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What is “classroom management?”

Classroom management is a teacher’s ability to deliver his/her lesson effectively and facilitate the instruction while simultaneously maintaining the students’ behavior. It is a critical component of creating a successful and comfortable learning environment in any classroom and especially in an EFL classroom. Consider the conductor in an orchestra, or the director of a film, or even the coach of a sports team – all of these roles require skills and methods similar to what a teacher is expected to do in order to develop strong classroom management.

What is “discipline” and how does it relate to classroom management?

Discipline refers to the methods a teacher uses as a means of successfully maintaining classroom management. The term “discipline” tends to carry a negative connotation, but it can and should be seen as a healthy balance of positives and negatives. Discipline is both the punishments and consequences a teacher applies to misbehaved students and the rewards and praise allocated to well-behaved students. In other words, it is the balance of punishing students for doing wrong and rewarding them for doing right.

How do I use classroom management and discipline in China?

Classroom management and discipline will have similar traits in classrooms all around the world; it is the ways in which they are utilized that tend to vary. For example, certain schools in China will either hit their students or excessively yell at them as a method of discipline (my school does not do either… ). Many schools and countries globally would consider this entirely unreasonable and immoral, but it is simply the norm in certain regions.

So, how can you build classroom management and employ discipline appropriately and fairly in your Chinese classroom? Begin by developing a list of five or so classroom rules that you want your students to follow during each lesson. Have this list ready to present on day one of your classes. I suggest using visual or audible aids to help reinforce the rules.

For example, if you have “Be quiet” as rule, also include a picture of a smiley face putting its finger to its lips. Go over these rules (and their visible and audible aids) with your students during the very first class and do not shy away from “spending too much time on the rules” on day one. There is no such thing as spending too much time on the rules! The more time you spend on it from the beginning, the better your students will understand your expectations.

My personal list of classroom rules for my fourth and fifth grade students is listed below. They are written in simple and plain language and each is accompanied with a visual aid:
1) Be quiet (finger to my lips)
2) Look at the teacher (two fingers pointing at my eyes)
3) Listen to the teacher (one hand cupping my ear)
4) Sit down (open palmed downward hand motion)
5) Answer the question (open palmed upward hand motion)

An absolute necessity in any classroom is to explain the consequences of certain actions before the actions – whether good or bad – take place. In other words, a student needs to know the consequences of breaking a rule. When you present your rules, whether they be your daily classroom rules or rules that are specific to a certain activity or game, make sure to also include the consequences. This will help you to easily facilitate the necessary disciplinary actions when the time comes.

For example, explain at the beginning of an activity that a student will have to stand in the back of the classroom (a common and popular disciplinary action in China) if they are causing disruptions by talking over the class. Then, when a student (inevitably… it is going to happen) causes disruptions, send him or him to stand in the back of the classroom. More importantly, be sure to be firm and be consistent in administering your disciplinary consequences, particularly early during the school year. The more strict you are in the beginning, the better your students will be at following the rules.

Additional points about classroom management and discipline:

As mentioned, do not allow discipline to only be a negative element of your classroom that is used solely for punishment. During certain games and activities, promise rewards and prizes (a piece of candy, points for your team, movie time, etc.) for good behavior. The expectation of certain rewards helps students to control their behavior, which directly impacts a teacher’s ability to maintain classroom management. As a result, the learning process will be a much more fluid and productive one.

Developing strong classroom management skills and effectively utilizing disciplinary methods both require experience and patience, especially for new teachers. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different methods and find your comfort zone. Perhaps most importantly, give yourself time to find the correct balance between being strict and fair with your rules and leniency. As mentioned, be strict early on, but find opportunities to also give your students a break if they have earned it.

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About the Author:

Brendan O'Shea
Brendan O'Shea is an EFL teacher, freelance writer, and wannabe world traveler living in Shenzhen, China. Between exploring new destinations, Brendan enjoys reading, playing chess, and following sports. Follow his teaching and traveling journey on Twitter and Instagram, or read up on his experiences on his personal blog: Teach and Travels!
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