This is the first in a series of three blogs I’m planning to write about setting positive limits in the classroom.

This is the first in a series of three blogs I’m planning to write about setting positive limits in the classroom.


How many times have you found yourself in a situation where you didn’t have the courage to say “no” to the students that you love?


 What do you do when you’re really keen on your students but the situation urges you to set clear limits?


I’ve asked myself these questions a thousand times and I’ve concluded that:


(a)    I’m afraid my students will stop liking me.

(b)   As a student myself, I never liked the classes where the teacher was very strict.


I take pride in being a sympathetic, sensitive teacher and as such, I want to “spare the rod and reassure the child” (or teenage/ adult learner) about the pleasure of taking an active role in the learning process. I usually encourage them to overcome their fears and sense of ridicule, to speak their minds and defend their points of view.


I’m also aware of the fact that drawing clear boundaries and setting healthy limits, helps everyone involved understand the rules of the game, the space where it’s possible to circulate (and where it is not) and the necessary respect for their peers and themselves.


I remember myself in situations where I wasn’t feeling my own natural authority, I just bottled up my feelings and ended up bursting sometime later. I used to teach a lovely girl who was very cooperative and “very” talkative. She unconsciously dominated the class because she was fast and smart.


I was secretly growing tired of that and I finally asked her to be patient with her classmates (“please”). She told me I was too authoritarian. She also began bullying some of her peers. She obviously felt motivated by the class but didn’t understand my request because I had never asked her to stay calm and wait for her friends. Her natural reaction was venting her frustration on them.


As teachers, we need to be very clear and confident about the benefits of drawing limits. Learners may first respond with anger and they may even try to make us feel guilty, which is really hard to take. It’s easier for us to look understanding and loving at all times. However, our learners may be putting our authority to the test or they may even feel at a loss for what to hold on to in “limitlessland”.


Students not only need but also hope for positive interaction with teachers who have a clear idea about themselves and their roles, their subject matter and their learners.


What do you think? Have you ever found it difficult to say “no” at the right time?


Your experiences will feel me ideas for the next blog. Thank you.


Cheers! Georgina




Georgina Hudson blogs by Georgina Hudson are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.




I have some problems in one of my classes. Other teachers have told me that with time and more experience I'll find the way to set limits to my students... Do you think they are right?

Dear Mariana,I have been teaching for 25 years. I think it's very important to draw limits in the class as soon as possible.Students often need a guide, someone to rely on. If you are too permissive, they will not respect you and there will be chaos during the lessons

Dear Mariana, I have a hunch that the question with limits doesn't depend on one's teaching experience. It has a lot to do with understanding what you want from your class and what they want from you. A clear understanding of the roles limits play is absolutely necessary to create a healthy learning environment. When our students know what is allowed and what is not, they understand where they can circulate and where thay can't, what's negotiable and what is not. Every time I faced problems with discipline, I asked myself a very simple question: "what's this student trying to tell me with his/her behaviour?" Is (s)he trying to tell me that they're bored/overexcited/anxious/afraid/etc.? Is (s)he just trying to annoy me/putting my authority to the test? Trying to find a long term solution's always ideal. You also need to be assertive for people to grasp your message. You may want to speak up your mind about your expectations regarding that class. You may invite ss to negotiate the rules of the game with you. My friend, Daleana McHenry said to me "I think that the best way to handle a disruptive student is to ask them questions and to give them an assignment to share or allow them to teach. It is amazing how they tend to want help from you when the spotlight is put on them and they have to be creative. I liked the way that you handled this situation" I find her piece of advice really helpful. Good luck! Keep in touch! Georgina

I have a student who is very good in Maths and Physics, however when it comes to Englihs she's just put off.  I've tried to impress upon her the importance of English to move ahead to her college and undergraduate years.  Instead whenever it comes to English she always says she's tired, has no time and does not have any interest, etc.. Her English language is weak (very weak) compared to the other students but she remains detached and unmotivated.  I contiune to encourage her with positive strokes, when I should be telling her that she will surely fail in her English, for sure. What do I do?      

Dear Georgina, I have read your invitation on the FACE BOOK.Your blogs are always thought provoking and lively. I think the teacher should be neither very strict nor very liberal. The students need not be afraid of the teachers but they should not be allowed to go to the extent of teasing the teachers. Anyhow we should transact our business tactfully. yours lovingly JVL NARASIMHA RAO INDIA

I agree, mtpepoli, you're right. The question is to strike a happy balance, right? Thank you

It's hard to strike a happy balance. As Mr Rao pointed out, the idea is to be somewhere in between being a lenient teacher and a very strict one.
Your student definitely looks interested in the logical mathematical subjects. You may congratule her on her results in Maths and Physics and encourage her to get involved with English because she's obviously a very intelligent girl.
She's just not that much into English. I guess she may like activities in English where she can apply her logical thinking (like solving problems)
Talking to her and being assertive, trying to find a long term solution to the situation is the best. At the end of the day, it's a shame if she doesn't pass her English test. You need to be assertive on this, I guess.
Good luck. Keep us posted!

Hello there Mr Rao! Thank you for your input and insights into such challenging subject. Negotiating our teaching and learning rules tactfully and respectfully seems the best way to ensure a long term positive result. Yours lovingly,   Georgina

During my first years of teaching, I had the same problem. being very kind, myself, I found it difficult sometimes to say "no", and sometimes, I changed my mind when they insisted and begged for something to which I should normally say "no". Once, at the end of the year, I asked my pupils to write their opinions about me and about my teaching, on sheets of papers without writing their names. they wrote many good things but they agreed on one negative : I was very cooperative and I didn't know how to stop some pupils sometimes and "put them in their right places" by saying "no". those same pupils who wanted me to say "yes" were criticising me for not saying "no". it was seen as lack of control and failure in class management. so, I've learnt that with your pupils, as with your children, you have sometimes to say "no", and this will make them respect you more because they'll know that you have a strong personality.

How is this student in studies in her native tongue? If she is so behind in her English, and fobs you off with poor excuses all the time, it may be masking a real difficulty. Just because she is good at science does not mean she could succeed easily in English if she only wanted to...I would check to see whether she had any problems learning to read/spell in the first place, and how strong she is in any of her other classes at this point, and this may tell you better how to help her to progress in English. It's possible she may need a lot more help than her peers, just to reach an average level.I just think this is something that needs to be ruled out before assuming it is a motivation/discipline problem.


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