It’s most likely going to hit you at a low point; that feeling that a class isn’t going how you want it to. Maybe it’s a classroom dynamic issue, that the students don’t seem to care at all about the activities you’ve planned so carefully. Maybe it’s a feeling that the students don’t seem to be improving despite your best efforts. Maybe you simply dislike a class that you’re teaching– it happens. Whatever the exact feelings that you are going through, it’s essential to remember a few fundamental things about being a teacher: 1) Not every class is going to go exactly as planned. 2) Every classroom problem has a solution 3) Reflecting on your teaching on a regular basis can save classroom situations from becoming too extreme.
In fact, it is my belief that we teachers need to have a brief moment of reflection after each lesson to consider how things went. However, when is a good time to give the overall course/class deeper consideration? What are important things to consider? How should a teacher go about fixing serious classroom issues? Read on for answers to these important questions.
When to Reevaluate How a Class is Going
As stated above, one good time to reevaluate a class is when things aren’t working. This doesn’t necessarily mean that things didn’t go well during one lesson, that happens and may simply have to do with how you set up an activity or students having a bad day. When similar issues keep arising, that’s when it’s time for a teacher to reflect on the major issues of the class. For example, if a very young student starts to cry because their team lost, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should stop using teams. Whereas if you regularly have students crying because they’ve lost, it likely means you are making things overly competitive.
After assessments is another good time to think about how a class is going. Giving assessments and correcting them takes a lot of time. It also means that you’re probably writing a lot of individual student reports. It seems obvious to consider the class at this point, but often times teachers can’t see the forest for the trees. Don’t just focus on individual scores, thing about how the class did as a whole. Don’t just think about the behavior and progress of individuals; do you notice any trends with the whole class?
Before and after observations is a natural time for self-reflection as well. When you know that a DoS or manager is about to observe you, you’ll be nervous and spending a lot more time than usual creating a lesson plan. Use this feeling to consider your class more deeply. Also, your DoS or manager will likely come back to you with a lot of observations that you may not have considered.
What to Consider
I recently had a class that I was struggling with. It was a short term contract with service professionals at a restaurant on the beach. The owner of the establishment wanted the focus of the classes to be on service and language related to the restaurant. However, they also emphatically wanted me to “teach them whatever English I could” in the two month period as well.
The service lessons usually went very well, but with only a vague idea of what English I could possibly teach them in such a short amount of time, and with so much other material to cover, I was usually at a loss when planning these general English sessions. I tried to do too much in too little of a time, and I tended to make the activities WAY too difficult. After a few frustrating sessions, I realized that, though these servers could have very basic conversations and were able to do service tasks in English, they didn’t have any foundation in the language! I went back to the basics, made the activities more active and wallah, problem solved.
Consider the difficulty of the material you are meant to teach your students, don’t simply take it as given that the textbook is completely appropriate for your class. Often students’ lack of interest, which then leads to classroom management problems, stem from the material being either so easy it is boring or so difficult that it is beyond their grasp. There are many ways to adapt the textbook to work for your class, but that is for another post.
Are your activities too repetitive? Another cause of boredom is your activities. Coming up with new activities for every lesson can take a lot of time, especially when you are a new teacher, but it is important to keep students’ interest. Take a look at the past few weeks of your lesson plans with one particular class. If you find that you are doing too much of the same thing, change things up.
Similarly, a way to keep students interested in the class is to make sure they feel involved in the class. From time to time it’s good practice to consider how invested your students are in the class. Do they ever get to choose activities? Have you found out what they are interested in and designed lessons around that? Do they help you with the curriculum? Do they have clear goals and understand how this class is helping them to meet them?
Are any students being left behind? Think of one of your classes. What images come to mind? Probably, you imagine the class from your perspective: a series of memorable class moments and possibly a number of stand out individuals. However, are there any students in your class who are not keeping up? Assessments are a good time to think about this, but tend to leave out the most important consideration–are they able to follow what’s happening in class? There will always be weaker students in a class, but it’s essential that the teacher know if they belong in that class at all.
How to Go About Fixing Classroom Issues
The list of what to consider can go on and on. Basically, the important thing is to identify a classroom problem that’s getting in the way of your students’ learning. Once the problem has been identified, fixing it may be as simple as you changing something about your teaching style. If you don’t vary your activities enough, simply make it a goal to have two new activities each class. Some things take more consideration.
Let’s say, for example, that you have a group of moody teens that don’t like each other and refuse to take part in classroom activities for fear of looking foolish in front of their peers. This isn’t a simple fix. For more difficult classroom issues, it is going to take time.
The first step, as mentioned, is to determine exactly what the problem is. After that, one needs to consider the causes of the problem. In the above example, it seems like the the main root of the problem, beyond the students just being teens, is that they aren’t comfortable in the classroom. So, now what?
Once you know the problem, brainstorm solutions or look to your fellow teachers for advice on how to deal with the problem. One great thing about being a teacher is how willing most teachers are to share their own experiences. After that, experiment a little.
The problem likely won’t disappear immediately. Imagine what you want your classroom to be like, then come up with realistic milestones and ways to reach them. With teaching, like most walks of life, you get what you give. If you put forth the effort, a class that may have been frustrating and a chore to teach, might become something you look forward to.