How to be a TOUGH but FAIR teacher


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When you are starting out as a teacher finding that balance in the classroom isn’t easy. Not only are you learning to deliver the curriculum, but no one told you about classroom management, or if they did they said – “oh don’t worry –  you’ll be fine”. WRONG!

The teaching of children is one thing and in some ways easier because you can do it with games, either giving or taking them away and this will help the class learn that when you are good you get something and when you are bad, you lose something. It’s simple, but you do need to be consistent and fair with it. This area I know a lot about but will go into in a deeper way in another post.

What I do what to talk about is teaching Adults and managing the class.

When I began teaching it was all about children so when I had to make an adjustment to teaching adults it was both easier and more difficult.

These things were easier with Adults:

  1. They were adults!
  2. They understood that the rewards come from hard work not games.
  3. They have all paid personally for the course, so it’s really up to them if they get their money’s-worth
  4. You don’t have to make them line up in a straight line outside the class before you start.
  5. Rarely are there ongoing fights inside the classroom because someone stole someone else’s pencil sharpener.

These things were harder with Adults:

  1. They were adults! So you can’t pull the wool over their eyes very easily. They know the tricks.
  2. You have to motivate them by being interesting.
  3. They have all paid personally for the course, so are measuring constantly if they are getting their moneys-worth from you as a teacher.
  4. You have to speak to them about attendance in an adult way, no threats of loss of rewards, it has to make sense (in English!)
  5. Difficult personalities have to be dealt with in an adult way.

So how do we confront these difficulties in management?

Well the first thing I would tell you is that as an adult it is all about your personality, even more so than with children. The adults in your class want to feel that you are relatable and are on their wave-length. (The same goes for children too but they don’t know it that way)

Within your personality needs to be something which I call ‘walking the line of fair and firm’. This comes from experience, and comes from understanding the flavor in the class. The flavor is about the atmosphere. There are often some key characters who dominate (just like children!), and these will set the tone, and how you manage them, will tell the others how you fell about everyone.

What do the class look for when you handle the difficult/dominant ones?

  1. They want you to listen to them and not put them down. If you do, the other will feel embarrassed, often for the student or even for you.
  2. They also want you to encourage others to be dominant in the class too, because they may be too afraid to tell the person themselves so want you to do it for them.
  3. They will also expect that over the course of the 5 day week, you have managed to encourage all to speak and even spoken to those who don’t to speak more or even to those who dominate to let others have a turn.
  4. They will want to see that you understand that ‘fine line’ of the atmosphere of the class and know what is acceptable and unacceptable in terms of attitude and behavior.
  5. They will listen to see if you encourage 5 x more than you discourage (5x is a key number), anything more or less is considered too tough or too soft.
  6. They will accept that you are human, but they do want you to be making an effort to be super human.

The fine line in the class is drawn not necessarily by you the teacher, it is set by the students in the class, and every class is different. Some demand a stronger hand and others are a breeze and a joy.

But the most important thing to do is always be transparent with the student so they can see that you understand what is going on. That you are there to be on everyone’s side who is doing the right thing.

Sometimes an intervention may be necessary as the student and the teacher have clearly misunderstood each other. The teacher may think they are being too soft on the student and the student may think the exact opposite. This initiative must be taken by the teacher, it certainly won’t come from the student. This is when things get to a crossroads. The teacher will need to sit down privately with the student and talk it out with them, the teacher has to use words that clearly identify to the student that there is no animosity, there is no negative thought in their mind and that they are there to help the student. The student then needs to have time to speak, to let them speak and be heard is so powerful. Often just that and a handshake and a smile from the teacher to say I understand how you may have thought that was not the right way to do it but please know I am here to help you and if you need help please come to me and I will do what I can.  This way the teacher is still in control, the student has had the chance to speak and be heard and hopefully the air is cleared and things can move on.

This position the teacher has in terms of being tough but fair is extremely important. The longer you stay in teaching the better you get at it because you will have more and more experience of different kinds of issues.

In the end the best thing to do as a new teacher who has a problem is to ask your colleagues, because for sure they will all have been through what you are going through and will have their own stories to tell.

So what do you think?


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