Where should I(a new teacher) start?

Diary submitted by Corina, Madrid, 2020

Classroom rules and approach to discipline and its role in learning EFL

Where should I(a new teacher) start?

I have been working in the camp industry since I was 16 years old. I was a counselor, coordinator and program instructor. 

In all those stages I have failed and nailed some discipline approaches. It is complicated at times to find the famous balance between strict and fun. But it is definitely a very important skill to have as a teacher/counselor. Consistency is also a crucial skill. It allows one to gain the trust and respect of one’s campers, students, bosses and coworkers.

Balance and consistency are definitively the base of my discipline approach. In an ESL setting, balance is crucial. You want them to respect the class but you also want them to have a good time and find some extrinsic motivation (some external factors as a fun class or a rewarding feeling after a class) to inspire your students to learn a new language. 

Now, when we talk about rules, some of them may depend on the age of the students. For example you would ask 9 year old “Line up quietly and smartly” but you wouldn’t ask the same to an adult. 

While I was doing my internship as an ESL Teacher, there was a class (that I was shadowing) in which one of the students was German, while the rest were either Spanish or from Spanish speaking countries. 

Most of the class went well, but there was a point when the teacher was providing new vocabulary: immediately some students were constantly translating to Spanish for those who didn’t understand. The German student complained a couple of times saying it wasn’t fair. The teacher asked the students to speak in English, made sure he understood everything and moved along.

This situation got me thinking. How was this student feeling? Would he come back? How would I enforce a rule such as Speak only English? Also, the students who were translating didn’t realize he was feeling left out or not understanding. They were actually trying to be helpful with those who didn’t get the new words. 

Although I think the teacher I was shadowing did a good job, I believe the translating system should have been interrupted earlier in the class. After reading Brandon Harville article on Classroom Rules, I also think that positive reinforcement and redirection for those students would have been great. Something among the lines of: “That is the exact word to translate ‘X’, also, good job on helping out your classmates, now let’s try to explain that same word using only English.” And after praising them, just add that invitation to use only English. 

My ideal classroom rules would have to based on the core values from the YMCA:  respect, responsibility, caring and honesty. After working there, and using them to enforce rules, I may say they apply to everything. 

Below I will share my own set of rules or expectations of what the behaviour should be based on those values:

  • Be an active listener
  • Use polite language
  • Raise your hand to speak
  • Respect your teacher and classmates
  • Speak only English 
  • Come to class prepared
  • Help classmates when they need it
  • Do not hesitate to ask in case you have any questions

These rules are not written in stone. They can be more sometimes and less some others, they can also be flexible. As Stephanie Long says in her article A quick guide to classroom rules there are exceptions to most rules “the trick is to communicate very clearly when it’s okay to bend a rule and when they have to follow it”. 

I still have a lot to learn, but I think that being aware of how we communicate to students and making sure we are being clear is definitely a good way to start.


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