Welcome to the second installment of our three-part series on effective classroom management for teachers of teens. In part one I argued that the teacher needs to be the boss, but that on its own isn’t enough of course. In this post let’s look at our second ingredient in the recipe for classroom management success: being human. Being the boss and being human are by no means mutually exclusive, I’ve seen countless teachers who’ve been able to combine these two traits very effectively. Get the balance right and we’ll get our students on board.
So, what do we mean by ‘be human?’
Back in the day, teachers were encouraged to keep maximum distance between themselves and their ‘charges.’ The teacher was a lofty, far-removed figure who existed in the classroom, but anything outside of this was none of the students’ business. But showing your students that you are in fact a real person just like them is a step on the way to forging a relationship. We are not aiming to become their best friend, but revealing something of ourselves to them is not going to do any harm.
Teachers are real people too!
For example, I might show this photo to my students. Do they recognize anyone? (I’m the big one.) Can they ask me a question? I might expect them to ask me where and when it was taken, if the little boy is my son etc. This exercise has a purpose language-wise (I can check whether my students know how to formulate questions) and is authentic (they are formulating questions for a reason), but it is also a way to show the students something of my life outside the classroom. As a follow-up, I would get students to bring in their own holiday pictures and do a similar exercise in groups.
Demonstrate that you know your students
If we’re still referring to a student as “Yes, you at the back, the one with the silly hair!” come Christmas time, we’ve got a problem. Learning our students’ names is obvious, but what about learning their birthdays? A little gesture can mean a lot. What I found effective was getting to know my students’ hobbies and incorporating them into my exercises. This could range from a mechanical grammar exercise (If Celia ______________ (not take part), the team ________________(not win) the dance competition last week (Celia loved dancing)) to writing a full-blown piece with your students as protagonists. For example, I taught a football-mad class. They wanted to talk about football, but lacked the language to do so. So I wrote a match review to contextualize football language and made my students the protagonists (Álvaro sent in a perfect cross and Julio finished the move with a thumping volley. The keeper, Jose, had no chance etc). Then students had to come up with their own commentary for famous goals on YouTube. This sort of personalization takes time of course, but it’s a way to show interest in our students and they are sure to respond positively.
In favour of praise
That the teacher should praise students is oft-repeated and not without good reason: it’s really important. Think of the last time someone said something nice to you (hopefully you don’t have to go too far back!). How did it make you feel? Students, teachers and everyone else: we all like to be praised. We shouldn’t lay it on too thick though: students generally know if they deserve praise and if they know it’s empty it will cease to be a good motivator. This is one of the areas where we should combine being the boss and being human. Praise from a teacher who has a reputation for high standards is very meaningful indeed. We should also try to be specific with our praise (“I loved the range of vocabulary you used” vs “Well done”) and try to praise effort rather than merely focusing on achievement.
A problem child or a child with a problem?
Think of the student who causes you the most problems. Complete the following sentence “___Student’s name___ is a(n) ______________.” I wonder how you filled in the last gap?! I’ve heard that sentence finished in all manner of colourful ways in my time as a teacher. But in our first blog post we spoke about trying to remain philosophical and although a persistently disruptive pupil might make us feel like tearing our hair out, it’s also an opportunity to make a difference.
Continuing with our student from the previous paragraph we begin the lesson “Now, __little’s devil’s name__, remember what you did last time and what happened, let’s see if we can do better today shall we?” before watching history repeat itself. We’re asking for trouble with lots of negative language. This doesn’t only go for classroom management. Imagine our students read a text and we say “Phew, that was tough! So, what didn’t you understand?” We (myself included) are probably trying to be empathetic when we say these things, but we succeed in making students feel small. What about “What did you understand?” Once a few students have shared what they understood with each other, we will all have built up a better picture. Maybe it wasn’t so impossible after all! Negative language can be infectious, but fortunately the same goes for positive language too.
Come back for the finale!
We’re two thirds of the way through looking at what makes a good classroom manager, but we’re not there yet! We should be the boss, we should be human, but there’s one final piece in the puzzle. What is it? Have a think about it over the Christmas holidays (!) and I’ll tell you in January.
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