A good definition is «the teacher’s management of the classroom, the people in it, and the course content » Many teachers say that «classroom management is everything in teaching » Much of what follows can also be used if you are doing a PGCE or similar teacher training course, for schoolteaching.
It can’t be denied that good classroom management is fundamental. You need it before you walk into the classroom – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The TEFL classroom can be quite different from the school, in that you may be teaching adults, the « rules » and expectations are likely to be different and are still not established when the course begins. The teacher may not even understand the students’ first language to be able to get them across clearly.
All levels and groups – even business English students – need your good classroom management. For company directors, you might want to establish on day 1 whether or not they can answer the phone in the middle of a lesson, of if it’s ok to arrive late and not do homework . With 6 year olds it’s more likely to be « raise your hand if you have a question ».
Teenagers are different because they naturally need to push the boundaries, to find out where they stand. They’re no longer children, but they aren’t adults either, so you need to judge it just right. They love being treated like adults but need boundaries too, a good framework of rules and expectations, set on day 1 of the course. Remembe they’re just not quite old enough to self-impose their own rules, so they need you to impose them.
You probably know the answer to this question if you think back to the « student teacher » who came in at school in the spring term. The kids were thowing things, shouting abuse and answering back. Very little learning took place, as lessons became a battle betweeen teacher and group. Some of you may even have witnessed the poor teacher crying !
As EFL teachers we need to encourage STT (student talking time), so when they speak we stop. Talking over them, at any point during the lesson, gives all the wrong messages, ie that what we have to say is more important than what they have to say, which is not true. TEFL guru Jim Scrivener was once asked in a TV interview what he feels TEFL teachers should change if they could just change one thing, and he replied that we should listen to our students, and respond accordingly, as we do when talking to friends. It also improves rapport drastically of course, and showing this respect means that the group is much more likely to be co-operative.
Decide where the students will sit. In a circle ? In a U shape ? In semi-circular work groups ? Will you decide who will sit with whom ? Or can they choose ? Will I move them about ? What will I write on the board ? Where does the vocab go ? Where will the grammar rules go ? Will I use 2 colours ? Is the audio / video ready to be played ? You mustn’t be typing things in the YouTube search bar, or looking for the « on » switch on the loudspeakers in real time. What will the students be doing for the first 20 minutes ? The second 20 minutes ? The last 20 minutes ? Have a got a filler activity or two ?
They may well rather be elsewhere, but as they have to be in class, they want to learn. At the very least, they probably have an exam to pass, and even in a worst case scenario they know that the more they can learn and do in class, the less they have to study at home !
Do everything you can to have a private chat with the individual after the class. End the class a couple of minutes early to do this.
before things get out of hand.
Kids WILL push the boundaries and trying to upset you may be one way they do this. It’s not them, its their age talking.
You must carry out all threats so be very careful what you say.
Your job is not to win battles, but to create a good learning environment. If they all say « we need to talk to you, we’re bored with the topic », then first of all establish that they do all feel this way. (« Put your hand up if you agree ») to make sure it’s not just a few of them. Then take 5 minutes, listen carefully to everything they say, note it down, thank them, say that you will go home and talk to the director of studies (if appropriate) and propose how you can change things. This shows that you respect them, want them to be happy and aren’t the weak teacher who « needs to win all the time »
Don’t try to be cool, dare to do that silly mime to teach « dance » or « skip » and point to your own clothes to check understanding of «fashionable ! (ie probably not!)».
A problem shared is a problem halved. If you share it with the director of studies, then it becomes their job to (help you) find a solution. All good directors of studies want feedback from their teachers about students and how things are going. It shows them you want to do your job well. All directors of studies have had difficult groups, and understand
Bear in mind that every time they say something in English, they are already doing something difficult and potentially embarrassing for them. Say things like « that’s a good idea, anyone else ? » and « Good, can you say it in the past tense ? » Avoid « no » as that is tantamount to saying « you shouldn’t have said that », which of course is not true.
