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Discipline in the ESL Classroom

Discipline in the ESL Classroom | ITTT | TEFL Blog

It’s the first day at school, and the students are excited yet little nervous to meet their new teacher as he or she will determine how school life and daily routine will look like for the next six months. The teacher might experience the same feeling depending on her or his experience and personality. As a teacher, you should give a good impression on the first day of school. The clothes you choose to wear; the attitude you show in class, and tone of voice when speaking could play a determinant role in students’ judgment of you and their future behavior.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Youssef M. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Sympathy and authority

To gain student’s will to learn, it is quite natural to show sympathy and warm attitude, however, things could get tricky when the majority of the students start to see it as a weakness and use it to their advantage, thus it is crucial to keep a balance between being nice and exhibiting authority, remind them when necessary that you are still in control of the class and they should remain obedient to you. You can be a friendly teacher or the strict one; it’s their call.

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Rules and regulations

Many teachers get frustrated when kids behave disruptively in class and many decide to quit dealing with those causing the problem as they tend to think that its not their fault if the students are behaving as such, discipline is taught at home, not in a class, thus it’s the parent’s job, not the teacher’s.

To manage the class and behave the students, it is important to establish rules in the classroom and the consequences for abstracting them. If faced with a large number of students, you can divide them into groups of equal numbers if possible, give names for the groups or ask them to come up with their names as it’s a good opportunity to let them interact and learn about each other.

Make sure that the rules in the classroom are clearly understood by everybody, they should include a “to do” and “not to do” list:

esl students

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Not to do:

  • Speak the local language
  • Chatting
  • Eat or drink
  • Fight
  • Litter

To do:

  • Arrive on time
  • Bring the necessary materials
  • Raise hand to be granted speech
  • Respect the teacher and classmates
  • Be polite

The list could vary; teachers should be accustoms to the general culture and moral values of the students’ country. A system should later be put in place to assure the good functioning of the class. The following is a system I came up with for my 4th-grade students in China, the class includes 45 students.

A group has rewarded a point for participation, showing good behavior or work completion. Reaching a certain number of points and the group is granted a prize such as ink pens, pencil cases, notepads, pencil sharpeners, stamps, etc. This will allow the class to be consistently motivated throughout the year as groups compete against each other and students within a group encourage each other, however, on the contrary, breaching a rule from the above list and a point will be removed from the whole group.

young students class

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What works for me might not work for you

There isn’t a single “work for all” system in class; teachers come with different personalities and ways of thinking, so finding the system that best work with you is the right one.

Different type of students

Here is a list of 4 types of students I have established based on my two years of experience in education.

  • The dedicated: you wish you could have the whole class filled with this type of student. They are obedient, generally smart, hard-working and motivated to learn.
  • The attention seeker: this kind of student will try to participate in class as often as possible at the expenses of others, this kind of behavior could sometimes lead to disruption in class as the attention seeker doesn’t care whether the attention they receive is positive or negative, in some cases, the more they get, the more they seek.
  • The entertainer: this student will try to amuse the class with jokes at the first opportunity. If you are lucky enough, some of these jokes could make you laugh (god forbids, they are not on you), otherwise it could disrupt the class especially if the student is too consistent or the others are receptive of his jokes. On average, you might have one for every 10 students, so if you have a class of fifty students, you will have to face five of them.
  • The uninterested: obviously, these are the students who are not willing to learn, pretend they are listening to you and just impatiently wait until the class is over.

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What to do with each type?

  • The dedicated: recognize the effort and reward the work to maintain their dedication.
  • The attention seeker: give the student responsibilities and a leadership role in class; provide them a scheduled time dedicated for them after recess to boost their confidence.
  • The entertainer: place them in the front row so you can have direct control over them, and they have less opportunity to disrupt the class, if things getting out of hand, placing a hand over their shoulder or staring at them in the eye while teaching could sometimes be effective, in the worst-case scenario, the threat of punishments such as contacting their parents or sending them to the principal’s office should do the job.
  • The uninterested: your biggest challenge over the school year is to try to slowly make them interested in learning English and hopefully convert them into dedicated one.

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There is a fine line between respect and fear, students should look up to their teachers and not obey them out of fear of punishment and humiliation, the right tool for success is good discipline.

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