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Maintaining discipline in your classroom can be daunting, especially if you’re teaching a class of 50-60 kids with a limited grasp of English. If you’re a new teacher, it can be especially hard because you’re learning to teach as you go, so you may have to change your discipline measures or develop new systems as the semester goes on and you become more familiar with your students and your own teaching style. What works best varies based on situation and class, but hopefully some of the tips I’ve outlined below will be helpful for you!

Why Discipline is Important

Depending on your teaching situation, you may think that maintaining discipline isn’t that big of a deal. You want to make the time you spend with your classes fun instead of spending the time policing the children and doling out punishments. However, discipline is an important part of any classroom. A disciplined class is one in which students know how the class is structured and what their role is during different parts of the lesson. Maintaining rules and structure allows you to be more productive in your class, making it more productive and fun for everyone. Students will vastly prefer a class with clear-cut activities they can participate in over one with no rules where nothing gets accomplished.

First Impressions Matter

Your behavior during the first days and weeks of class sets the tone for how the semester will go. You want the students to know that you can be goofy and fun, but that ultimately you have authority. If you let bad behavior slide at the beginning, students will quickly learn that they can get away with goofing off in your class, and will continue to test your limits until the class totally degrades.

However, if you get angry and yell all the time but don’t follow up with real consequences, students won’t take you very seriously, and furthermore probably won’t like you very much. So what should you do? Be firm, but not angry. Set out rules from the beginning, and create a points system or other means of both punishing bad behavior and rewarding good behavior. The most important part of creating a disciplined class at the beginning of the semester is consistency. Don’t be afraid to stop the whole class to calmly, clearly, and firmly address discipline issues, and make sure students understand what they’ve done wrong and how they should correct their behavior in the future. Wait until all students are behaved and ready to learn before restarting class.

Points Systems

A points system is the easiest and most effective way to maintain discipline in the classroom, but it can take many forms based on the size of the class and the age of your students. If your school or training center doesn’t already have a reward system in place, creating one is easy enough. If you’re teaching a huge class, divide the students into teams based on rows or some other criteria. This has the added benefit of incentivizing students to monitor each others’ behavior. If you’re teaching a smaller class, write each child’s name on the whiteboard and then give or take away points as necessary.

No matter what kind of system you’re using, make sure the points matter. I give out relatively few points during each class, and only take away points if a student is seriously misbehaving. This way each point means more, so students will work harder to earn and keep points. Even with young students, you can assign meaning to the points. Some teachers give out stickers, cards, or other tangible prizes during class, and this may work for you, but I prefer to wait until the end of class to give the students anything tangible so they’re not distracted during class. I show the students the stickers or whatever other prize I’ll give them at the beginning of class, and then I tell them how many points they need to earn to get it. This motivates them during class and also makes the points matter more. With older students, you can buy cool prizes to give them if they get enough points (though this is by no means necessary), and also threaten to report to the administration or their parents if they’re seriously or consistently misbehaving.

Take Accountability

If your class is focused at the beginning and quickly becomes unruly once you’ve started teaching, maybe your lessons are just boring. If your lessons aren’t engaging and clear, students can’t be expected to sit through them. So make sure that you’re giving the students interesting material that they can interact with, and lessons are sure to go more smoothly. If the class is enjoyable, the students will want to behave so they can get to the fun stuff!

Be Yourself

These are the discipline techniques I use in my classroom, but at the end of the day what works for me may not work for you. If one of my methods doesn’t help you or doesn’t feel like something you would naturally do, don’t worry. Every teacher is different. As you get to know your teaching style and your class, you’ll develop styles that best fit you, and figure out the best way to coordinate your classroom.

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SDE International - Shenzhen

New teaching jobs in China interviewing now, apply today!
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About the Author:

Molly Oberstein-Allen
Molly Oberstein-Allen graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a philosophy degree and currently teaches English in Shenzhen, China. She enjoys travelling and meeting new friends.
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