On top of that, Japanese college students tend to spend many of their nights out at karaoke or drinking into the wee hours of the morning; so it’s no wonder they’re exhausted and reading a small book in English isn’t exactly the caffeine kick they might need. Whether I agree with the 15 minutes of silent reading requirement or not, my job is my job and while I feel sympathetic for these poor narcoleptics (narcs?), I do my best to seduce them to actually stay awake and read, baby, read.

Yesterday during reading time, two of my students were obviously asleep. One of the two just doesn’t care about his grade, the other had his I’m-sleeping-but-actually-reading set up on his desk. It’s really amazing what students think teachers don’t notice. This student is particularly obvious because he was sitting in the front row.

Normally I just let them enjoy their naps and make a note of who sleeps, but yesterday, for whatever reason, I felt like doing something different. So while he was sleeping, I took his watch from him and I put it on my wrist. It was a very nice watch, so I was sure he would miss it. Then I ended the boring reading session by telling everyone to put their books away and wake up. I proceeded to give the students a lecture reminding them of why we do silent reading, what percentage of their final grade is a result of silent reading, etc.

All this time my student is frantically searching for his watch and I couldn’t help but smile. Truth be told, I was probably unconsciously giggling throughout my lecture as I am the type of person who has a hard time controlling his laughter. I really did have to suppress my urge because this guy was just shuffling through everything he owned like he had just lost his precious, and all he had to do was look at his teacher to find it.

Toward the end of my brief lecture, I talked about sleeping during the silent reading period. I explained that reading time is not nap time and I reminded them that I keep a record of everyone who sleeps in class and that affects their grade. I then asked the two students who were sleeping whether sleeping was allowed. The kid who doesn’t care about his grade was just like, no. But the kid whose watch I took immediately defended himself, without even answering my question.

“I wasn’t sleeping. I was reading. I was just resting my head on the desk.”

“You weren’t sleeping?”

“No.”

“Then what are you looking for?”

I am now talking to him directly, wearing his watch, even intentionally putting my wrist right in front of him. Half the class saw me take the watch and they’re giggling which makes it harder to control my cruel self.

“I’m not looking for anything.”

He lies and stops looking for anything.

“So where’s your watch?”

I ask him, tapping on it. He starts searching for it again. I repeat it again and point to it on my wrist and he still doesn’t get it, instead he looks at both of his wrists. I give up, take the watch off and hand it to him.

“So you weren’t sleeping? How did I get your watch?”

And he still denies it, but he knows I know the truth, he knows that everyone knows the truth.

This phenomenon of lying is pretty common in the classroom world. Not only are students constantly lying about the obvious, but they come up with the most ridiculous excuses when they are caught doing something wrong, or they just say nothing at all. But one thing they almost never do is to admit they did something wrong when they get caught:

Me: Hey, you know the rules, no texting in class. Your phone please.

Student: Huh? Class started?

Really, that’s your excuse? Or how about this one from a fellow teacher: he caught his student with an open book out during a test. The teacher picks up the book and confronts the student:

Student: What? I didn’t know that was there! I’ve been looking for that book!

The list goes on and on.

Such incidents remind me of a German word I learned a while back: Dickkopf. Dickkopf by a dictionary standard means a stubborn person or a blockhead, but as it was explained to me in high school it can also refer to a person who argues even though they know they are wrong. Okay, that makes sense, I remember thinking, that sounds German, but that also sounds like the students in my class. It is obvious that they know they are wrong. They know they are in the wrong, everyone knows they are in the wrong, and yet they continue to spin the same tale like a dirty politician. Why? Wouldn’t it make more sense to come out clean?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized the classroom is hardly isolated from the real world. While I was chatting with a friend online, we both realized that actually this phenomenon seems to be something that defines us as humans, whether we’re students, office workers, or grandmas. We are all Dickköpfe. We are well aware of what is right and wrong and when we do something that we know is universally accepted as wrong (philosophers out there, please just read on, don’t argue with me about the term universally), we deny it, or we just pretend like it didn’t happen. Personally, I think the most common reflex is to deny it straight away and come up with highly implausible the-dog-ate-my-homework excuses.

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42 Comments
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You can end the problem easily by telling them that if they sleep during reading time, they will be marked absent. I do 15 mins of reading in my class and have made it very clear to them. I have zero problems with it as they know I'm serious. It takes telling one students they are being marked as absent for word to get around.

What I don't get is how the Japanese teachers/profs allow their students to sleep throughout class. Have you ever walked the halls of a university here and looked into the classes? Half the back row is asleep. The middle row is texting and the first row look mildly interested.

