Having spent the last six years here in Madrid as a TEFL teacher and as the Director of Studies at TtMadrid, I frequently get asked what I love most about my job. Many people find it hard to believe that the passion to teach grammar, create lesson plans and prepare dynamic class activities is still sustaining my love for what I do! The answer to this question, however, is incredibly simple. The vast array of students that I have taught over the years makes it virtually impossible for any two classes to ever feel the same, meaning that my job has remained exciting and rewarding. I have been fortunate enough to teach some amazing individuals over the years, all who have brought something distinct and unique to the learning environment.
However, although a variety of personalities has fantastic advantages, what happens when the mix of ESL students you have in a class creates classroom management issues? How do we control those dominant students? How do we encourage the shier ones? How do we fight boredom and poor attendance? How can we ensure our late-comers don´t disrupt the rest of the class? And perhaps most importantly, how can we ensure that we manage our adult students without appearing condescending and patronising?
First and foremost I think it is vital to consider the country you are teaching in. Here in Spain, many students spend years studying English at school, many attend academy group classes in an effort to boost their level and many are also then subjected to in-company classes when they enter the world of work. By the time you get to them and begin teaching, they are tired, often frustrated and very demotivated. Here at TtMadrid we always push the importance of doing a Needs Analysis with every new student that you teach. How can we expect our students to turn up, perform in class and remain engaged throughout if we do not know what they want and need from their classes? A simple needs analysis can find out why they want to learn English, how they use English in their daily lives and what goals they have for their future. In turn, this can ensure that we create classes that are tailored to their needs. Put very simply, if our students are happy, our job instantly becomes much easier.
Once we are certain that we are providing the course content that is desired by our students, we can then begin to tackle some of the remaining classroom management issues. I think all TEFL teachers will be able to recall a group they have taught where a dominant student has continuously stolen the limelight in class. I remember one particular student that I taught in company, who not only insisted on answering every question, but also attempted to correct all mistakes made by his peers! One of the simplest and most subtle ways of managing this situation is simply by remembering to throw every question you ask at a specific student. When asking a question, include a student´s name at the end to encourage just that student to answer.
Blocking is also a fantastic tool that can be used here. Imagine I have asked Maria to answer a question, but Antonio instantly starts to answer for her. Maintain your eye contact with Maria and simply slide your hand subtly across the table and rest it in front of Antonio. This simple gesture is enough to quieten that dominant student. I have taught hundreds of students here in Madrid and believe me, your students will soon respond to that signal like trained animals!
In terms of shy students, these personality types have always been my favourite to tackle! Many teachers create a very teacher-led environment, where students answer individual questions asked by the teacher in front of their peers. Although this approach is necessary in certain parts of any class, many teachers forget the importance of a student focused approach. Why not build the confidence of shy students by encouraging more pair work? Allow them to consider possible answers to different questions with a partner. When you then elicit the answers from the group as a whole, the shy individuals are more confident, given that they have already “rehearsed” what they plan on saying in a much more personal and private setting.
Monitoring is also very important when considering shy and new students to a class. Let´s imagine that you have asked the class to complete a worksheet on conditional structures. Whilst the students complete this in pairs, move around the classroom and check how the students are getting on. Crouch down to their level, make eye contact and lower your voice. The students lacking in confidence then have the chance to privately ask you for help. You, as the teacher, also have the chance to see what answers have been completed successfully. When bringing the group back together and eliciting the answers, make sure you only ask the shier students to give answers to the questions they have right. This can help to boost confidence.
Finally, never underestimate the importance of praise. There is a misconception that adult students do not need encouragement, nor to feel rewarded by the teacher. This is simply not true. I recently had the opportunity to refresh some of my Spanish by attending some classes and the way in which I responded to being a student (rather than the teacher) really surprised me. I felt very unsure of myself, felt reluctant to talk and felt the need to say things in my head before verbalising them out loud. As a 30 year old woman, I still needed praise to feel rewarded for my efforts! It was only with encouragement from my Spanish teacher that I actually began to relax and enjoy my classes. So use some of those words of encouragement and watch your students grow in confidence!
A constant problem in terms of classroom management here in Spain is that of punctuality. Spaniards have many wonderful traits, but arriving on time is certainly not one of them! Having observed hundreds of trainee TEFL teachers give classes here at TtMadrid, I know how problematic late arrivals can be. However, rather than become frustrated at the fact that we cannot change this tardiness, we should try to focus on how we can make such arrivals as least disruptive as possible. If you know that Juan always arrives 10 minutes for his lunch time in company class, why not leave the chair closest to the door free? This prevents anyone needing to move to accommodate Juan, allowing you to continue your class with ease. Ultimately, if lateness continues to be problematic, never underestimate the effectiveness of simply communicating privately with that student. Perhaps their tardiness is due to factors outside their control and they would be better suited to a later class? Use the rapport you have built with your students to try to find a solution for both them and you.
Without doubt, we will always have days that test us and our patience. We would be hard pushed to find a job that didn´t! However, by using some of these very simple techniques, you should find some of those class dynamics much easier to control.
By Laura Brunwin