There’s many blog posts I want to write for teachers, especially beginning teachers, however, whenever I get a good idea, I forget it. These ideas come to me in the midst of class, and then I’m distracted by a student asking a question, a student doing something goofy, a student laughing at something, or a student falling off their chair, and I soon forget it. So, here I am forcing myself to write something useful, though not candid.
A problem I had been asked about before by beginning teachers was what to do with rowdy high school classes and how to discipline them. One instinct is to yell at the students, and one student-teacher suggested punishing students, which in my experience both are counter-productive. In any case, I think the answer will be mostly the same, whether it be for kindergarten students, or university students: Respect and routine. Let me explain.
Students in Classrooms at UIS. CC Jeremy Wilburn, 2010. https://flic.kr/p/9gW8c9
All people think of themselves as valuable. It’s only natural as we are ego-centric beings, and we look after our own best interests. This also extends to regular social settings. All people want to be respected, all people want their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and contributions to be thought of as valuable to the group. Additionally, you don’t know the histories of all your students. The truth is, most students want to be accepted by their peers, and to do so people want to mimic their peers as close as possible, but without being a clone. Consequently, to you, facing the student group, actual variations between students can be well camouflaged, so it’s easy to think that they all have very much the same histories and backgrounds. In fact it’s not true. Some will come from happy and content homes, whilst others will come from homes where they might be ignored, badly treated, or have issues with a severely handicapped sibling or an abusive family member. All these things impact on the identity each person presents to the world. This identity is usually one that they are comfortable showing for whatever reason. So, even if a child is loud and obnoxious in class, they might in fact be offsetting something awful at home. Consequently, why should you make their time in your class additionally difficult for them. Why not use your class time as a kind of respite for them, let the person see what normality looks like, so that they might learn how to enjoy life. I should stress, that some students are just personality clashes with you, and are not “trouble makers” because they have difficult backgrounds. You really don’t know, so don’t be presumptive, and I think you don’t need to ask them either. So how do you manage those? Respect and allow each person their dignity.
So, how to show respect and not be a push-over? Well, in your first classes you need to lay down the law, and have a facial expression of a prison guard for the first month or so. You’ll quickly spot the “trouble makers”, and you’d quickly move them to the front of the room, and in time, make them your best friends. You’ll find techniques that fit your personality on how to effectively make these students your “best friends”. Give them little jobs or tasks that help you; offer them your trust. I find that this even works with that one ADHD you might possibly have in thirty students. In time, they’ll learn to appreciate you, and look forward to your classes.
Student iPad School. CC Brad Flickinger 2012. https://flic.kr/p/b9wnTe
This is the easiest thing to do. Basically have a set lesson plan for each class, and that way your students will know what they are doing, why they are doing it (even if it’s implicitly, “because we do it every week”), and importantly, how to do it. If you’re always doing really different things every class, then the students will have no idea what you want from them now, and it takes a lot of mental effort to try and understand what this foreign teacher is on about now. So, a routine could be:
- Small talk (in pairs)
- Check homework
- Introduce new grammar target
- Do grammar practice
- Then speaking activities
This looks pretty simple, and you just substitute in whatever homework answers you need to. Then demo the grammar target (CELTA style), then have students do whatever grammar activities are available. Then some speaking activities that relate to the grammar target. Make sure everything is interconnected, so it seems like there is also flow and that each activity seems implicitly dependent on the previous, so it seems that there is a need to do each step.
The final advantage, and perhaps most important to beginning teachers, is it makes lesson planning really quick and simple. However, each year I tweak my lesson plan and add, change, or adjust something, so that it is constantly evolving, just to be sure that I don’t become a dinosaur, but also to ensure students receive the most efficient instruction possible. Also, through the process of refinement, you gain more confidence in what you’re doing, and it requires less mental effort on you, so you can concentrate on the smaller important things about your teaching practice.