Classroom discipline

<b> Forum for ESL/EFL teachers working with secondary school students </b>

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Classroom discipline

Post by LarryLatham » Wed Mar 05, 2003 5:56 pm

Hi Siân,

I think I agree that "firm and fair" is a good way for teachers to be. But I remain somewhat confused. The picture of firmness is still not entirely clear to me.

Roger has posted somewhere in this forum that some of his students in China will not refrain from commenting to each other in Chinese while he is conducting his lesson. Let's assume one of his "rules" is that students not talk to each other during the lesson. Yet he claims that nothing he does has been able to curtail this practice. How, exactly, should he "enforce" this rule here? :?

Larry Latham

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Post by sita » Wed Mar 05, 2003 8:00 pm


I have had similiar situations, I gave them a lot of ( supervised) group activities too. There they had the chance to talk and loved this.

When I was teaching they were all silent - probably waiting for the next 'group game' However I always involve the whole class and they are all *teaching* and that stops them from getting bored and chatting ( I assume)
I am told I have a very firm manner :-)

I really had to take over difficult classes from others and with me they behaved fine.

I guess I appear very competent and self assured so they just respect me :?:

I really do not know.

Siân :twisted:

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Student Discipline.

Post by Diana » Wed Mar 05, 2003 8:58 pm

Hi Sian,
I also have a reputation around school of being very firm that principals would throw a behavior problem kid to me and my team. :) (I work in a team with 4 other teachers.)

I've always found that the first few weeks of school is very important. I teach teenagers, and they will always test a teacher to determine whether they can take advantage of the teacher or not. This is where enforcing the rules becomes important. And even when the student apologizes, I still have to enforce the rules and allow that one student to be suspended to set an example for the rest of the 27 kids in that class. Of course, I will accept the apology, but the student must still take the consequences of his actions to set an example for the rest of the others.

Respect is a two way street, and I take the time to teach that to my students. I've always respected them, and they in turn do the same. Today, many of my students always come to me whenever they have a problem - even if it's a personal problem. In time, they learn that although I may be strict, I would be willing to help them.

To Larry:
Using positive peer pressure could help stop the offending student from excessive talking. One of my colleagues said that she will take away their break time if the class is not silent. Of course, many students want their break so they would turn to their offending peer and tell him/her to be quiet.

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Post by LarryLatham » Thu Mar 06, 2003 12:10 am

One of my colleagues said that she will take away their break time if the class is not silent.

Isn't your colleague engaging more in retaliation than in enforcement?

Larry Latham

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Student Discipline.

Post by Diana » Thu Mar 06, 2003 1:49 am

LarryLatham wrote:
Isn't your colleague engaging more in retaliation than in enforcement. Larry Latham
Hi Larry,
I wouldn't call it retaliation. To a teenager, the opinions of their peers are very important and they actually listen more to their peers at that age. What my colleague has done is called "positive peer pressure." Peer pressure is very real to this age group and my colleague used it to get a student to behave and follow her rule. I must admit - it does work. I've tried it once and it worked.

Besides, it is also a way to teach our students the realities of life. If one person in society misbehaves, we all pay for it one way or another. Some of my tax dollars also goes to those who are in jail. If a student is constantly disrupting class, it is at the expense of the education or learning of other students. So, getting 20 students to tell one kid to be quiet works quite well.

Also, my school has a peer tutoring and peer mediation program. Getting students involve in helping their peers is what these programs is about.


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"Positive Peer Pressure"

Post by LarryLatham » Thu Mar 06, 2003 6:25 pm

Hi again, Diana,

You say tomato, I say tomahto. 8)

But if it works for your colleague and you, then what the hay. I don't think it's really for me though.

Larry Latham

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Post by Sarah-in-Korea » Wed Mar 12, 2003 6:21 am

I'm pretty lucky in that I teach at a private high school in Korea and the kids are scared of failing or being kicked out, but I have found lack of interest to be the problem which is often the same in any classroom and can lead to bad behaviour. My conversation class grade is divided into 20% exam, 30% in-class assignment, and 50% participation, since class work is the most important aspect of conversation. Then every week they are divided into groups of 4 to compete for participation points and candy. Everything I do is turned into a game or competition where the kids have to work together to try and win for the week to get the better grade. You can give them a "treat" now and then by letting them choose their own groups, but otherwise mix friends up. I never imagined that candy could be such a motivator too, they are nuts for it! If I ask them what they did on the weekend it's silent, but if I offer candy to whoever answers with good grammar I get all kinds of elaborate responses. I thought it would only work with kindy kids, but these 15 year olds love it too.

I don't know if these ideas will help in your situation or not, but good luck!

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Post by aprillove20 » Mon Jul 19, 2010 12:39 pm

Well, verbal praise only has a positive effect for the length of attention span.

