Troublemakers in the EFL Classroom

What can you do about discipline in the EFL classroom?

Keep Calm and Collected in English Class

Discipline issues in EFL class are usually best avoided by having an active lesson plan that involves all of the students.

An engaged, busy student is not usually a trouble-making student.  But, as new teachers quickly come to realize, many students are not in the EFL classroom of their own volition.

Unfortunately, a lot of students take English classes simply because their school or university program demands it, their business or boss requires it, or their ambitious family placed them there. All of these factors can lead to discipline problems.

Whatever the problem, my advice is to always keep your cool. If at all possible, you should deal with a disciplinary problem BEFORE you get hot under the collar, and while you can still think calmly about how to solve it.

It’s easy to plan ahead for common problems like being tardy, whispering to friends in class, monkeying around with a cell phone when they’re supposed to be doing the reading assignment, and so on.

Be a Serious, But Calm Enforcer

You need to show your students that you are serious about your classroom rules. Do this by being consistent in enforcing your rules, and by not losing your cool when someone makes a mistake.

Misbehaving students who chat or otherwise distract the class often calm down if you just walk up to stand near their chair.  Sometimes even your most disruptive teenager can be settled down with a gentle hand placed on his or her shoulder. You needn’t rebuke them, they’ll understand your message.

It’s important to enforce the rules with a smile on your lips, so you aren’t punishing the rest of the class as well. And while adults usually don’t have the same disciplinary problems as teenagers and children, in some cultures they may.

Naughty Kids? Here’s What To Do

There’s an old rule that an activity for a child shouldn’t be more than twice their age minus two. So, a five-year-old student can probably handle an eight-minute (or less) game or activity. Any longer, and you’ll find them squirming in their seats.

When you see a student act out, they usually just want some attention. It’s helpful to look at some standard psychology and behavior modification techniques to think of how to get around these drama queens (and kings).

Now, you don’t want to give a student attention (what they want) for misbehaving (what you don’t want). Instead, it’s a better idea to make an example of a child near them, and reward that student for sitting still, completing their exercises, or whatever it is the trouble-causing kid is not doing. Hopefully, then the problem student will change his behavior, hoping for their share of some praise from you.

Some schools will have set disciplinary procedures they want their teachers to adhere to, so it’s important to find out what rules your boss thinks should be enforced and what he or she advises you do about classroom behavior issues.

Language training centers and schools are often privately-owned businesses. If this is your case, you need to be careful to deal with disciplinary problems in language and actions that won’t end up with your boss losing customers.

Ask your co-workers what school policy is for disciplinary action. It’s important to know if your school will “back you up” if there’s a student with a serious reoccurring discipline problem.  Know this before you press an issue, and lose.

Are You Helping Your Friend or Just Copying Her Answers?

In the West, cheating is a big academic no-no. A shameful thing for any student to admit. But not every culture sees it the same way. Sometimes, what might look to you, the teacher like cheating, will just be “helping my buddy” in another culture.  Almost an obligation in some cultures.  Take preventative actions like separating friends, spreading desks farther apart and even using two or more forms of the same test.

Of course, teachers shouldn’t let cheating carry on, but TEFL teachers shouldn’t stress about it either. Sometimes it is just a cultural issue, deal with it, but don’t take it personally.

At the end of the day, discipline in the EFL classroom isn’t different from any other kind of classroom. Plan to avoid it, keep your cool, and you’ll be golden.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Don’t Get Angry

Having an angry teacher distracts students. And, it’s unprofessional. Practice the skill of disciplining with a straight face. Use a mirror and practice at home if you need to. And don’t forget to follow any discipline with a gentle smile when you turn to the rest of the class.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Stop. Think. Plan.

Before you correct a student’s behavior, you should stop and think about what you are going to do.  After you make this mental plan, you can be sure that you are not punishing the student from ire or annoyance. Often, students will do the same bad behavior again and again. If you see this, before the next class decide what you will do so you can look out for the behavior, catch it and correct it.

Do all this calmly and don’t neglect smiling at the other students—it’s not their fault.

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Business English might be your TEFL Ticket

As you have seen, much of the current material on this blog comes from the great questions you readers ask. Today we will discuss another one.

This one will be more in a Q and A style than most others.

