Keeping it cool -2 (another post on classroom management)

I like to think of myself as a good teacher. I try to stay cool all the time, and be the “cool” teacher. As I’ve said before, I’m not really the “fun” teacher, in that I don’t give candy and I don’t play games very often. I’m also pretty strict on a few things. I only have 3 rules, but I don’t let my students break them. I did when I first introduced the rules had them agree to them. I went around and said “Do you agree?” and made the students say “yes” — this was mostly to have it in their minds that they did indeed agree, and therefore own the rules. (they are 1. Everyone works together 2. Everyone does a presentation 3. Respect each other) –

When I first started I had a lot more rules, but this is a distillation of the things I find important in the classroom.  I understand that Korea is “testing” culture, and a lot of emphasis is placed on doing well on the tests, but this is not really that good for language acquisition. To be able to speak a language you need a lot of practice, and studying by yourself, or reading from a book, or preparing for the test, are not going to give you the practice you need. That’s why I put my students in groups, and I want everyone in the group to do the work. I’ve learned that if I don’t keep my eyes and ears open, the students usually want to give the worksheet or project to the “best” student and have her do it all. This isn’t good for anyone. So everyone works together and I go around all the groups and help them, talk to them a bit and nag them a little to work – everyone needs to work.  If you start at the beginning of the semester with this, it usually become routine by the 2nd month, and you don’t have to nag so much.

One of my personal pet peeves in the classroom is other groups talking when one of the students is giving a presentation.  It makes it more difficult for me to hear the student and I think it is disrespectful. Therefore my “Respect each other” rule.  To enforce this rule I usually have three techniques. The first is just moving to where the group doing the talking is, physical proximity works amazingly well. The other technique is to ask the offending students “What did she just say?”  since they weren’t listening, they usually can’t answer, so I make them ask the presenter to repeat what she said. This is quite embarrassing and I usually don’t have to repeat this technique often. – I actually ask this question randomly throughout presentations just to a) keep them on their toes and b) help them practice listening to people who are not professional voice actors speaking.   The other technique is to ask the student if she is being respectful. I then ask her to read “rule 3” — I don’t usually need to use this very often.

I also don’t like it when the students are talking when I’m talking.  I usually have a call/response routine to get their attention (this year is Queen’s “Another one bites the dust”  – I say Hey, hey, hey… and they say “another one bites the dust” and that is the signal for them to be quiet so I can give more information or change the activity.  If they keep talking, sometimes I will snap “I’m talking here!” but mostly I’ve learned to marry “teacher look” with silence.  I will start the sentence, quit in the middle and just look at everyone, with a not really angry face, but I’m not smiling either. This works. This works really well.  And this is where my age is a definite advantage, because you do need a bit  of gravitas to pull it off.

I admit I have gotten angry with a class, and I’ve even yelled a few times, but it doesn’t work. Ever. And it usually makes things worse in the long run, because no one likes an angry teacher.  To prevent this, I’ve learned – through much trial and error and falling down and picking my self back up — that prevention is worth a metric ton of cure.  One of the ways to prevent students from getting under your skin is to know what you really need from the class, and what you really don’t care about that much.  If you are clear in your mind what is important to you, then you can be clear to the students.

I believe that most, if not all students, want positive attention. They will take negative attention, but it is second best and not really that desirable.  If you are very clear about what you want.. for me it working together, making a clear presentation, and being quiet when other’s are speaking, then your students know where you stand. Let the other stuff go.  I won’t get too strict if they speak a bit in Korean, and I allow my class to get a bit noisy, and I allow them to have a lot of leeway in their answers, and even reward creativity over correctness.  I never correct the students in class and usually just have a “mistakes were made” class occasionally if there is a huge mistake that a lot of students make. Communication is in the class title and as long as the mistake doesn’t interfere with meaning or communication, I let it pass.

I also believe in the power of praise.  I make them earn it, but I also make sure I let them know when they do something right or they do well in class.  At the end of class, I let them know how well they did following the rules, and if they did presentations really well or listening really well, I give them a round of applause. If they need work on following one of the rules I let them know, but I don’t put them down, I just tell them “You can do better” – and I expect them to.  I also am very clear on what they need to do to “win”. I think this is especially important in the lower level classes. They already don’t have a lot of confidence with the language, and by giving them opportunities to succeed they usually do better than expected.  By the 2nd or 3rd  month, I don’t really have many problems, mostly because I’ve been very consistent with letting them know when I want better and when they are doing well.

I think consistency is a big key. That and routines. Of course, if your class is too routine, students will fall asleep, but it is good to go in, and the students know what to expect, what is expected of them, and the basic schedule of the class. ( I come in, say good morning or good afternoon, have them repeat the rules and write them on the board, go over the worksheet or project, and then either put them in pairs or groups, have them work on the worksheet or project until time is up, give them praise for work, have them volunteer for presentation-  and yes they do volunteer because I get really excited and happy when they do, and I still make them do it when they don’t – we then do presentations, and then we go over what I really liked about their class and all the things they did well. We then applaud ourselves and as the bell rings I tell them good-bye.

Actually I don’t say good bye anymore. When I was a kid, my dad and I had a routine he’d say  “see you later, alligator” and I’d say “in a while, crocodile”  – now I say to my students “see you later alligator” and they say “in a while, crocodile”   I didn’t realize it, but it is from an old song from Bill Haley &  The Comets

It is a fun little song, isn’t it?



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