Common ESL classroom issue 8: the lack of seriousness of the class


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This is something almost any experienced teacher can relate to. At the same time if the teacher doesn’t handle the case well, everyone suffers including the students.

One of the main pieces of information I learned as a teacher before I started was, don’t worry about managing the class, that will come with experience, just focus on making your lessons interesting. Well that was fine until I got a really challenging class who had had 4 teachers in the last 8 months, every one of the teachers leaving because the class just wasn’t serious about learning and the teacher just didn’t want to waste their time. Sad for everyone here.

However in my case I really couldn’t leave, I had bills to pay and a commitment made so I had to figure it out myself. I’m not going to say it was easy, but a very strange happened, though I was just hanging on until the end of the year, something clicked in me towards the end, I realised that though I tried every trick in the book (which I will mention later), the students at the end of the year generally said one thing – I cared about them, and they were a bit ashamed that they made my life difficult. They actually even appreciated me putting up with them. There were a few key ringleaders in the class (not just one) so they were the constant thorn in the side. But I made it and in fact when I went on to the next class the following year, the students all said that I was the strictest teacher they had ever had! But that that was okay too, so long as I was fair and a good teacher too.

So what clicked? Well, I wouldn’t want to have to go through that year again with that very difficult class, but one thing I realised for myself was that even though I tried all kinds of management techniques that did work from time to time, at the end of it all I ran out of energy in that area and woke up one day and decided to simply just do good lessons that were fun and engaging and if anyone was interested they could join in, if they didn’t, it was their loss. A very strange thing happened, most of them joined in and appreciated the effort I made, and those that didn’t definitely felt a bit left out. I was completely exhausted with them and just put all my energy into helping those that wanted it, and staying positive (even though I felt a bit like a crazy person, it actually worked somehow).

So coming back to the tricks – what management techniques would I recommend as a starter?

  1. Come on strong at the beginning:

At the beginning of the year you need to come on strong with very definite routines and reward an penalty systems. This could run for at least the first 6 weeks but lessoning off towards the end of the first three weeks. Everything should be clear an in place for everyone by then. If you come on too nice at the beginning, you could end up with a year from hell.


  1. Use groups:

Create groups with mixed gender and ethnic groups. Let them from their own bond and reward them for their ability to manage themselves.  Even have a point system that gives the top group a chance to have a privilege at the end of the week/month.


  1. Use game time as motivation:

Having teams working toward a goal is a great motivator of good behaviour. The individual learns how to grow team unity and manage those lesser in self control.


  1. Get the class to choose a class captain/monitor:

One the class has control on who they choose they will feel more likely to obey that person. Make sure you change the captain and monitors at least weekly/fortnightly, and make sure the class understands that everyone must have an equal chance of taking on responsibility.


  1. Use punishment sparingly:

I do believe there is a place for detentions and withdrawal of privileges in extreme cases but if you focus on that, everyone’s morale will go done, and respect will be gone for the teacher. Every student expects that those that do wrong are punished in some way, and do want to see some fair and well thought out punishment.

  • When delivering punishment there does needs to be a 3 step warning (third time they get the punishment)
  • The punishment must be clearly stated in terms of what will happen, for how long and who will deliver it.
  • If a third warning is giving, the punishment needs to be carried out exactly as stated


  1. Extreme misbehaviour needs individualised behaviour modification programme:

Of course you will need to consult your Head of Department and work in liaison with them and the parents/guardian of the student, however at the same time a simple achievable plan can work if given a set time and set actions to be observed that will allow the person to individually achieve. Parents love this one, because it helps them monitor the child at home too.


  1. Keep an open mind to new strategies:

When dealing with difficult classes, there is nothing more demoralising that a team of fellow teachers talking behind your back and complaining about students behaviour. Make sure you find an ally on the team who is willing to offer other suggestions to try. Having someone who can support you is everything to making it through the day.


  1. Give yourself your own teaching behaviour modification challenge:

Sometimes the teacher needs to give themselves their own behaviour modification programme too! Simple targets like – “I’m not going to raise my voice today, I’m not going to be negative to that student today, I’m going to get a good night’s sleep every night except Friday when I can celebrate, etc.

There are may more and would love to hear them, however as mentioned in my first part of the post, at the end of the day the students will either like you or not, and it does come down to how much care you have for them and how much effort you are willing to put it.


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