In an ideal world, our students come to class self motivated to learn, ready to have fun (only when we want them to), ready to focus (when we want them to) and confident enough to take part in every activity that we throw at them. On a good day, some of our classes may feel like this, but getting your hands dirty in the real world of teaching doesn’t look like this. Every teacher, in every different class, is forced to make decisions regarding the behavior of their students, and, let’s face it, we don’t always make the right decisions.
This post is going to take a look at some different teacher archetypes regarding classroom management, and some of the pitfalls to avoid. I’ll be talking about classroom management that is so strict, or expects so much out of students, that it hurts their language learning. I’ll also be looking at the flip side, and some of the negative aspect of being too easy going in the classroom.
If you’d like to take a free quiz to find out where you lie on the spectrum, you can gain access to the resource by clicking on the button below.
Being Too Hard on Students
Beyond the harm that might come to the students from this style of classroom managements, one of the worst things that comes from being too strict is the effect it has on the teacher. Nobody wants to come into the classroom and be mean to children or teen students every day. Imagine how you’d feel after a full day of making children scared and uncomfortable. Probably not very good. Let’s take a look at some of these styles that don’t work:
In this classroom the only law is that of the teacher, and punishment is dealt out in a swift and efficient manner. The dictator rarely smiles or offers praise. The dictator expects nothing more than students’ full attention. The rules are strict, and the punishment severe.
Students in this type of classroom are usually sitting down with their arms folded nicely on their lap. They are expected to listen, not to speak. Their good behavior is based on a culture of fear. Some obvious disadvantages to this are that fear does not encourage students to be more confident. Also, if students are expected to merely be quiet and listen, it’s hard to get them speaking to each other.
It’s easy for a teacher to fall into this trap, especially after dealing with unruly children or teens for a long period. Students that are constantly misbehaving are a headache to deal with, and it’s true, if they aren’t paying attention to the teacher, learning is difficult. Still, this classroom management strategy is based on using the stick instead of the carrot, an old fashioned arrangement that has time and time again proven ineffective.
It is possible to expect too much out of students. The magician is the teacher who insists that, regardless of the course curriculum or the research of experts, that their students can learn English in a much shorter time. This teacher will push their students to learn a large amount of vocabulary each lesson and grammatical structures that are beyond their current level.
Though the teacher may have good intentions, this teaching strategy usual comes from a false sense of confidence that they are a “super teacher” and are able to do things better than their peers. Teaching in this way will almost certainly result in failure, and result in the teacher eventually learning their lesson about having realistic expectations and attainable goals. The real victims here are the students who, by being taught too much each lesson will retain very little and not have had the chance to practice it.
Being Too Easy Going in the Classroom
“The Laissez Faire Teacher”
Anything goes in this classroom and there are few to no expectations of the students. The focus is on students having fun, and very little thought is given to the students’ progress. This teacher embraces the chaos that comes from their little “Lord of the Flies” environment and, when challenged about their strategy, will usually say “kids will be kids”.
Well wait a second, we are teachers after all, and while fun is a necessary part of teaching TEFL, so is teaching English (it’s even part of the acronym). Also, this teacher may be mistaken about how fun their class really is. Without any structure, the more outgoing students will take over. Not everyone will get a chance to take part in activities. The class will have a leader…it just won’t be the adult with a teaching qualification.
“The Unpredictable Teacher”
This teacher tends to be a bit moody, potentially just controlled by the weather or a tumultuous love life. They don’t have the benefit of routines and class rules to fall back on and instead play jazz with the students’ actions. Sometimes getting up to get a glass of water is fine. However, if the class isn’t going very well, getting up to get a glass of water may result in five minutes staring at a wall (yes, I’ve seen a teacher do this)! Sometimes speaking in L1 is tolerated, sometimes it will result in an angry lecture by the teacher.
Just as bad as the above examples, if not worse, are when this teacher is not consistent with how they act with each student. This teacher plays favorites frequently, and it is clear to everyone in the class who these students are by the special privileges they have. “Who is ringing that bell! Oh, it’s you Suzanne, well then that’s fine,” says the Unpredictable teacher.
Students, especially children, need consistency and some semblance of a routine to create a comfortable and safe learning environment. Though the unpredictable teacher may think of themselves as pretty easy going, a study of their actions may prove that was only the case with a few students.
For each of the above archetypes, there is a flip side. While the Dictator may be too strict, at least they have a set of rules, routines and expectations. This important, it just shouldn’t be the class focus. The Magician may have unrealistic goals, but at least they are ambitious and care about the progress of their students. Similarly, while the Laissez Faire teacher may have a chaotic classroom, at least they are trying to make things fun for themselves and the students, they just need to make sure the fun has an aim. Lastly, while the Unpredictable teacher’s mood swings create classroom problems, it is important to make exceptions sometimes and not follow the rules so closely that it impedes learning.
It’s important to find your own balance in the classroom and not step too far in any of these directions. An important thing to do from time to time is step back and look at your classroom and ask yourself these important questions: Are the students having fun? Is the system working for everyone? Are the students learning? Continually checking on yourself and asking these questions will help keep you away from classroom management traps.
If you’d like help with that assessment, take my free quiz to determine where you lie on the classroom management spectrum. You can gain access to the resource by clicking on the link below.