I was invited out today for lunch with some of my Korean English co-teachers . . .
We went to a little Japanese restaurant and I ordered a sushi plate–it was pretty good.
The conversation for the most part revolved around Julianne and I going to China, and the next native teacher who will be replacing me at the boys high school.
This brought up issues of classroom behavior management because every newbie teacher I’ve ever talked to always struggles to one degree or another with figuring out how to keep the peace in the classroom.
A young co-teacher, later on during lunch, told me he’d heard that some students at the school think I’m “a little too strict.”
I found this highly amusing because if I wasn’t “a little too strict,” especially at an all boys trade/sports high school, my classes would likely range from mild anarchy and chaos to insane anarchy and chaos.
I decided to tell him that from what I’ve seen when I walk around the halls of the different buildings on campus I see too many classes with students sleeping, talking to each other and ignoring the teacher, and other behaviors I won’t allow in my classes . . . not all, and perhaps not a majority . . . but still too many.
I then asked him if he’d asked the students which of my classroom rules they don’t like, and why, and what were they doing when I had to be “a little too strict” with them–he hadn’t asked them and all I got was a silent response to that. Strange that he would feel the need to mention this to me when he hadn’t bothered to find out the why’s and what’s behind the comments.
I told him how at the beginning of each semester I always go over my classroom rules.
Classroom English Rules
1. You must try.
2. You must pay attention during class.
3. You must bring a pen/pencil and notebook with you to class.
4. You must keep all handouts given in the class.
5. You must come to class on time.
6. You must keep the classroom clean.
7. Do not write on the desks/tables.
8. You must not use your cell phone in class.
1st time = lose for one day
2nd time = lose for one week
9. Have fun!
I wonder if the co-teacher, who I think was trying to give me a subtle-passive-aggressive criticism, has ever had to deal with the chronic problem of students not coming to class prepared–and I mean in the BASIC DEFINITION OF PREPARED: bring a pen/pencil and notebook to class.
My students have to leave their homerooms and come to the “English classroom” where I have my classes. Bringing a pen/pencil and notebook with my lesson handouts and some blank paper is apparently an insanely taxing and difficult task for about 50-60% of each class . . .
Since I don’t use corporal punishment dealing with situations and chronic problems like this can be extremely difficult, especially if I have a co-teacher who won’t back me up with trying to change the students’ behavior.
Thus one possible reason why some students might think I’m “a little too strict” comes from me punishing them for not coming to class prepared, and for preventing them from borrowing a pen/pencil from their peers (often with six guys all hitting up one of the better behaved guys to loan them several pens and pencils).
Punishments usually come from the following list . . . and the students know LONG before an infraction what the consequences are because I tell them when I talk about my classroom rules, and I also remind them during a class when they’re misbehaving.
1) 30 minutes of free time lost at lunch combined with 2 or 3 or 4
2) cleaning the classroom desks of graffiti
3) sweeping and mopping the floors in the English classroom
4) in severe cases duckwalking and push-ups outside for about 10 minutes, and then cleaning tasks
UPDATE: I forgot to add that for each minute a student is late for class they have to do 10 push-ups (unless they give me a reasonable excuse AND I believe them).
None of my co-teachers have given any signs of thinking I am too strict or that my punishments are too harsh (probably given that the males use corporal punishment and the females give a tongue-lashing in Korean–neither of which I can or want to do). Also, when co-teaching with me most of the co-teachers don’t have to deal with the classroom behavior problems because my system works. Add to this that EVERY Korean teacher who has ever walked by while students are doing a punishment task has grinned from ear to ear and given me their complete and enthusiastic approval . . . and yeah.
While I was talking about this with the co-teacher the other co-teachers at the table, all of who I have taught with, were in agreement with me that I wasn’t being too strict at all. I don’t think they were just saying that to be nice because more often than not when a difference of opinion happens between a native teacher and a co-teacher the other co-teachers side with the Korean teacher.
I think the other co-teachers also agreed with my comment that it’d be nice if all the teachers and classes at the school adopted the same classroom rules and expectations of behavior and penalties so that the students would know across the board what to expect from class to class, and not have to constantly be changing what they can and can’t do based on who the teacher is . . . that’s being rather idealistic, I know, but if it did happen I imagine the school would be a lot more peaceful and that classes would become more productive.
I’ll finish with the two other classroom behavior management techniques I use.
The first is I draw 10 X’s on the side of the white board. At the beginning of each semester I usually only have to use the 10 X system for about a month and by then the guys learn that I’m serious about the consequences that come with all 10 X’s being erased off the board.
Each time I say “Please be quiet” or “Please pay attention”, the two most common classroom commands I use during my lessons, I then put my hand up in the air and count down from five with each finger going down as I say the numbers . . . by the time I reach 1 if the guys haven’t stopped talking or doing whatever they’re doing I erase an X–when 10 X’s are gone it means the entire class loses 30 minutes of free time during lunch and has to either clean, or if the class has been really bad, go outside and duckwalk and do push-ups.
At the start of the last fall/winter semester when I first arrived and began teaching, and explained the classroom rules, it took me taking two classes outside and duckwalking them during lunch (when all the other students are outside and playing soccer and enjoying the tiny bit of free time they have during the day) and then word got around that I was serious about my classroom rules and would enforce them.
I don’t say “Please be quiet” and/or “Please pay attention” more than once, and I do NOT yell it (well, most of the time anyways, lol, sometimes the guys are just being guys and I have to raise my voice), and when the count down is finished if someone is still talking, or not paying attention I erase an X. I don’t get angry, I don’t get frustrated, I just erase an X.
Now there are a few classes that have more than a few students who like to cause problems. I realized that punishing all the guys wasn’t fair and that I needed to modify my classroom behavior management system a little, so I introduced “orange cards.”
I cut up several dozen orange colored paper cards and gave the guys one week to adjust to the new system before enforcing it strictly. I told them that if they got 3 orange cards, or warnings, that it was like baseball and that they’d struck out. If they strike out they have to leave the classroom and stand in the hallway for the duration of the class. After the class a punishment and time would be set up during lunch and if they skipped or were late they would have 3 more days of lost lunch time added.
Overall, this classroom behavior management system has worked really well for me. I rarely if ever have to draw the 10 X’s on the white board after the first month of the semester, and the orange card system only had to be used for about 3 weeks with a few classes and then they changed their attitudes and behaviors and I didn’t have to use the cards anymore. Occasionally a class will act up and I’ll go to the white board and draw the 10 X’s, or pull out the orange cards and teach while holding a small pile of them in my hand . . . but overall the guys accepted the system, and adapted to the rules.
In almost all my classes I’ve also noticed that several of the guys will also help me out by telling the other students to be quiet when I start counting down and some of the guys don’t listen–now THAT tells me they’re okay with the system, and the fact that they actively participate in helping me manage the class reassures me the system is a good one.
After explaining the basic ideas about my classroom management system to this young co-teacher the topic got changed . . . I think he saw that the complaints were likely coming from students who had broken the rules, and who wanted a more “relaxed” aka “disorganized” classroom environment in which they could do whatever they want to do even if the teacher is teaching and they’re supposed to be learning.
Maybe I’ll drop in and see how this teacher’s class behaves some time this week. I wonder how THAT would go, lol.