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DISCIPLINE – What happened to it?

Nowadays, I often get the sensation I am out of synchrony with the human race. This happens when I witness disrespect, bad manners and impoliteness. To my utter disbelief, the protagonists of such sad episodes are children, in at least 8 out of 10 cases. What is happening with our kids?

Having been a teacher for quite a stretch of time, it is impossible not to compare them with children say, 10 or 15 years ago. Back then the little ones were more manageable and sweet, they showed more respect towards their parents, the elderly and to us, teachers! What I see now is – to put it mildly – a total lack of limits and the absolute ignorance of the word ‘NO’. I am not saying 100% of kids are unruly and disrespectful. On the contrary, I know a bunch of adorable kids who are just kids, testing their limits and probing away just to see how far you will let them go. But I am starting to believe they are in extinction… Nevertheless, there are now various explanations as to why kids misbehave or don’t fit. ADD, hyperactivity, Dyslexia, challenging behaviour, you name it, but I honestly don’t accept bad behaviour or disrespect in my class.

Well, what to do then with the holy classroom environment and how to deal with students’ shenanigans? You have a syllabus to cover, after all, and class time is finite. Almost everyone has a golden rule, a behaviour model, a set of rules or the key to solving the indiscipline riddle. I don’t. Throughout the years, I have many times deposited all my efforts into rules and regulations, to no avail. I tell you: what works for me is good old authority, common sense and a generous dollop of humour in the classroom.
Paul Seligson, the famous EFL author and lecturer often says: “Enjoy your classes – if you don’t, who will?” I firmly believe what he said, and work really hard to turn the classroom into a friendly no-war zone. So, what you will read below is my personal experience in ‘ruling the unruly’ and trying to estabilish an atmosphere of cooperation and respect.

1 – ESTABILISH RULES – do not impose them on students, but work them out with them. Rules are good and necessary, they organize chaos and institute fairness to everyone. You can have rules for whatever you need, from deadlines to compositions to organization of material in class. However, you have to stick to them once you decide to use them, don’t forget.

2 – PUT YOUR CARDS ON THE TABLE – always, but always tell students the purpose of what they’re doing. If you play a game and don’t say why they’ll think you’re just killing time and probably won’t get that involved in the activity. On the other hand, if they know the reason why they’re carrying out an activity chances are they’ll put their heart into it and the results will surely be better.

3 – SHOW INTEREST IN STUDENTS – ask genuine questions about their lives, their family, and try to discover something that really makes their heart tick, such as football for boys or fashion for girls. Then, try and make a casual comment about that in order to show students you care about their interests. This simple attitude will bring them closer to you as would happen with friends in ‘real life’. And as your friends, their attitude is likely to improve as well, since they’ll want to please you ‘as a friend.’

4 – HUMOUR IS WELCOME – crack an innocent joke here and there, mildly pull students’ legs, tell a funny anecdote about yourself. Don’t be afraid to sound ridiculous, just be originally ridiculous. This will (surprisingly) earn you respect, and learners will feel at ease to share their own stories with you as well, thus creating an atmosphere of trust. Humour can also be used to tell students off and to set homework without arising many complaints, believe me!

5 – GIVE STUDENTS A BREAK – find out what kind of activities they like and whenever possible, squeeze one into your planning and tell them you’re doing this because they’ve been nice guys. Since there’s no free lunch, you can and should turn this ‘break’ into an activity to their own advantage, and giving your students a song, for example, you could be recycling a certain set of phrasal verbs or prepositions. Why not?

6 – CELEBRATE VICTORIES – all the time. Praise students a lot, exaggerate even, make them feel special. Toast to the use of a difficult word in a sentence, high-five a student who makes an effort to use recently learnt vocab, even if he does not succeed at first. He will eventually and will do it because he knows you’ll notice that and praise him. I have had 15-minute parties where we celebrated marks, words learnt or the successful end of a project. Celebrating creates bonds and again you’ll bring students closer. Even the more difficult ones can be conquered with a special treat.

7 – SAY NO – yes, I mean it. Say NO when you feel appropriate and say it with conviction as long as you’re right and playing according to the class’s rules. Students will understand and will learn their limits.

8 – BE THE BOSS – not tyrannic, but firm. Not moralist, but fair. Not domineering, but the boss nevertheless. Students need to know who’s in charge, and it has to be you, the teacher.

I guess 8 is a good number, and it’s also my favourite, so I’d better stop. If you cannot or do not want to try it all, pick one and give it a go. Experiment. Find your way, because each class has its own chemistry and activities and routines work differently from class to class. Above all, remember discipline is key to a learner’s success, and it is the role of the teacher to estabilish it and maintain it in the classroom.

Have more suggestions or any stories to tell? Share them here! I’m always ready to learn. 🙂

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