Classroom Management

In a best-case scenario, thoroughly preparing your lessons and delivering them in a professional manner will be enough for your students to learn English and for you to have an enjoyable experience. Of course, if best-case scenarios were the norm, then they would not be 'best-case scenarios'. Therefore, in addition to hoping for the best, it would be advisable to also prepare for the worse. That said, what is the worse that you can expect, and how do you prepare for it?

Though problems can crop up in any number of areas, some of the worse involve uncooperative, unmotivated and disruptive students. Though this is most often associated with some (though definitely not most) young learner classes, adult students can present their share of problems. In order to deal with these problem students effectively, one must understand why such problems occur.

Though most problems occur as a result of poorly prepared lessons, there are instances when this is not the case. This is especially true of the odd adult class which prefers a non-communicative approach to learning English. Unfortunately, they were brought up believing that true learning only comes from thoroughly understanding the grammar that they are being taught. They are happiest only when they are using a grammar translation approach. What is the best way to deal with an adult class which is resistant to the communicative approach? Don't use it, or use it moderately. At the end of the day, they are the clients and the client is always right. After all, they paid to be there and because of that, they define what makes them happy and what doesn't. Of course, that doesn't prevent you from chipping away at old ways. Who knows, you may actually convert a few.

As for young learners, they didn't pay to be in your classroom, their parents did. So the most appropriate first question is, 'Who should you try to please'? The easiest answer to that one is, 'Both, . . . as much as possible'. In order to determine how to do this best, it is absolutely necessary that you understand why your students are in class to begin with. The answer to this is one or a combination of the following:

  1. They're there because they want to learn English from a native speaker. Sounds good, but is it? The answer to this depends upon how long you can continue to convince them that it was a good idea in the first place. Remember, once the honeymoon period is over, it's over. So make it last as long a possible. The way to do this is to take a sincere interest in how they're doing, not just in class but also out of it.

  2. They're there because they are failing English in school, and their parents believe that you represent a quick fix to this situation. Perhaps their parents believe that their Russian teacher (for example) is inadequate at best or incompetent at worst. Before casting judgment or jumping to conclusions, you will need to teach them first. Don't be surprised if some are unmotivated. That's the bad news. The good news is that these students can be turned and well prepared lessons delivered by an enthusiastic and caring teacher is all it takes. Unfortunately, occasionally one of these unmotivated students will also be uncooperative and/ or disruptive. When this happens, it is necessary to react quickly to the situation before the situation gets out of hand. The best strategy for dealing with a difficult student or group is to get support and help as soon as possible. This can come in a number of different ways. First, as a policy, you should encourage parents to visit your classes. It is always a good idea to have the parents 'on your side', and this will definitely help do that. Second, if students understand that there will be regular progress reports, this may help curb the more outrageous behaviour. If, however, dynamic lessons, professional delivery, parental classroom visitations and/or progress reports fail to do the trick, then it is time to involve the Administrative Director and/ or your Director of Studies. Do NOT seek help from the parents first. Though this may work, the student will not forget that you brought him or her troubles on the home front. However, that said, be sure to let the student understand that his or her behaviour is unacceptable and the next time it occurs, s/he will be sent from class and will only be allowed to return after a parent-teacher conference. In any event, remember the goal is for the students to learn and for you to enjoy your teaching. At the end of the day, a well-managed classroom is more conducive to learning English than one that is not. Likewise, and make no mistake about it, motivated students who are not causing trouble will inform their parents not only about the disruptive students but also about the teacher who is unwilling or unable to deal with the problem. These parents will in turn complain to the Administrative Director, who in turn will ask you why you did not deal with the problem. If there is a moral to this little story, then let it be, an unmanaged classroom will come back to haunt you in one way or another.

Given this, the remainder of this section is dedicated to giving you both sound advice and some useful techniques for managing your classroom.

Classroom Management - Disruptive Behaviour

At some stage, all teachers encounter disruptive behavior- a student or students whose behavior gets in the way of teaching the class.

One way of avoiding most disruptive behavior (though not all) is by making sure all your students know where you stand. You and your students should agree upon a code of conduct. This involves you and the students agreeing upon certain forms of acceptable and unacceptable behavior in the classroom. By way of example, certain things do not comply with acceptable forms of classroom behaviour- arriving late, interrupting other students while they are speaking, 'forgetting' to do homework, not paying attention, etc. Where a code of conduct is established, both teacher and students will recognize these acts as outside the code. The teacher's goal during the first few classes will be to establish and practice the code through discussion and example.

Causes of discipline problems

1. The teacher

  1. Don't go to class unprepared: Students will identify teachers who are not sure what to do in the classroom. The teacher has to appear to be well prepared and knowledgeable about the subject.

  2. Don't be inconsistent: If you allow students to come to class late without taking action one week they cannot be reproached for doing the same thing the following week.