Sally Olsen
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Post by Sally Olsen » Tue Jul 20, 2010 5:29 am

I still remember positive comments 50 years later and some negative ones that I have proved wrong. I know people whose lives have been shaped by the comments of teachers and even school bus drivers. You never know the depth of feeling engendered by your comments. I even know a teacher who on her death bed said that she was sorry she was so hard on a particular student who happened to die the next day from a disease. She never forgave herself.

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First Day Nightmare

Post by KyleJ » Mon Sep 20, 2010 8:38 am

Today was my first day as an ESL teacher.


I am at a secondary vocational school in China. I had only one class today, but will have twenty classes/week.

My first class was a horror. Fifty students, and many of them were rude, offensive, hostile in manner and disruptive. They couldn't care less about warm-ups or activities. English speaking skills were from almost none to pretty good. Questions were met with blank stares and glares of contempt.
Many of the students do not have English names, and I could not communicate that I wanted them to choose one or let me give them one. They couldn't care less.

The students have Chinese name tags, but of course those are worthless for me. Many of the students refused to tell me their names, or to write them on the board, which was part of my warm-up/get acquainted activity. They just did not care. I felt challenged by some of them as if they were in competition with me for the position of Alpha-Dog. There was some blatant hostility, and one student, who came up to write his English name on the board, after consulting with his mates, wrote "F ** ckU" much to the class's amusement.

The school principal, in our meet-and-greet, said she wanted me to engage the classes with activities and games relevant to the lessons. How can this be possible, as all the prep I did for today was an utter wasted effort for a class that had no interest in participating.

Should I just stick to the class's text book? Should I knock myself out coming up with activities and games for classes that will refuse to participate anyway?

What a terrible disappointment. What a falsehood that Chinese students have respect for the teachers and hold them in high esteem and take learning seriously. Some of my students are practically thugs.

Unfortunately I will also be living at the school, as do the students. So I can't even go home to escape from the class.
I was actually shaken by the blatant disregard shown me and the classroom.

Some of the class was attentive, and polite, but not much of it.

I have a contract ,of course, for the year. Do I just show up and teach from the book for the rest of the term without trying to engage them?

Sally Olsen
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Post by Sally Olsen » Mon Sep 20, 2010 12:43 pm

Life sux as the kids say. We all have a great deal of sympathy for you. It is amazing to be put in this situation isn't it? Especially when it sounds you are keen. However, it is not unusual even in North America.

You are right. You have to prove you are the Alpha Dog. My first day in Mongolia there was a fight in the classroom and one student slammed another's head into the desk for "borrowing" a pencil. The students called the principal because there was blood and she smacked them all on both checks so you could see her handprint and handed me the yardstick and said to hit them if they moved. This was grade 1.

I told her I couldn't hit them and it took me six months to gain their trust, teach them my methods, get their interest and friendship. Hold on. It will come.

Teach to the ones who pay attention. Move them to the front rows. Have a severe rule for the others so they are quiet, even if they appear to sleep. I just waved goodbye to the one who were misbehaving and sent them out to the hall where the principal was waiting. It only took a few.

Do stick to the books for a few weeks at least. Use group chants for any speaking activities. It is good to go into other classes in your breaks and see what the other teachers are doing and follow the general activities no matter how boring, drill and kill, repetitive, strict and how much they go against your training, just for a while.

Get to know students individually as much as possible and learn their names in Chinese. If you expect them to learn English, it is more than polite to learn their Chinese names. I would never ask them to have an English name. Your name is so important to your identity. It is insulting to have to change it.

There is probably a good reason for their hostility and I would discuss it with them. They might have to learn English for exams and will never speak it again. It is not their choice. They might have had a terrible English teacher before you. They might enjoy making you uncomfortable just because they are teenagers and you are not much older.

Take the whole thing with a grain of salt, laugh, dance and live your life. You will get paid for turning up to the classroom if they learn or not. They will fail the course if you are marking them and won't if you are not. Laugh at yourself and the situation. When they write the F word on the board it means they know a word of English. Enthuse and teach them truck, muck, suck, buck, luck. By the time you explain every word, make a sentence with it, try to weave it into a story, expand the verbs, expand the adjectives, put the words into categories, or whatever you can think to do with them and get a translation from the co-operative students, your period will be over.

You have an excellent opportunity to meet the students and get to know them better if you are living with them. Join the sports, music, art and photography clubs even if they are just informal. Eat meals with them. Take a few on outings. Get to know their families if they invite you home.

Ask questions all the time of everyone. Never say, "In (wherever you are from) we do it this way." unless asked. Listen, listen and listen. If you have to complain do it in written letters home that no one ever sees. Don't send anything on the Internet that is a complaint, just the things you can enthuse about.

Catch them being good. Keep on keeping on.

