Just Another Brick in the Wall?

Its better to deal with things in a positive manner

Most new teachers fear the whole subject of discipline and avoid talking about it, but it’s an important subject for English teachers to discuss.

How do you elegantly control difficult or disruptive students before they leak their behavior onto their classmates? How do you grab the attention of hyperactive learners who are doing everything except listening to you? How do you quiet the chatter at the back or forestall the note-passers (who are never as sneaky as you thought you were, back when you were in school)? In short, how do you make sure that your students get the most out of your class?

Be Proactive by Planning an Engaging Lesson

It’s important to be proactive about discipline. The first step any teacher can take to lessen disciplinary problems in class is to plan an active, engaging lesson in which all students will participate. If everyone is taking part in the class, your problem students won’t have time to be disruptive.

If you’re not sure your lessons are engaging enough, now’s a good time to review our blogs and podcasts about TEFL methodology – and elicitation in particular. When we elicit ideas from students, we’re giving them a stake in the lesson and a reason to be engaged in the class.

Of course, the world isn’t perfect. It’s impossible to engage all of your students all of the time, especially if you have a few learners who are in your class because someone else (a parent, a boss, a school adviser) told them they HAD to be there, and don’t really WANT to be there.

Keep Calm and Carry On

The number one thing to remember in discipline is, even if your class isn’t going how you want it to, don’t lose your cool.  Stay calm, stay rational, and don’t act in anger.  If you’ve got a student who has been acting up in previous classes, make a plan for dealing with his or her common problems before your next class. Go in with an action plan and nip bad behavior in the bud.

A good way to change behavior patterns is to mix up the geography of the class—move a student who causes distractions to sit closer to you instead of with his or her buddies.

 Lay Down the Law

Clear rules from Day One of your classes make it easy for students to stay in the clear of discipline issues; if your class rules are fuzzy, you may find students who you think are acting up are unaware that they’re doing anything wrong.

Rules of Thumb for Discipline

Here are some tips for discipline:

  • Explain the rules clearly in the beginning of your relationship with your students.
  • Be serious about the rules you set
  • Enforce your rules consistently. Why have a rule if you are not going to enforce it.
  • When you do enforce a rule, be firm but also smile. Don’t act in anger.
  • Practice “turning on” your smile at home in the mirror so that you can switch back to Happy Teacher Mode with the rest of your students after using Discipline Mode with a problem student—don’t make the whole class suffer for the sins of one learner.

Be a Calming Influence

Mild discipline problems, like scattered chatter in a class, can often be stopped if you simply station yourself next to the problem student.  Stand beside them, walk over to them, show them you’re not afraid of them.  Do this in a calm and friendly, non-aggressive way, of course.

If that still doesn’t do the trick, a light hand on a student’s shoulder—will gently and in a friendly way emphasize that you are paying closer attention to them and they will intuit that you want them to stop doing whatever disruptive action they have been doing.

Teaching Younger Students

As you might guess, discipline for children’s classes can be more difficult than discipline for older learners. One reason children act out is because they’ve lost focus. They lose focus when class activities are beyond their normal attention spans. Children have much shorter attention spans than adults—in fact, here’s a good rule to remember:  Children’s activities should be no longer than double their age minus two.  So, let’s consider a four-year-old child. Double the kid’s age would be eight, then take away two to make six.  If you’re planning a class for four-year-olds, it would be wise to limit all your activities to six minutes or less.

Other teachers cut the math out of the equation and just use the kid’s age as a good rule for the length of an activity. So, if you’re being conservative, that same class of four-year-olds would only have four-minute-long activities.  This is possibly an even better guideline/

Different groups of students may be able to handle more or less minutes per activity, but it’s a general truth that once you lose the kids’ attention you can bet a behavior problem will crop up toute de suite  on the heels of their boredom.

Mind Games

The thing is, kids who are acting out typically just want the teacher’s attention and they don’t care if it’s positive or negative attention. So, some kids are just as happy pushing your buttons as they are chatting to you.  They just crave some of your time.

This is important to remember, because when a teacher gives a child attention after he or she has done something against the rules, the teacher is rewarding that bad behavior.  Here’s a way to make this work for you in the classroom:

Envision the following—a group class in the six-to-ten age range. Little Johnny paid attention for eight minutes, but there are still a couple of minutes left before the rest of the class finishes their activity. Johnny stands up, strikes a kung fu pose, and begins acting out a scene from his favorite cartoon. Pow! Bang! Pop!

Meanwhile, little Lulu, sitting next to Johnny, is still busily at work in the activity.  Instead of focusing attention on Johnny, you (the teacher) might go up to Lulu and praise her for doing what you asked her to do. This is positive reinforcement of your class rules, gives a boost to Lulu, and shows Johnny what he is doing wrong without rewarding his behavior.  Johnny is likely to stop his shadow boxing and go back to the task at hand, hoping to be praised in turn. And, if he does wise up and play by the rules, don’t hesitate to give him positive reinforcement—pat him on the back, give him a smile and thank him for doing a good job.

Get Disciplinary Guidelines from Your Employer

Appropriate discipline varies from school to school and culture to culture. When you start a new job, it’s extremely important to find out what procedures your boss recommends for discipline. You may find that public schools are more open to discipline and that private schools or language training centers may be less willing to have students (ahem, their customers) disciplined—by kicking them out of class for bad behavior, for example. Also, after you ask your boss about the official disciplinary policies, also ask your new co-workers what they do in practice. Unfortunately, reality and the paperwork may be different and you need to know that before you make a big deal out of something that the school won’t back you up on.

Are they Cheating or Just “Helping A Friend?”

A small digression to the topic of cheating. I’ve never personally worked at a school where cheating was officially allowed. But I’ve worked at lots of schools that didn’t do much to stop it. There are important cultural differences here.  The line between just plain flagrant cheating and ‘helping out a pal’ is not clearly defined. In fact, if you catch too many cheaters and bring them to discipline, your school may turn on you and ask, “Why are so many students cheating in your class?”  “Why are YOU having so many problems?” So, my advice is, don’t focus on catching cheaters, focus on preventing cheating.

Making a difficult environment to cheat includes really preparing the students for what they need to know for the exam.  If they know the material, they won’t feel the need to peek at a neighbor’s paper.  Spread out the chairs during test time.  Put seats back-to-back. Or, test the students over two days, half at a time with different questions. During the exam period, walk around the class  quietly and look for cheat sheets. If you catch a student using one, don’t make a big deal right there, but confiscate the answer sheet so they have to do the rest of the test on their own.

 TED’s Tips™ #1:  Your responsibility, for cheating and really all other discipline-related issues, is prevention.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Prevent disciplinary problems by having an active, engaging class with activities of an age-appropriate length

TED’s Tips™ #3: Prevent cheating by teaching the students the material they need to pass the exams; and by being vigilant during testing periods.

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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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