Classroom Discipline! (classroom management tips for teachers)

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There are hundreds if not thousands of articles about achieving and maintaining discipline in the classsroom, however, when I started out as a new teacher, none of the things I read really seemed to help me much in the savage world of the Trinidadian highschool system. Even when I went to China I still struggled, this time not so much with antagonistic, teen angst rebelliousness, just restlessness from younger students.

The thing is, I learned a lot. I learned from each experience and I was able to fine-tune the knowledge I had gained with concrete practice during a TEFL course I did not too long ago.

I want to share my hard-earned lessons with the hope that teachers everywhere can benefit. Teaching is not as easy as some think, but it does not have to be a nightmare either.

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1. Be the authority!

If you know you have a soft heart then put on a stern face before you even get to the school. Straighten your shoulders, walk smartly and fake that know-it-all confidence. Do not look frightened, they will try to test you, especially the class bullies, the bored but smart ones, and those afraid that they’re not intelligent enough to keep up with the work. Remember that your classroom is not a democracy – you are responsible not only for their education but their safety and well-being for every period that you have them. That isn’t to say that you can’t be friendly with them, however you must not allow yourself to smile until –

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2. You establish the rules first.

Some teachers encourage a class discussion to establish rules. I say the safest way, especially with older students, is to establish your rules first then invite the class to set additional guidelines or rules for the class. Remember to do your rules, clearly, concisely and firmly. Also, do not start the class until you’ve finished the discussion and establishment of all the rules. There are several ways you can introduce rules, but in my experience the clearer you are, the better you are understood. Beat the dead horse, folks.

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3. Good rules vs. Bad rules.

The words you use can sometimes go over students’ heads, especially young ESL  learners. Our language has to be clear and impacting.

An example of a good rule is clearly, loudly (not shouting, only projecting) and firmly saying “No running!” possibly accompanied by a picture of someone running that has been crossed out. Furthermore, having a rewards and consequences system in a good way to clearly let students know that there will be punishments for breaking the rules. Just remember to consistently enforce both rewards and punishments every time if you choose to do this.

An example of a poorly laid out rule is saying very sweetly and uncertainly “Be safe…” accompanied by the words printed on a nice background. Kids are more likely to ignore those that do not give them pause, which is why you need to –

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4. Be larger than life when teaching.

Capture and maintain their attention by projecting your voice in a way that is not harmful nor energy expending for you. You can say something like “Ok, class! Let’s begin!” or “Attention!” (In Chinese schools a literal call to attention actually works as this is how quite a few Chinese teachers get their attention.) If this is not possible, then practice your very best death-glare to instill silence, then speak at normal volume, forcing them to either stay quiet or miss what you have to say. (Always wait for absolute silence before you begin your class! Do not ever allow a student to speak while you are speaking!)

Alternatively, you could use some rhythmic clapping, a song, tapping your marker sharply on your whiteboard, a whistle or a bell. Frankly, anything startling enough to draw their attention to you will work. An important thing to note is that you need to maintain the level of energy you begin with, or even take it higher sometimes, as the students will copy your example, verbal, non-verbal and even emotional.

However, only half of the energy you project will be reflected or produced by the students and that is why you need to be a superstar in the classroom; I’m not saying that your lesson should be teacher-centered, no. Authority-wise, they should respect you and interest-wise they should be eager to listen to you. Be animated, be fun! And always be prepared to –

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5. Reign it in when necessary.

If you keep on maintaining good eye contact through the appropriate times of your lesson, say when you are presenting something new, then that scanning alone should be able to prevent any misbehavior. However, this is not always the case, some students are distracted regardless and sometimes teachers may not always notice trouble brewing until it has erupted. Never fear, even if you don’t nip it in the bud, you are still in control.

Maintain your cool. Depending on your classroom, the age of the students and which part of the world you are teaching in, etc, you will have different options available to you. Always take a minute, if possible, to assess the situation. Think of how you can let the student know that their actions are wrong without resorting to any negative language. Look at the student sternly until eye-contact is achieved. Approach slowly whilst keeping eye-contact and simply put away whatever the student was playing with, or confiscate it. If the misdemeanor was talking in class or something similar you can calmly ask the student to repeat or read the class rules. If you have a rewards and consequence system in place then enforce it neatly and place more focus on how they can gain rewards in the future through good behavior, for example:  “Next time you can get a sticker if you follow the rules.”

If you do not have such a system in place and you are met with refusal simply say “Ok, after class, then.” and proceed with your class. At the end of class stand at the door so the student doesn’t escape, have him or her sit down with you and just have a chat with them. Try to understand and not accuse – you have the opportunity to show them compassion. Sometimes trouble makers just want some TLC.

Well, good people, these are a few of the most important (in my experience) classroom management tools that I’ve picked up over the years. Let me know if they are helpful to you and what other techniques you’ve learned through your experiences!