As for sleeping in reg classes, not a problem. I have mine up and moving - even in writing classes. 90 mins is a long time to sit in the same place and I couldn't do it so why should I expect them to?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

I had an amzing prof in uni in Tokyo that knew how to deal with sleepy students. We had a small seminar group of 7 students. It was really easy to tell who was sleeping because we sat in a circle. No one really wanted to slep in his class but sometimes the eyelids got heavy and heads began to nod. The prof would notice this and tell us it is all coffee time. We were given 5 minutes, some coffee (or a chance to get coffee) and a snack to keep us going. I miss that class...

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Once I held a resit exam for my class. One lad came in, wrote his name on the paper, then went to sleep for 90 minutes. Of course, he scored zero and failed. It's a mystery why he bothered to turn up at all.

I don't usually keep attendance records, so the sleepy types don't bother to show up. Unsurprisingly, they also tend to be the ones who do poorly in the exams and fail.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@saurala

Sounds like the prof's problem was that the seminar was too boring to stay awake in. I wish teachers would consider this possibility when they whine about sleeping students.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Isn't flunking time an option anymore?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

those air can horns do wonders :p

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Let them sleep, it's their problem.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

lucabrasi: Normally I would agree with you. However, this was a 4th year seminal class with the theme of "Bodies, Robots and the Mind". It was a very heavy reading, heavy conversation based class. However, some of the students didn't feel confident in sharing their ideas or didn't read the (massive amount of) readings before class. I loved that class...was the most interesting one I took in my uni years.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Just call the sleepy guy with a loud "good morning!"

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Let them sleep. A fifteen minute "power nap" probably does wonders for their concentration for the rest of the class. After all, they can read any time, and they may well be reading outside of class.

lucabrasiJul. 24, 2012 - 10:35AM JST Sounds like the prof's problem was that the seminar was too boring to stay awake in. I wish teachers would consider this possibility when they whine about sleeping students.

I agree. The prof admits that the class is too long and badly structured, but instead of fixing the problems all he does is criticise the students, and embarasses them in front of the class. The person to blame here is the person with the power to fix the problem, the prof. Harassing and humiliating your students isn't going to change a thing here, it'll just make them feel awful about your subject and make them hate English. Well done prof, you're not helping anything here.

Here are some suggestions:

Let them sleep for 15 minutes, but make it clear that they have to make up the work later. Put it in the test. Every 45 minutes give the students a 5 minute "comfort break", and insist that all the students at least stand up and walk around during that time. Bring a thermos of coffee to the class, it costs about 1000 yen for a big bag of coffee, and that'll make a semester's worth of coffee.
0 ( +2 / -2 )

One day my college economics teacher fell asleep during the class. We all just left him there snoring.

The next day he didn't show up. The day after that we got a new economics teacher.

2 ( +1 / -0 )

I don't think the writer's behavior is appropriate.

I think it's wrong to take someone's possession like that, even as a kind of joke.

Also it seems that it was an attempt to humiliate the student in front of his peers. That's seems mean and nasty.

I think what the writer should have done is to speak to the student one to one after class and try to give the student some options for better behavior next time.

This whole episode seems to be based on childish behavior, not just from the student but also from the teacher.

The teacher should be providing a model for the students on how to behave in a more mature way. I think the teacher has failed in this instance.

Also, students are easily provoked into complaining to the school office these days. I have heard of many instances where students have gone directly to the school authorities and complained about native speaker teachers.

If this student did so and complained that 'the teacher stole my watch' then the writer would be in a somewhat awkward position. He should be more careful.

Also, I think it was unnecessary to name the school at the start of the article.

6 ( +9 / -2 )

I was about to write a comment, but Choiwaruoyaji seems to have done it.

These days, when a teacher humiliates a student in class or does anything that could be considered inappropriate behaviour, he is putting his job on the line. Students have the right to complain about any form of harassment, and they do. Students will also collect some friends to complain about the teacher with them and support their complaint.

It must be remembered that many students have a long commute in unpleasant conditions and are sleep-deprived. They should be given some sympathy, but not too much tolerance. I sometimes tell students they may go and wash their face and run up and down the corridor to wake up if they want to. Other times I place them next to an open window, but that does not work well in summer. Often I get another student to nudge them awake.

When I went to school, a piece of chalk or a blackboard rubber was often hurled at a sleeping student. Times have changed.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

When a teacher drones on and on and on and on.

And, with so many people in such a confined space, there's a lack of oxygen.

And the teacher continues to drone on and on and on and on.

Why, Brother Edmondson, are you surprised that your students drift off?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Hey teachers, school is boring. You're not the super entertaining insightful creative doorway to the future that you think you are. You are somebody they listen to because they have to. Or pretend to listen to you because they have to.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

It must be remembered that many students have a long commute in unpleasant conditions and are sleep-deprived. They should be given some sympathy, but not too much tolerance.

