How do you deal with misbehaving TEFL students?

Addressing disruptive behavior in an TEFL classroom can be challenging, but it is important to know how to manage it to ensure smooth classroom operations. While teaching adult learners might result in fewer concerns aside from minor punctuality issues, young learner classrooms usually come with a greater potential for disruption. To prevent small issues from becoming significant problems, teachers need to acquire skills and experiences to confidently manage classroom behavior.

Table of Contents

Different types of bad behavior

Dealing with bad behavior

Rewarding good behavior

Managing behavior

Different types of bad behavior

Different teachers might have varying perceptions of what constitutes disruptive behavior. However, there are universal issues that cause noticeable disruption in the classroom and should be addressed for optimal group learning.

Starting with minor concerns, some teachers might regard the following behaviors as disruptive, while others might be more forgiving. School rules can sometimes guide teachers on dealing with these issues:

  • Not standing or sitting straight
  • Laughing at inappropriate times
  • Wearing inappropriate clothes or jewelry
  • Showing rebellious, sullen or bored expressions
  • Staring out of the window
  • Doodling when the teacher is speaking or during activities
  • Not using polite language when asking for things

These behaviors might not seem serious but could contradict local rules or annoy teachers enough to address them.

In the medium severity category, behaviors might not cause major disruption but can slow the class, negatively affect other students, and overall group performance. These include:

  • Practical jokes
  • Making inappropriate noises (rocking chairs, etc.)
  • Speaking in their own language when they should be using English
  • Deliberately going slow
  • Not doing homework
  • Making rude noises
  • Not listening
  • Cheating in games
  • Not following instructions
  • Speaking when should be quiet

Finally, some behaviors cause significant disruption and negatively impact other students. These behaviors must be addressed promptly to prevent classroom chaos:

  • Refusing to follow the teacher's instructions
  • Cheating in tests
  • Saying hurtful things
  • Using swear words
  • Vandalism
  • Fighting
  • Making violent threats to students or the teacher

Dealing with bad behavior

When encountering disruptive behavior, swift action is essential so that students understand what is acceptable. Ignoring disruptive issues worsens the situation over time, impacting the learning experience of the entire class. The appropriate severity of punishment is crucial because children can evaluate fairness. Too lenient a punishment might not deter the behavior, while too harsh a punishment might create resistance.

Possible sanctions, from least to most harsh, include:

  • Look at the students disapprovingly
  • Use the ?hands up? instruction: All students must raise their hands and be silent. Hands can only come down once control has been regained
  • Countdown from 5 to 0
  • Deduct team points
  • Call out the name of the misbehaving student
  • Move the student away from their friends
  • Rearrange the whole class seating arrangement
  • Disqualify their team from the game
  • Point to the door (indicting that they will leave the room if they continue to misbehave)
  • Stop the game and move onto written work
  • Talk to the student after class
  • Send the student out of the class for 5 minutes
  • Tell the school's head teacher
  • Tell the student's parents

Rewarding good behavior

Rewarding good behavior can help prevent disruptive behavior. Schools may have pre-existing systems or allow teachers to set their own rewards, such as:

  • Give teams not misbehaving extra points
  • Keep the same teams for several lessons and give a prize to the winning team
  • Put stickers on a wall chart for good work/behavior
  • Praise good work/behavior
  • Point out the best student or team
  • Give a round of applause
  • Use positive gestures (thumbs up, victory signs, etc.)
  • Assign class captains (sometimes assigning a misbehaving student as a captain is effective)
  • Give badges for ?The best at ?? (spelling, pronunciation, giving answers, etc.)
  • As a reward when the class is good play a favorite game
  • Give out candies or small toys (if allowed)

Managing behavior

To encourage good behavior and lessen the need for punishments, here are some strategies to consider:

  • Be consistent. The boundaries need to be clear and never change
  • Make sure students (and parents) know what you consider to be good and bad behavior
  • Start with a blank slate once a student has been punished
  • Do yourself what you expect your students to do
  • Teach a lesson on good behavior
  • Have clear gestures and phrases for things you want your students to do (ensure they are understood)
  • Play games where good behavior is encouraged
  • Manage energy levels
  • Make sure your lesson is fun
  • Bond with your students (e.g. find common interests, give nicknames, remember birthdays, etc.)
  • Plan classroom management into your lesson plan
  • Think about why some students misbehave and experiment with ways to change this