Classroom Management 101

It’s time for some classroom management 101. Alright, so you’re just starting out and want to get a good handle on essential classroom management techniques before you jump into the classroom.  Or maybe you’ve been teaching for a few months and have a class that’s just gotten a little out of hand and you need to go back to basics to reign them in. 

Photo by Yellow on Flikr

Photo by Yellow on Flikr

Wherever you are coming from, a little refresher on the essential classroom management techniques can help forge your class into a well-oiled English-learning machine.

Really, here is all you need to know for classroom management 101: establish clear rules, with clear consequences for breaking them, and enforce them consistently across all students.

It’s so simple but so, so hard to actually do.

First: establishing clear rules

A lot of teachers think that some rules are implicit, like being respectful to classmates and teachers, only speaking English in class, or coming prepared every day. But that’s an assumption that can come back to bite you.

Sometimes younger students need things spelled out for them more clearly than you realize, and even older students need reminders, as well as clear boundaries.  Laying out your rules clearly gives them those reminders and those boundaries of what is appropriate and what isn’t appropriate.

It also very clearly establishes that you as a teacher know what you will tolerate and what you won’t – communicating that to them is just as important as the specific rules that you have.

Even if you started the year out perfectly, with your rules clearly written and explained to all students, you might be due for a refresher.  Especially if you have been lax in enforcing the rules, your students might have forgotten some of them, or “forgotten” some of them, or started to think of some of them more as suggestions than rules.

The best way to remedy that is to take 5 or 10 minutes at the beginning of class to go through the rules, the same way as you did on the first day, to remind them of the consequences, and to make it clear that breaking those rules will not be tolerated.

Next: clear and consistent consequences

You don’t necessarily have to outline those consequences to the students directly.  It can help to briefly explain to them what will happen if they break the rules, but it’s not really necessary.

What does matter is that you and your co-teachers, and your administrators, have discussed what the consequences are, for minor disruptions and for major problems that escalate to where a student needs to be taken out of class. Your classroom management will run so much smoother if you are all on the same page.

If students learn that you, your co-teacher, and the administrators, will all have completely different reactions and will enforce completely different consequences for breaking the rules, they’re going to keep pushing everyone to see where the different holes are in the discipline system, to see where everyone’s different buttons are, and to see what they can get away with with different teachers. If the discipline system is consistent, they’ll eventually realize that they are beating their head against the same wall and that they aren’t going to get anything out of their current behavior.

If the discipline system is consistent, they’ll eventually realize that they are beating their head against the same wall and that they aren’t going to get anything out of their current behavior.

Even if you are in a situation where your co-teachers and administrators don’t fully support you (and trust me, that’s a frustrating but all-too-common place to be), it will still go a long way to make sure that your own reactions and consequences are consistent, even if your co-teacher might one day ignore a student throwing a pencil and the next day completely stop class to yell at him for 5 minutes.

Finally:  enforce consequences consistently, without anger or frustration, without arguing, without wavering.

It’s got to be the same, whether it is a student’s first time breaking the rules or whether they give you trouble every day. It’s also got to be without getting emotionally involved – if you lose your cool and get angry, not only will you find it difficult to consistently follow through with the consequences you’ve outlined, students will realize they can push your buttons and they will keep figuring out ways to do it.

It is also so easy to get goaded into an argument about, say, whether or not turning a chair backward to sit in it is technically breaking the “stay in your seats” rule.

If you sense that a student is genuinely confused about why he is in trouble, make sure he understands. But most students know when they are breaking a rule and are just trying to see how far they can push you, so don’t play that game with them.

Don’t play the pity game, either. When that quiet girl who usually is so well-behaved gets caught up with a couple classmates in an inappropriate game – and then gives you those innocent watery doe-eyes, it’s hard not to feel your heart melting and to want to go easy on her.

If you do, you are depriving her of a valuable lesson in consequences and taking responsibility for her actions, and you are being unfair to students who are being punished more harshly for the same misbehavior.

There’s nothing wrong with being a little bit sympathetic to first-time offenders, but letting them off easy is a slippery slope that opens up a lot of room for students to take advantage of your sympathy and for you to start labeling some kids as “good” kids and some kids as “troublemakers” and treating them accordingly.

It can take a lot of effort, diligence, and planning on your part, but if you can consistently apply these basic classroom management techniques in your ESL class, you’ll quickly find many of your discipline and behavior problems disappear.

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