You think salarymen get to use that excuse for being tired? Do you thin teachers get to use that excuse? Come on now. Yes, some teachers suck and their classes are boring. Some kids suck and they're boring. Combination of both? Win/win for both I guess.

I'm assuming the uni is doing graded reading which means the students gets to pick the book of his choice. Had he put some effort into it, he should have found a book he liked. I get that students are tired, I do. But they don't get to sleep in my class. Like you, I get them up, open windows, let them get a drink but they get ZERO time to slap and a "poor baby, the commute is so long so take a nap" from me. Part of why they behave this way is because they know people will let them get away with it. I'm a teacher, not a babysitter.

2 ( +3 / -2 )

You think salarymen get to use that excuse for being tired?

The comparison (if that's what it is) is not quite correct.

Salarymen put in time and get paid for it.

College students in Japan are there on a freebie (in most cases).

Most of them do not pay for their own tuition and living expenses.

Mummy and daddy are usually paying for it.

If the students paid for it themselves then they might have a different attitude.

The money they earn from their part time jobs generally goes on paying for fun and leisure activities.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Choi, their parents are paying for them to be there so that should be even more of an incentive to stay awake since it is costing someone money for them to be there. Indeed, if they did pay for it, I think they'd be wide awake - which is my point on why I don't allow them to sleep.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Many of the male students who tend to nod off in class have done long overnight shifts at convenience stores in order to pay for their new expensive smart phones.Girls dont work these graveyard shifts and often Daddy pays for thier phones and plans. I used to take photos of the sleepers,but am now a bit wary because of the new privacy laws which could backfire on the instructor. I once told all the students to leave the room very quietly and not disturb the sleeper. We all did and then I turned the lights off.We all peered in from the door windows and laughed when he woke up.If you ever walk past a Japanese teachers classroom you will find they are much more tolerant of this kind of behaviour then us.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I once told all the students to leave the room very quietly and not disturb the sleeper. We all did and then I turned the lights off.We all peered in from the door windows and laughed when he woke up

Funny! And you don't even have to steal his watch!

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

their parents are paying for them to be there so that should be even more of an incentive to stay awake since it is costing someone money for them to be there. Indeed, if they did pay for it, I think they'd be wide awake - which is my point on why I don't allow them to sleep.

Can't follow your logic at all but I'm sure you are doing a good job in the classroom.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Stealing a watch and humiliating a student in front of his peers. Trying to raise the affective filters as high as possible, eh?

This is why in the reading portion of my class I have students read for a short time, then explain to their neighbors what they just read. Read, switch partners, explain. Repeat. There's no humiliation, theft, or sleeping. And they practice speaking, too.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Yes it is rude to sleep during class ; but the student is only harming themselves. Why dont you simply wake them up if it bothers you so much? Playing tricks etc on them is not right; you don:t know the reason why they are sleepy, maybe they are struggling to support themselves etc? at the end of the day it is their own grade. And Japanese Unis really need to change this attendance etc as a huge part of the grade malarky. I remember back in uni, attendance etc. combined with effort grade from teacher was worth less than 5% of the final grade. In Japan it can be as much as 20%? Ridiculous. Granted there were some students who i saw in economics on the first day, never saw them again till the finals, and they still got an OK grade studying themselves. Uni students are not kids anymore.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It's difficult to stop until unless school administrative start subject which studentss like :-D

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Hey teacher, leave them kids alone.

If your teaching technique and content are not interesting enough to keep them awake, they're better off asleep. Which teacher training program taught you that petty larceny and humiliation are appropriate teaching methods?

All in all, etc.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

The answer you're looking for is ... right ... here (courtesy of the Aquabats, and not for the first time):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acA2VM7lmDE

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If the writer had been doing something fun and engaging, the chances are the students wouldn't have fallen asleep.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Forgive me but I see a link between this story and this one: New hirees quitting in droves

Perhaps the Japanese employers are giving out really low level entry positions because the know that the kids are not getting 100% of their education by doing this. As people in the other thread have argued the degree is just a several million Y piece of paper.

But the sad thing here is that the kids are only hurting themselves. A little less night life sounds more in order than insulting your professor and fellow students by wasting class time this way.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

try Aussie public schools where kids play games,send texts,make and receive calls on their devices openly in the lesson and then worry about the misbehaving kids vandalising the room and facilities. I taught high school in Japan for 9 years and I eventually just let them sleep.In a class of 40 I had more students to worry about. In Australia we are not allowed to physically touch a student to wake them up anyway. Viva Japan.I hope it never deteriorates to the standards I am seeing here, where kids have all the rights and no responsibilities.And they certainly aren't doing club activities,hours of study and arubaito AND entertainment until the wee hours like the Japanese students I had.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

tideofiron & Darren Brannan

I've a sister-in-law who taught middle-school (Jr. High) in the American Midwest. What you describe is mild compared to her stories. She started teaching in one of the big city schools which was heavily minority and sadly any child who tried to learn was taught a different lesson by his/her classmates, basically that learning was not cool and is a waste of time, she was a glorified (horrified) babysitter. I would prefer not to name the state and city, however just pick a combination from the area and google it and the result will be the same for all of them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

So, this teacher wasted another five, ten, maybe fifteen minutes or so of everybody's time in order to embarrass one student... That's fifteen minutes that he should have spent teaching the students who - or whose parents - presumably paid good money for university classes. Time where he was actually being paid to do a job he didn't do!

