Here’s my secret to classroom discipline: I learnt everything I know from other teachers. When it comes to understanding behaviour, there’s simply no substitute for experience. In this post, I’m going to share some of the advice that has transformed my teaching.
- Students follow your example If you walk into class with a smile, confident posture and lots of energy, your lesson will probably go swimmingly. If you feel exhausted, grumpy or bored, then so will your students. And this isn’t just about classroom atmosphere – it can transform behaviour and discipline too. For example, I’ve recently been working with a class of 12-year-olds who struggle to concentrate or retain information. They were getting frustrated, and so was I. They started to act out. So I decided to try a different approach. Instead of standing at the front of the class, I sit amongst them, and use a small hand-held board to write on. We’ve started to approach the class as a puzzle we have to solve together. And just like that, behaviour has improved.
- If a student is acting out, there’s usually a reason. It might not be a very good reason, but it does exist! And if you can figure it out, your life might become much easier. Once the student feels accepted and understood, chances are, their behaviour will improve. There are lots of ways to do this. You could pull them out of the class for a quick chat (or simply to give them space to calm down). With more reticent students, they might prefer to write: I often ask my students for written topic suggestions and feedback. With one group, we used to start each class with 10 minutes’ diary-writing in English. They had a chance to express themselves, and they practised English writing as well!
- Always leave a way out I once knew a teacher who insisted on an English-only classroom. If students repeatedly spoke in another language, they would have to perform a forfeit chosen by other students. In my opinion, this was a bad move. People find humiliation distressing and demotivating. If you’re having a stand-off with a student over homework, inappropriate language or behaviour, you need to leave them a dignified way out. It’s very hard to admit when you’re in the wrong, so try and help students do so without being humiliated. That means choosing the right time and place to discuss behaviour – and never, ever punishing bad behaviour with public embarrassment.
- You’re not just a teacher – you’re a learner Finally, here’s the best piece of advice I’ve ever received. We’ve all had difficult students: students who will reliably try to derail each class, students we don’t look forward to teaching. But a colleague once said this to me, and it completely turned my attitude around. When you walk into the class, say to yourself: This student is going to make me a better teacher. Every class is an opportunity to learn, change and grow – not just for students, but for teachers too.