  3. Don't issue threats: Teachers who threaten students with consequences for unacceptable types of behaviour and then do not carry them out are doing both the class and themselves a disservice. Hopefully threats are not necessary, but it is fatal to say that some action is going to be taken if it is not.

  4. Don't raise your voice: This almost always has disastrous consequences leading to a general raising of noise in the classroom. Very often a calm but firm voice is far more effective.

  5. Don't give boring lessons! Perhaps the greatest single cause of indiscipline is boredom. Interested students do not intentionally misbehave in the classroom.

  6. Don't be unfair: Avoid having favourites and/or picking on particular students.

  7. Don't have a negative attitude to learning: A teacher who does not really care and who is insensitive to students will lose their respect- the first step to behaviour problems.

  8. Don't break the code: If the code is that students should arrive on time, then the teacher must too. If homework is to be handed in on time, then it must be corrected promptly.

2. The Student(s)

Action in the case of inappropriate behaviour

  1. Act immediately: When the code is broken, you should act at once. The longer a discipline problem is left unchecked, the more difficult it will be to take action.

  2. Stop the class: Tell the students who are behaving badly what is wrong. Many teachers refuse to re-start the class until the students have settled down: they simply stop the class, make it clear that the behavior is unsatisfactory and wait until things improve.

  3. Reseat misbehaving students: An effective way of controlling a student who is behaving badly is to make them sit in a different place immediately. Where troublesome students are sitting together they should be separated, often to the front of the class.

  4. Change the activity: When a majority of the class seems to be getting out of control, a change of activity will often restore order. A quick writing task will often quiet students down; the same effect can be achieved by a reading task or listening. Generally bad behavior can be cured if students are given something to do which will involve them.

  5. Meet after class: Where one student is continually causing trouble, the teacher should take that student to the side after class. Explain why the behavior is unacceptable, give them a chance to say why they behave in this way and spell out the consequences if it continues.

  6. Use your Administrative Director or DOS: You should not have to suffer on your own! Consult your Administrative Director/ senior teacher/DOS/Academic director when you need help.

Classroom Management - The use of L1 in class.

If students are using their L1 (or to continue our example, Russian) during an oral activity, then quite obviously the activity becomes pointless. Moreover, the teacher who knows Russian should never use Russian as a crutch in class. Though using Russian as a limited 'tool' is acceptable, be aware that this can encourage the students to do the same, which in the long run will prevent them from thinking in and using English. Some students, especially those in-company, are absolutely against the use of any Russian whatsoever. In any event, if students start using Russian in the classroom in inappropriate way, then there are a number of things that you can do:

  1. Talk to the class: Explain to the students why you are against their overuse of Russian. Ask them what they think the purpose of such oral activities is. Tell them that even if it is more difficult to use English, it is still essential.

  2. During an activity: Continually encourage the students to use English during their activities. Many of them will slip into Russian, and then you can help them slip back into English.

  3. Back to Basics: If the above two options of discussion and prompting fail to work, simply tell them that this communication activity will no longer be continued and give them some writing instead. Over time you can the ease them back into oral activities on the condition that Russian not be used.

  4. Pretend: Even if you know Russian, pretend you don't. Students can then not explain to you or question you in a language you do not understand.

Emergency Discipline Help

In the unlikely event of disciplinary problems that you are unable to deal with yourself, you should be free to call upon any member of your academic support staff to come into the class to find out what the problem is (and solve it). Of course, this should be a last resort, and you should try various approaches to exert your own authority in the classroom. In reality, if you have told the students to do a task, then they should do it. If you have a personality-clash with your student or students, very often it is better to raise the matter with your DOS before it becomes a problem.

Teaching should be an enjoyable experience for you. If you begin to dread a class, then get help as soon as possible! There is nothing wrong in that!

Dress Code

When working in schools, look smart but more importantly, dress comfortably. Jeans should not be permitted in class. On your feet it is important to wear comfortable shoes. Remember it can get chilly even indoors during the winter so bear this in mind.

For in-company teachers, you will be expected to dress to fit in with the image of the company you are teaching at. A few companies expect suits and ties for men. For females, skirts or smart trousers are fine. Needless to say, jeans and trainers are unacceptable for in-company work.

Overall, it is up to you to use your common sense when it comes to your clothing, but it is important to remember that whatever you wear should reflect a positive image of yourself and of the company. that you work for.

Lesson Observation

Teachers should be aware that good language schools do regular observations of their teaching staff. Rather than viewing this as an invasion of your classroom, you should consider observations as a chance to receive valuable feedback concerning your classroom performance from someone far more experienced than you are. In a similar vein, a school administrator may also wish to visit your lesson. Lastly, you shouldn't expect advance warning to be given on all occasions. This is not to cause discomfort to teachers but rather to see a standard lesson rather than one that has been optimally prepared.

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