Losing Control of Your ESL Classroom

Your ESL classroom is a place where control can quickly be flipped, a teacher has to stay vigilant in making sure that this balance is not disturbed too much. We have brought you many articles about what you should be doing in your ESL class, but we haven’t covered what you should not do in your ESL class. This article explores the big no no’s every teacher should be aware of.

confusedDoing the right things as far as classroom management and lesson planning can make a huge difference in how your classes go. But it’s just as important to make sure you don’t make any of these ESL teaching mistakes.

Lose your cool

Kids can be really good at pushing your buttons. It can be remarkable the ability they have to get under your skin even knowing only a little bit of your language. And if you are able to eavesdrop on and understand their conversations in their native language, it can leave you ready to start screaming at someone.

But the most powerful tool you have in your classroom management arsenal is your ability to keep your cool. Let your students know that they can get to you, that with the right comments they can leave you seething, yelling, and arbitrarily throwing out discipline, and you let them know that they have the ability to control you in class instead of vice versa.

So take a few deep breaths, thicken up your skin, and remind yourself it’s just kids being kids.

Teach to the advanced students

In every ESL class, you will have a variety of skill levels. When you ask a question, chances are there will be one or two students who are always ready with the right answer. Especially when you are pressed for time and want to move things along, it can be very easy to fall into the trap of only calling on those students.

While it can make you feel great to hear the right answers – or at least the expected answers – to your questions, chances are you are leaving quite a few students in the dark. Some students will need a little more time or coaxing to understand your questions, some students zone out very easily and need to be redirected back to the lesson, and some students know the answer but are too shy to raise their hands.

While it may make some of your students impatient and may be difficult for you, it’s important to slow down your lessons, call on students who don’t usually answer, and make sure that you give all of the students in your class enough time, space, and coaxing to understand your lessons.

Ignore minor discipline problems

Okay, so out of the corner of your eye you caught little Jimmy tossing an eraser at little Susie. No one seems hurt or upset, it wasn’t a huge disruption, you’re in the flow of your lesson, and the last thing you want to do is stop to address it.

But if you let it slide, you’re telling the students that they can get away with breaking the rules if they find the right time and situations. And that’s a guarantee that somewhere down the line, they are going to try to push it again.

The students on the receiving end of any throwing, hitting, or name-calling are also getting the message that their teacher isn’t always going to protect them from small slights, so how can they trust you to protect them from big ones?

Make sure your students know that they can’t get away with breaking the rules at all, even on a small scale, and it will go a huge way to prevent escalating discipline problems in the future.

Sometimes, all it takes is interjecting a few words into your lesson to tell Jimmy that if he does it again he’s going to have to sit in the corner for a while, and sometimes you have to stop to address it in a major way. No matter what, don’t sacrifice your long-term classroom management for the easy path right now

Argue with students

Some students seem destined to be lawyers; they will try to convince you they didn’t just eat an eraser even though you were looking right at them while they did it, or provide you with a detailed interpretation of how a rule doesn’t say they can’t stick gum under their desk so they technically didn’t do anything wrong.

Not only are you compromising your authority and leadership in the classroom when you let them drag you into arguments, you are also bringing class to a standstill – which is probably exactly what your little future lawyer wants.

That being said, remember that there is a big difference between listening and arguing. A student might be trying to tell you that he turned around and hit the kid behind him because that kid had been whispering insults for the past hour.

Or she might genuinely not understand what she did wrong. Or a student might be trying to argue his way out of discipline. A good teacher knows how to let her students feel heard without getting caught up in arguments over rules, discipline, or past actions, and this comes down to knowing your students, holding firm boundaries, and always maintaining control and keeping your cool.

Come to a lesson unprepared/wing it

The boy scouts (and Scar) have it right: be prepared. No matter how experienced a teacher you are, or how many times you have taught a particular class, putting in a little time to prep your materials and run through the lesson in your head is key to your day going smoothly.

Sure, it can be frustrating to spend half an hour of unpaid prep time on a class, but standing in front of a class drawing a blank about what comes next, or searching through your materials for the right worksheet, is the perfect recipe for out of control students and a difficult class.

Being prepared also means having a few good filler activities in your pocket for times when a lesson runs short. Yes, in teaching you always need to be able to adapt on the fly, but that doesn’t mean winging it; that means having something ready to keep your students engaged in any eventuality.

And now we want to hear from you, our readers. Have you got any major rules that you like to employ in your classes? Do you have anything to add to this list? Let us know in a comment below. 

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