There are two stickies that are great - one is just above your post on this forum - teaching unmotivated students and there is another one called teaching large classrooms under Activities. There are some excellent ideas in both and you won't feel alone.
Last edited by Sally Olsen on Wed Sep 22, 2010 1:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by KyleJ » Mon Sep 20, 2010 2:13 pm

Thank you Sally!

What a wonderful reply, a real pick-me-up, and just what I need to hear.

I am going to print it out and keep in my bag... just as soon as they get me the promised printer. :wink:

I would tend to agree with you about the names, I thought it was the standard and expected thing to do, for the students to have English names.

In a 40-minute class, there just doesn't seem time to do what needs to be done. I want to learn their Chinese names, or whatever name they want me to know them by. But 50 students x 20 classes, OMG, what's the trick? Yikes!

Thank you again for the wonderful and friendly reply to my moaning.

Sally Olsen
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Post by Sally Olsen » Mon Sep 20, 2010 6:16 pm

It is extremely hard to learn their names. I didn't learn Bulganhungai until about the 7th month when someone pointed out Bulgan was a town nearby. Some sounds just didn't stick with me.

I guess you have to do what the students are doing for learning English vocabulary - write the names in English letters as close as possible to the sound, get someone to tape record them for you, take pictures of the students and have them wear name tags with the English transliteration or give them a permanent seat in the classroom and have pictures and names on a seating chart. Learn 10 a week. Say their name individually as the first 10 or so come in the class and again as they are leaving - the students will correct you if you get it wrong.

Point if you want someone to answer a question at the beginning (after you have chanted as a group for the first couple of weeks) or number the seats and call the number.

When I had a group of 50 , I divided them into groups of 5 so I had 10 groups. They chose one person as a spokesperson and I got to know the names of 10 people for sure. (I made sure that front row of co-operative students were spread evenly among the groups so I chose one at the front and four from the direct row behind them to make up the group.) Then they met in those groups to do activities that I had in brown envelopes.

Each group had a different activity (it could be a page from their book). One group wrote on the board - usually the answers for the quiz or fill in the blank exercise or a story they had composed using the vocabulary. One group used the overhead projector to write up their project. One group wrote on the curtains with special material pens - usually vocabulary for the week (fabric is super cheap in China and we changed the curtains every two weeks or so). One group used the tape recorder (usually in the closet or in the hall where it was quiet).

I even divided the room with pull down or pull back curtains so each team could have their own space. They chose a team name, drew a logo, made a chant, or a song (I showed them some dance tapes with teen agers).

The leader took a brown envelope when they came in the room and checked off which ones the team had done until they had done all 10 (they didn't have to do them in order). They could add to the activity for the next group if they finished early - poems, stories, drawings, riddles, quizzes or more examples, or questions, translations.

I circulated and commented, corrected, answered questions, kept them in line, encouraged, sent some out, brought some back, kept pointing to the schedule to say that this was English period so they should speak English, told them not to hit, pinch, push, punch, launch spitballs, or pull hair and so on. I wrote "Be nice. Work hard." in the corner of the board and pointed to it endlessly. "Goodbye" was the first word they learned as I asked the disruptive ones to leave. "Hello" was another as I welcomed them back after 5 minutes. It was chaos but some students spoke a word or so of English and eventually, most. Never all.

We had some grand debates on why they had to learn English - all in English. Write their arguments on the board and counter with others. Show them how to debate. After they have argued for not learning English they will start to argue about your teaching methods. It is all a lot of English.

For me the turn around came when a young man in the class was at party with his friends, there was drinking, and one of the young men was stabbed and killed. No one could remember stabbing him but they all remembered trying to help him and stop the blood. Several decided to become doctors and knew they would have to learn English to get the latest updates. I hope that nothing quite as dramatic has to happen to you to get them to learn English.

I always use to say when they asked, "Why do I have to learn English?"
"You don't."
A few decided to be herders but the majority gave me the reasons that they had to learn. They never stopped arguing though (in English).

I used to speak as much of their language as I could and enjoyed the laughs it produced.

Oh, and teach from the sides and back of the classroom. I bought a white board to use on the side, used the windows to write on with window pencil on the other side, and bought black board paint to make the whole back wall a green board or used posters. You can even use the roof. Wall paper is super cheap to write on.

If you are talking to the whole group, think of it as a lecture and use all the great tips for lecturing. I usually chose a position in the classroom nearest the most disruptive students. You have a great advantage of being taller than them while they sit.

You can make a walkway down the middle by squishing the chairs to the side which allows to you to reach those in the middle as the disruptive ones will eventually move there.

You can even take out the chairs once in a while to have activities such as making posters around the edge of the room. I got small carpet pieces for them to sit on. The janitor appreciated the chance to clean the floor.

Sally Olsen
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Post by Sally Olsen » Thu Oct 07, 2010 4:24 pm

If you are using chalk, try to get a holder or get someone to send you chalk from home (in colours so you can start to build a word wall with verbs, nouns, etc.) I think that Chinese chalk is toxic.

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