In any sphere of education, all teachers have one primary strategy, to teach. It is the fundamental aim that every educator has when he or she approaches any class or course. The chief tactic that teachers employ when achieving our goal is managing the classroom effectively. When working with young learners it is of the uppermost importance that all interactions that take place are carefully managed and that the behaviour and participation of the students is monitored and controlled. Any new teacher will testify that walking into a class filled with young learners at the beginning of their career is a daunting task and that, during those early lessons, there are moments in which the teacher may think “How on Earth am I going to get through this class?” or “There is absolutely no way I will ever be able to control this marauding troop of mini berserkers.” These moments, while horrible at the time, are perfectly natural and Teachers that say they never felt like that at any point during their early days are a rare if not non-existent breed.
It’s during this time when many of us look at more experienced staff members and are truly perplexed by the question of how they have managed to transform the rowdy mob of excitable children that were thundering up and down the corridors just moments earlier into a “class”, a cohesive and cooperative unit of learners whose every word and move is being so skilfully orchestrated by this ethereal teacher figure. We tell ourselves that we are incapable of reaching this state of absolute control and are truly stunned when, eventually, all of a sudden, it happens. One of the most common pieces of advice that is given to teachers during the early part of their career is the absolute importance of setting one’s expectations as early and as clearly as possible.
What we should expect
Whatever our values are, they should be based on the individual values of the teacher and communicating them to our classes should be more than simply stating the school rules, they are a means by which the teacher can imprint themselves on their class and instil their own personal values as part of the routine. A classroom is more than a place where information is exchanged, it can be the place where minds are formed and, by personalising the rules, a teacher can introduce the best parts of their own personality to the management of the group, we can think about this when we lesson plan. We should think about issues that we encounter with certain groups, write them into our “anticipated problems” and consider how to tackle them in future, take this old chestnut for instance;
“This group consists of roughly half badly behaved boys and half girls that use L1 too often – this week I will seat them boy/girl and observe any improvements.”
It really can be that simple.
Every teacher is different and it may take a genuinely infuriating period of trial and error in order to find a management system that suits both teacher and students but, barring a complete meltdown on the teacher’s part, the end will always justify the means and there is no reward greater than seeing the transition from a troop of little monkeys into a group of young learners.
Introducing our expectations into the classroom
Once a teacher has an idea of what they want from a class, they have to think about how they will share this with their students. There is only one chance to make a first impression with a new class and establishing rules and expectations should be a central part of that.
“Prime time in school is the first few moments in a class.
If you blow these moments, you blow the impression,
the sale, and the success of a class.”
– The First Days of School by Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong
It is of vital importance that a teacher uses the first interactions with their students to communicate exactly what they expect from class and what is unacceptable. Instructions should not only be given at the earliest possible moment they should also be given as plainly and explicitly as possible. When working with young, particularly ESL learners, language should be kept simple and concise. It is important to omit any extraneous language so that boundaries can be set easily and rules can be remembered by the children. Even when the language appears overly simple to the teachers, learners would appreciate instructional language that requires very little thought to process much more than a complicated set of commands.
The beauty of effective classroom management for young learners lies in the simplicity of the language.
“Now Steven, I really don’t appreciate you pushing Ricky to the floor in my classroom, even if he did accidentally bump you and didn’t apologise. Ricky I think you should say sorry.”
“Steven, no fighting! Ricky, say sorry!”
How we put it into practice
The core skill set that a teacher develops as they make the transitions from “new” to “experienced” to “veteran” classroom manager remain with them throughout their career. Among these are some qualities that are of great importance:
A strong sense of and belief in their own values.
An ability to communicate what they expect clearly to their students.
A sense of persistence.
When thinking about what they expect from a class, teachers should draw upon that sense of a belief in their own values and always bear them in mind when lesson planning, it should become the cornerstone of how a teacher approaches a group from the outset and guides them throughout the duration of their time together. We as teachers must always be pushing to improve our communication skills in class.
We communicate for a living and it is very important that our students fully understand what we value and expect. Once the students fully know what is expected of them it the teacher’s responsibility to be persistent and uncompromising when managing a class, no harm comes from young learners being reminded of what is acceptable and what is not. If we are persistent enough and our language is sufficiently clear and simple, the rules almost become our students’ classroom mantras and after a surprisingly short time teachers will often find that the students themselves set the rules and we seldom have to reiterate them;
I am frequently overjoyed to see how often my kids will use these “mantras” to try to get each other into trouble.
The greatest single resource that we have when finding our feet in the classroom has always been and will always be other teachers. Whether it’s training seminars, “webinars”, teaching manuals or a simple bit of advice in the staffroom, the collective experience of others is a tool all teachers need in order to progress from the enthusiastic and slightly baffled “good teacher in theory” that has just completed their training to the battle-hardened, stoic and worldly teachers they all hope to become.