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How to Deal with Indiscipline in the Classroom (Part 2)

How to Deal with Indiscipline in the Classroom (Part 2)

In the first blog post of this series on discipline, I  looked at some of the causes of unruly behaviour in the classroom and got started on the path of what teachers can do proactively!

I think that one of the best quotes I always remember, is one by my colleague Olga Gounis, an ex-TEFL teacher and manager who went on to study psychology and is now something of a specialist in Prebirth Psychotherapy.

When asked by one of the teachers in a workshop we were doing on improving relations with students and parents the following question:

“What do you do about discipline problems? How do  you deal with them?”

Her response was

” Discipline problems? I never have any. I make sure I don’t from Day One. “

This is a great retort by someone who knows full well that we ourselves may often create the conditions which generate undisciplined behaviours in our learners.

I also mentioned, albeit briefly, the importance of being a good role model for discipline yourself:

  • Be a good role model for disciplined behaviour. It doesn’t work, you know, if you yourself are always late to class, forget to do things, are badly organized, etc. Students learn more through good example than through verbal instruction,.

All teachers (and parents) ought to follow this first, very simple, but very important rule. You cannot be asking your learners to be quiet if you are shouting while doing it, for example. The subliminal message is not the right one and will generate a class that shouts. Teacher shouts, class shouts, as simple as that!


Be a Most Excellent Class Manager

Here is my personal checklist. When I recall the few occasions when I have had discipline issues in one of my classes – and I promise you I have so few, that they really stop me on my tracks and get me to reflect and think through what I did or did not do; more often than not, it’s because I have been remiss and did not follow my own advice!

  •  My instructions are simple and clear
  •  My instructions are carefully checked
  •  My class is always well prepared for activities (words, ideas, grammar, knowledge)
  •  I check again and again
  •  I monitor their work
  •  I show interest in their ideas (not just the language)
  •  I assess their performance but remember to tell them what to do to improve
  •  I give feedback in a pleasant and tactful way
  •  I remember to praise, too
In adult classes, if you are remiss in any of these areas, you may or may not have discipline problems. Adults don’t get rowdy (but they get passive, bored and disinterested) when they don’t understand but children and teens find this an excellent opportunity to get up to all sorts of naughty actions – but remember, it’s not their fault!!!! It’s never their fault if they don’t know what to do or how to do it.


How to Deal with Indiscipline in the Classroom


Develop a Great Classroom Personality

Remember to learn something now and then; something which will remind you of what learners go through, a foreign language is ideal, but some new skill or knowledge is also fantastic! I remember when I was trying to learn how to ride a horse, I had great issues with my riding instructor who used to shout and not allow me to say anything! Can you imagine me, someone who tells other people how to teach, being shouted down by an aggressive riding instructor???? Aaargh, not a a good experience!

No wonder I never continued with these lessons! ( A small but disturbing point: this instructor did not just make this particular learning experience an unpleasant one; he stopped me from continuing with any other instructor)

Here are are some good traits to aspire to:

  • I am a good learner role model; I share my learning efforts ( and my difficulties) with my learners so they know I understand what it is to be a learner and that I haven’t forgotten what it feels like
  • I show my learners that I love my job.
  • I can use my voice effectively – I am lucky in this because I have had a lot of voice training. Well, if you haven’t, get some for yourself!!!! Your voice is your instrument! Having a whining, irritating voice, or a voice that is flat and never modulates, or too loud and high pitched is really not going to help you gain control a class or be as effective.
  • My body language gives positive messages; videotaping yourself is a great way to find out if you have any traits or unconscious gestures or expressions you were not even aware of!
  • I move purposefully around the class – I don’t prance around like a whirly dervish or pounce on my learners and I certainly don’t sit still throughout the lesson!
  • I am fair and not vindictive – if I have had to deal with some unexpectedly undisciplined behaviour (in my case it involves teachers not submitting their assignments on time) I will tell the guilty party something privately and then I will forget this during the session!
  • Thou shalt not sulk, look mean, be sarcastic, hurt people’s feelings, say negative stuff when they cannot deal with your questions or your materials/activities – learning is not easy for everyone and some people need more time than others
  • I am a fun person to be with – I often choose materials and activities for the fun factor!
  • But I am serious about my job and my students know this! They know that I blog, I talk at conferences, they know I am keen on my professional development
  • I am patient and tolerant – I understand learning difficulties, both because I keep being a learner myself, but I also inform myself and read the relevant literature and research on how people learn and what may cause learning to slow down.  I  don’t consider this dry and boring ‘theory’ but crucial to becoming a better teacher.
Watch this spoof presentation of Pecha Kucha ( 6′ 40” – 20 slides, one every 20” ) in which I mention every possible mistake you can make as a class manager!!!


My Lessons

  • Are interesting
  • Are motivating
  • Make it possible to be successful
  • Include a variety of activities
  • Are balanced to give everyone a chance to shine
  • Include some games or gamelike activities
  • I try to involve all types of learners in some way (visual learners, auditory learners and kinaesthetic learners)
  • I am well prepared for my classes
  • know my subject matter well; I am a lifelong language learner and am on a constant lookout for new information on language. I don’t hate reading grammar books or discourse analysis!
  • My aims  are clear to me and my learners
  • My aims are achievable by my learners

A Suggested Strategy

  1. I gain everyone’s attention before I start
  2. I explain my objectives and give clear instructions
  3. I monitor my students to check if they have understood what to do
  4. I am a good role model
  5. I use non-verbal codes
  6. I am in control of the learning environment
  7. My interventions are low key
  8. I program students for disciplined behaviour
  9. I respect each one of my students and show this
  10. I expect the best from each and every one of my students
  11. I give my students a lot of responsibility
  12. I train my students systematically
  13. I train my students how to be better learners
  14. I use positive language rather than prohibitions
  15. At the end of an activity or a lesson I give motivating feedback
  16. I try to assign homework that students are motivated to do
  17. I have a clear and simple set of routines and rules which everyone know from the first day (e.g. posters on the walls
  18. I try to create a positive and interesting learning environment; my students find the classroom a pleasant place to be
  19. I systematically reward good behaviour rather than punish



Which teachers made you naughty?

How well do you think they did on each one of my checklists?

I would love to read any comments you have on this.

This article was originally published on Marisa’s blog at TEFL Matters.

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