I’d been teaching in the English Language Institute for 6 years and thoroughly enjoyed the last 3 or 4 classes. They had been a delight to teach as they eagerly soaked up knowledge and produced excellent essays. Then I met my match, and I very quickly learned that all the knowledge in the world will not help you if you don’t have the valuable skill of classroom management.
It was a summer intensive and my students and I were facing 5 weeks of intense study—2 hours of class a day, 5 days a week. The first few days went by quickly and pleasantly, despite constant joking around from the teenage boys.
It was the end of week two and I’d asked them to list effects of someone quitting their job. Sam grinned lazily at me and replied, “What he said,” referring to John’s answer. I said, “You can’t say, ‘what he said,’ you have to give your own answer! Do you have any ideas?” and he replied, “No, Miss,” seemingly unconcerned by his lack of interest.
A few minutes later, I was checking Abe’s answers in his workbook when John and Sam started giggling. Sam had turned on the air-conditioner and it struck them as extremely funny. I could barely hear Abe’s answers over their giggling, and suddenly I got very serious. I looked at them and said, “That’s enough. I need you to focus. This is not kindergarten.”
Until that point, I had been learning curriculum instruction, content, organization, and integration of the spiritual with the academic. Now I was learning the very difficult yet essential lesson of classroom management. Even if my students didn’t want to be there or participate, I still had a responsibility to create a classroom setting that enhanced their learning.
In time, I learned that classroom management is based on three important principles:
- Be firm. Set clear boundaries. You are the teacher; they are the students. They will excel when they know what is expected.
- Be kind. Treat them with respect and be flexible when needed. Give breaks to stretch or get a drink of water.
- Be committed. Don’t give up, remind them of their responsibility to learn, and work towards the course objectives.
My students learned how to write essays and finished the semester strong, messaging me on finals day to say, “Thank you for everything you have done for us this summer” and “Thank you for a joyful semester!” It brought a smile to my face and reminded me that it was worth it to be committed to teaching, classroom management and all.