The reader was interested in teaching ESP in possibly the Middle East.

Hi Richard (name changed to protect the innocent).

You wrote:  You mentioned that you had experience teaching for corporate companies.

Yes, probably more experience than most teachers.

When you taught, for example, Roche Pharmaceuticals (Taiwan), did you adapt the English course to suit the pharmaceutical industry e.g. English for special purposes?

Yes, absolutely. It was adapted based on a good Needs Analysis of what they felt they were having problems with. The changes were not based on a preconceived opinion about what I might have thought they needed.  (you can download a good Needs Analysis form at the bottom of this page: CLICK HERE)

Would you say today, that corporate companies want specialized courses to fit their industry, so if you did teach a petroleum company, would it be necessary to study courses in geology/petroleum engineering etc.

Yes, they expect a course that is focused on their business needs. No, it won’t be necessary to study their specialty, though it is important to understand and have an idea of what they do on the job, when and how they use and need English, and with which problems they need your help. You don’t have to show up as a know-it-all in their field, but a good needs analysis when you arrive is very important.

Also, which industry sector needs English instructors the most?

There is no specific place, but I would say that there is a need for English instructors almost everywhere in almost every industry. It has more to do with where, rather than what. Each country has their own needs. For example, if you are going to the Gulf States you will most likely teach in the petroleum and perhaps the hospitality industry, because that is their need. In Nepal the focus will probably be on tourism and hospitality as in Switzerland it might be on banking and hospitality.

These days many students study abroad, so their English is a higher level than students 30 years ago, so where would there be a niche market for English instructors in corporate firms?

It is the same answer as above. There is a global need and it’s not always where you might think it is. It is not just about foreigners communicating with English speakers. No, it goes further. English is the only common language between, for example, a Chinese exporter and the Brazilian who needs the product. Or a Japanese construction company working closely with local engineers installing a high speed train in Bulgaria.

And finally, what was the most rewarding aspect of your job?

The greatest reward was helping people to improve their career prospects.

TED’s Tips™ #1: It will be better to focus your ESP skills to an industry, in which you are familiar and preferably experienced in, rather than looking for a new industry and trying to adapt to it.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Remember, businesses want to see a final product and the same goes for hiring a teacher in their company – they want to see results. They hire you to solve their communication problems and it is your job to get to the root of what your ESP students need. If you can’t give them results, you will quickly be out the door.  But, if you know the industry well, you will have the solutions they need.

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Build your own ESP for TEFL Success

Earn More – Enjoy it More

This is one of my favorite topics to discuss. It’s a topic that newbies and especially us older teachers should pay special attention to.

A few things might stand in your way to break into the TEFL world. If you don’t fit the stereotype of a young, beautiful or handsome, white native speaker you may find yourself at a disadvantage, but don’t forget about your skills.

How can you deal with this stereotypical discrimination against older teachers and make the disadvantage an advantage? Your answer lies in ESP – English for Special (or Specific) Purposes.

You can draw special skills for ESP from your work history and experience. As you climb the ladder of age, your skills will climb too. If you are older, your skills will be more in-depth and you will have a greater variety of them.

Recently I met an older woman looking for a teaching job in a wonderful destination resort area.  As she was older, she was not likely to be picked by the local school system who liked young women to teach their young kids. Does she really want a local school job while her ESP skills are just waiting to be tested.  She had worked for and been trained by a major hotel chain.

If you compare teaching screaming kids in a hot classroom and teaching hotel receptionists in small groups in an air-conditioned corporate training room, which one do you want? Give me that hotel job! No doubt about it. So that is the future of this woman.

Her resume should focus on two things: Her hospitality training and experience plus her TEFL training and experience. It’s a match almost made in heaven, a good ESP marriage.

She can even take her job search further, beyond just hotels and resorts and apply for jobs at colleges and universities with hospitality training programs.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Take another glance at your resume before heading for the TEFL world. Identify your ESP skills and exploit them. It’s to your advantage.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Don’t forget about the colleges, universities, technical schools, specialized vocational secondary schools and all the rest who might teach and value and need your “special” skills.

Why ignore your ESP skills when it has countless advantages? It will open many doors for you, you will most likely teach people who share your interests and get a higher salary. Your ESP skills are a big bonus.

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