The best way to do this is to use them. There are several tricks to remembering names. Write their names in seated order on the whiteboard. They can make « name cards » and put them in front of them on the table. You can have fun at the end of the first or second lessons by saying « right, let’s see if I can remember all your names… Ok… Fred, Chr… argh… Christelle ? Sorry Christine… don’t tell me… » But using them « that’s a good point Fred,, do you agree Mohammed ? » is still the best. And of course really helps with classroom management generally « Alice, could you sit with Laurent ? Thank you»
Remembering things about them helps relations « Have you heard the new album by…. ? » to someone who likes a certain type of music, or « what do you think of Mbappe going to Paris St Germain ? » to the one who likes football. This makes them feel like adults, which means they’re more likely to behave like them.
in case you need to move anyone who is messing about, in case you need to diffuse a situation quickly. You can be honest here « I don’t know who it was, but I need to separate you , sorry ». If they refuse, then again back down and have a good word with both at the end of the lesson, not just for 30 seconds but for a good few minutes, and explain the seriousness of refusing to cooperate.
Where do they go if you need to remove them from the class? Can they sit and work with the secretary? Who contacts the parents? You or the secretary?
Always have « somewhere to go » regardless of what is happening. No matter what is happening at the early part of the lesson (eg people throwing things about), begin with a polite comment. « Ok guys, could we start now please » Then use your waiting for silence (see point 2). Hopefully you can see that you can now relax into the lesson, knowing you still have 10 stages to resort to!
The moment that the students know that you are aware of their exact performance, a lot of potential problems melt away. You can then give them and their parents meaningful feedback. It looks like a lot of extra work but really isn’t, because you just do it as you go along. All you need is some blank grids to fill in with a pen during the lesson. Here’s an example:
|Julie||✓||✓||Late 10 min||✓||✓|
|Stéphanie||No h/w||Late 10 no h/w still||Note ok||✓||✓|
|Jean-Claude||✓||X||X Note needed||Contact parents||OK note given|
|Pierre||✓||No books||No books||Contact parents||Chat to Director of studies|
* You can see that Pierre didn’t bring his books. Be careful, as this not only means he probably didn’t do his homework, but will be bothering his neighbour and messing about today. « no books » is worse than « no homework » and really needs to be addressed as such.
Not all groups will progress well and some groups will misbehave constantly, regardless of what you do with them.
With these groups just decide that you will be happy if they do a good roleplay at the end, or do a gap-fill exercise fairly quietly.
Do they need a teacher who gets them sitting quietly ? Or do they need a teacher who allows them to move about and let off steam ?
Eg « that was dangerous, come on, you aren’t stupid so that must never happen again » is good. « You idiot, why do you always do that ? » is not good, insulting, and means you expect the student to do it again.
You shouldn’t get angry with students, although if you actually aren’t angry then once a term you can try it to see how it works « I’m really angry about this class, please come on time. It makes things very difficult »). Other tricks if you are feeling bad « I’ve lost my voice / I’m feeling a bit sick , sorry, I’ll do my best»… students can be remarkably understanding and tend to improve their behaviour.
If these rules are broken we will need to speak to your parents.
By having a quiet chat with someone who arrived just 2 minutes late, eg « is everything OK ? Did you miss your bus ? » The whole group quickly realises that you are serious about your task and have high expectations.
Keep everyone busy all the time. It’s not true that they want to mess around. Teenagers just do this when there’s nothing else going on, and when there is a « hole » in the lesson, even if that hole is 30 seconds long ! So keep everyone busy, all the time. This involves giving them lots to do (much of it should be enjoyable remember), and limit as much as possible the time that you are standing at the front explaining things. It’s often the « lecturing » that the students consider to be dead time. Keeping them busy also means you can say « no time that that Mario » if he starts being silly, which is nicely non-confrontational.
Hopefully this article will help solve any class managment problems before they start, and allow you to actually teach and for the students to practice in a civilised environment.
Any questions please do get in touch and we will do our best to answer!>