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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