Posted on June 26, 2019 | By Alexa Randell
13th Jun 2019
Being thrown into the classroom with a bunch of students for the first time can be quite daunting, especially since the places where you could be teaching might not be your average school where discipline systems are already in place.
Handing out detentions or telling naughty students to wait outside the head teacher’s office may not be an option. So, what can you do? Here’s a few tips to help you establish and maintain discipline within your TEFL classroom.
Put rules in place early
Classroom rules need to be established from day one. Just as you are sussing out your students and how they are going to be for the rest of the year, they are sussing out how much they can get away with in your class. Without being too dramatic, learners can smell fear! So, make sure you establish your authority from the very first class.
Make the classroom rules clear, letting your students know what is acceptable and what’s not as well as the consequences that go with breaking the rules. If you’re working with teenagers, this may involve telling your students the rules verbally at the beginning of your first class. Or, if you’re teaching younger learners, you may decide to have a poster with the rules on. With mature, intermediate classes, you can even decide on the class rules together!
Sounds easy right? Well yes, establishing the rules is the easy part, maintaining them is the difficult part…
Stick with your rules
So, how can we maintain the rules? Firstly, implement a discipline system that the learners understand. There are a variety of different systems that TEFL teachers use throughout the year to help maintain their rules and behaviour. Popular discipline systems for young learners include using Traffic Lights, Happy and Sad faces, Star Charts or group team points. You may need to trial a few of these systems with different classes to find the one that works best for you, but once you’ve found a winner, stick with it!
Now you have established your class rules and discipline system, you need to maintain them by being consistent. The learners are not going to respect any rules if they are not consistently abided by. If you let one or two slide every now and then, learners will soon see that they can get away with breaking that rule. In addition, to this it’s natural that you will like certain learners more than others, but you must be fair to every learner. Learners are very quick to spot if another learner gets away with one thing, but they don’t.
As well as seeing the consequences of bad behaviour, young learners need to see rewards for good behaviour to give them an incentive to behave. There are many incentives you can give learners to behave, such as stickers, stars, points or opportunities to help the teacher – which make learners feel important and responsible! Remember to be consistent with incentives as well as punishments – focusing on good behaviour can motivate all learners to behave in order to receive these incentives.
Once you’re into the swing of things, you have your system in place, you’re being fair and consistent, and you’re focusing on good behaviour rather than punishing bad behaviour. What else can you do?
Never lose control
It’s important to never lose control and shout. With particularly difficult classes, it’s easy to become angry, frustrated or just generally get to the end of your tether. Instead of giving up though, take a deep breath, remain calm and don’t let the learners know they have got to you. Shouting means the learners have won, they have got the upper hand and got the reaction they wanted. As soon as you raise your voice in this way, your respect and authority has been lost. And once respect and authority has been lost, it can be very hard to gain back – and you might find yourself with a much bigger task of disciplining your students on your hands!
As well as not shouting, never use offensive terms or phrases – learners are not going to respond well to being told to ‘shut up’ constantly. Instead, find other ways to gain control or get the attention of the class, such as using attention signals which are non-verbal.
Patience is key
Finally, be patient – be patient with your students and be patient with yourself. It takes time to gain confidence as a new teacher and understand the challenges faced with discipline issues.
Most other TEFL teachers you’ll talk to will remember one class that put them through hell in their first year of teaching. But the good thing is, most of these teachers remember this class vividly because they never make the same mistakes again! You might even call dealing with a difficult class a right of passage – and once you’re through it, you’re sure to be a much more confident teacher for it.
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