As everybody seems to say, university students ought to take responsibility for their actions. Yes, sure, so let them take the responsibility for whether they spend their own fifteen minutes sleeping or reading, and let the teacher take the responsibility for teaching those who want to listen, not for wasting their time while he makes fun of the others.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Some of you have zero idea how easy it is to teach J kids compared to teaching in other countries.

30 hours a week for a PT job? And? I worked that at uni and promise you I never once feel asleep. If kids are sleepy in your class - and it isn't reading - check your lessons and your activities. It really isn't that hard to have them all awake and active - with the right activities/.

Also, many students don't have jobs. They sleep in class because they know they can. Like I said earlier, have you ever checked a j teachers class? These are the teachers who should be getting canned. INdeed, there are some crap students out there but if 1/3 of the class is sleeping or on their phones, the problem isn't the students, it is the teacher.

And yes, the system here sucks. If students had to be held accountable and unis had to be held accountable, things would change. But until people here remove their heads from their bums, this crappy system of passing for breathing will continue. I admit, I'm part of the issue myself - I passed two students yesterday who shouldn't have because I'm not about to spend my time battling the kyomuka nor giving retests, marking, changing grades... This doesn't happen at all of my schools - thankfully - but does at one. Until I can fail them and not deal with the failout of poor students, pass they will.

Sleep though? Nope. It is just rude - and to whomever said it doesn't cause problems, it does. It affects the class and other classmates.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

ivarwind But the instructor did teach the other students. He taught them that if the do something bad in his class they will be embarrassed. I bet the attention level in his classes went up dramatically after that incident.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Just asked a student now and they had a very interesting answer. They said that if a student wants to sleep then that's their choice, but if the teacher stops the class to waste time with the sleeping student then he's wasting the entire class', and he's turning a single student's choice into the whole class' problem, and that's not fair.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Aku, if you're planning well, no singing, no dancing at all. And yep, not grade school but they have the maturity and responsibility of grade schoolers.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Aku, SSR is in grade schools, JHS and HS all over the world. Not sure why you think it is a Japanese thing or a hand holding thing. I hope you aren't teaching as you don't seem to up on classroom management and graded reading/reading in schools.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Our curriculum at a university in Tokyo requires us to have at least 15 minutes of silent reading every class. As such, it should not be surprising that often students will open their books during this 15 minutes, place them on their desks and fall asleep..... I do my best to seduce them to actually stay awake and read, baby, read.

Darn right. I would fall asleep from boredom and not from karaoke, commute length, part-time work, or any other reason as this writer mentioned. The ludicrous mandate of a syllabus should never restraint a true professional from having a successful classroom environment.

Normally I just let them enjoy their naps and make a note of who sleeps.... Then I ended the boring reading session by telling everyone to put their books away and wake up.

This is where you have laid the groundwork for your own boring nature. Honestly, you failed as a teacher to take the one opportunity during the commencement of your term to set the ground rules and make your presence be heard. By submitting to your own inability you created the atmosphere in which you now agonize in.

So while he was sleeping, I took his watch from him and I put it on my wrist.

Show humility in your actions, by resorting to childish acts of thievery you further tarnish your reputation. You may think it funny as some students laugh, but you do not hear what students really think of you. Do you?

I sat through long lectures at my undergraduate course, and disliked most styles of teaching. It wasn't until I entered graduate school that I discovered that there wer alternatives to "lecturing" to or at students. And, the time of the courses were never important, as they were 8hrs in length on weekends. Never, did a student fall asleep. You must admit that you need some soul-searching as to your shortcomings.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

There isn't any attendance taking at my university, all you are supposed to do is prove that you have learnt and are able to do the work expected (IT degree), one course I didn't attend to the lecture all semester but still managed to pass ((database designs)) I absolutely hated my professors voice, everyone in the lecture became hypnotized into sleeping when that dude spoke and imagine for 3 hours constantly talking in his hypnotic monotone). Don't know why you would even need to take attendance at university, you are there to learn and gain skills and if you feel that time is better spent outside of lectures, then so be it. I feel this sort of system removes the power of decision-making from the students.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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