“Classroom management can be a bit of an art form. Some teachers can struggle to keep their students in line while others seemingly just disperse some kind of magic that makes the students sit down and listen well.”

 Classroom management is something that I myself, even after several years of teaching in China, am still struggling with from time to time. It is important to remember that when students are acting up, it is not always their intention or even their fault. Children very much react to their surroundings and often have a hard time keeping their impulses in check. Largely, older people have what we consider to be “manners” because even when we want to do something, we know that this is not an appropriate time. Students, especially children, especially younger children, have not yet developed this sense of self-restraint and will often do whatever they feel like doing at that moment. As a teacher, it is your responsibility to create an environment conducive to learning and that means keeping your students under control, even when they are not intentionally doing what they are doing.

Before I get into all the good advice and such, I wanted to start by bringing to attention a few of the things that you should try to avoid doing during your classes. Some of them will seem rather obvious but I will put them in here regardless


Worth avoiding in the ESL Classroom

Being Late

Being late is not something that we can always control and there are of course instances where being late is not going to be a problem. Generally speaking, occasionally being late and having a good reason is not going to cause trouble, but being consistently late becomes an issue because you show students that they can be late, too. In a big busy city like Chongqing in China, one of the only things you can always count on is traffic. The traffic patterns in Chongqing can sometimes be unpredictable and the effects of slow traffic affects the public transportation system. Thankfully, Chongqing has a reasonably efficient subway system but even here you can sometimes meet resistance.

I do not think anyone is ever late on purpose but there are a few things you can do to avoid being late even when the traffic gets bad or the weather gets in your way. My myself, my number one weapon is simply leaving earlier than I have to. I do this for 2 reasons.

  1. I have a rough estimate of how long it takes me (on average) to go from my home to the school where I am teaching. That estimate is based off of a day where the traffic isn’t too bad. For Example, it takes me about 25 minutes to go from my home in Daping to the school in Yangjiaping. However, if there are a lot of people at the interchange station where I switch subway lines or there is a queue by the elevator, it will sometimes take me a s much as 10 more minutes to reach the school. So I tend to leave 40-45 minutes earlier than my class is set to start because then I have at least tried to account for everything without being there overly late.
  2. In addition, the time I now have at the school (sometimes up to 20 minutes), I can use this time to settle down, get warm or cool down depending on the weather, I can have a cup of coffee or a snack and I can go through my lesson plan, get the computer booted up or just share a few moments of conversation with my colleagues. All of which makes me feel more relaxed and more calm when I do enter the classroom to teach.

My father always told me as a child that it is better to be 1 hour early for your flight in the airport, than 1 minute late. I apply this rule to most things that I do in life. I am rarely late for anything, usually as much as 20-30 minutes early just in case.


Losing your Temper

Losing your temper reflects poorly on you in many countries and cultures, but especially in China I have noticed that people try very hard to keep their emotions in check, because getting angry is considered wrong. Or maybe not wrong, but at least not very good. It can be hard sometimes, to keep your cool when your students are acting up, but in many cases, you should remember that the students are not actually deliberately trying to mess with you. Students get overexcited about games and activities or they start acting out when they’re bored or when the content is too hard for them. If you feel that you are about to reach your boiling point, try and take a step back, you can even leave the room for 10 seconds and come back in. It is still better than losing your temper and start a shouting match.

Lately, what I do myself, is that I try to anticipate what is going to happen next. Paying close attention to my students and how the atmosphere has changed over the past 15 minutes can often give me an idea of what is going to happen in the next 5. It is not fool proof, but by intervening before a problem blows out of proportion I have managed, I think, to avoid a lot of situations that could potentially lead to someone getting upset. But try and keep yourself from falling into the trap of getting angry, because it really doesn’t do much. At best it will give you a moments peace, but you feel bad afterwards and the tension in the room takes a long time to dissolve after that.


Losing Control

Like not wanting to lose your temper you also want to avoid losing control of the class. And very often one can lead to the other. If the students are out of control that is likely to lead you to lose your temper. Losing your temper can sometimes lead you to lose control of the class. Children do not respond well to being yelled at and will often retaliate in one way or another.


Making Fun of Students

It is, I hope, obvious that you shouldn’t mock or make fun of your students. However, it does happen that what seems like an otherwise harmless joke or comment, can be hurtful to someone else. We may not even realize what we’re saying is hurtful until the person who was hurt tells us. The reason why this is more important in the classroom is because the students tend to follow your lead. If you make a joke at the expense of a student, it is likely that others students will follow along and repeat. Sometimes the joke itself isn’t harmful but the repetition of the joke can be. Being able to incorporate humor into the classroom is a great skill to have and showing students that making mistakes and laughing at themselves can be helpful, keep an eye out for anything that is potentially hurtful.


Only following the book

It is easy to stop planning your lessons and simply follow whatever the book tells you to do. It has all the words, explanations, pictures and uses, right? That may be so, but you will also find that all your classes become repetitive and boring, even for yourself. Books contain the content that the students are meant to learn, but it is up to you, as the teacher to choose how to present it. You can use worksheets, videos, music or other activities that you can think of, to try and make your class interesting and unique and teach the lesson in a way that is also entertaining for you. Only using the book, means the students will miss a lot of chances to experiment with the language and see it used in different ways as the book typically only has one or two examples.