Wednesday, 23 January 2013


EFL CLASSROOM DISCIPLINE. Yes, no, or sometimes?

In the matter of classroom discipline, the EFL teacher will find himself pretty much on his own. The school management would rather not get involved in it. Unruly students don’t take kindly to any form of discipline, and are likely to complain to the staff. “Mr Don treats us like children. He doesn’t allow us to speak our own language in class. He gets angry when we talk on our cell phones, and last night he went absolutely ballistic during the mid-term test. I mean, all we were doing was helping each other with the answers. It’s not fair!” These kinds of complaints are not what the management wants to hear. Unhappy students lead to dropouts and a falling school roll. Of course the school will make a pretext of maintaining discipline (a list of school rules stuck on the classroom door) but as for enforcing those rules, that’s the teacher’s problem, not the management’s.

Now the ironic thing is, at their regular school, your students will almost surely be subjected to quite strict, sometimes harsh, discipline. So it’s not as if the concept is alien to them. But not far into their EFL course they’ll realize that, discipline-wise, things are different here. And, if they are so inclined (and many are) they’ll push the boundaries as far as possible. So what if I ignore the teacher, spend all class time talking to my classmates, and play merry hell? The school isn’t going to chuck me out, or even suspend me. There’s no such thing as detention here, and if I’m given a double helping of homework I just won’t bother doing it.

So what does the teacher do? Throw in the towel? Say to hell with it, and let the students do whatever they like? Wield a big stick? Read them the Riot Act? Threaten them? Cajole them? Go home and kick the neighbor’s cat?

Here’s what I do. I turn a blind eye to a certain amount of misbehavior. Kids need to let off steam, and if they do that by yelling, roaming around the classroom, and throwing the odd punch, so be it. Teenagers, too, are subject to a range of conflicting pressures that go hand-in-hand with being a teenager, and I let them get away with a fair bit of argy-bargy. Adults, no – I don’t think it’s unreasonable to insist on a minimum standard of classroom behavior. But whatever the age, there’s one uncrossable line. A kind of thin red line, beyond which lies a no-go zone. Those students who want to study (hopefully you’ll have a percentage of them in every class) should be able to do so without distraction and disruption from the misbehaving students. So if little Jimmy wants to give the occasional shout and scribble on his text book, that’s ok. But if he wants to throw shoes and pull the girls’ hair, no sirree. “Come outside with me for a minute, Jimmy. There’s something I want to talk to you about.” If teenaged Sam wants to wisecrack in his own language half of the lesson time, alright. If he snatches up Molly’s book and throws it across the room, no. And if the whole class is intent on ignoring the teacher entirely and acting like irresponsible twats, “Sorry class, but there’ll be no break this lesson, and if you keep that kind of behavior up, I’ll get the manager in here to deal with it.”

Good luck. And if it all fails, there’s always the neighbor’s cat to vent your frustrations on.


In my new book, EFL minus the B.S. (soon to be available on Amazon) I have touched on this theme, along with many others. In the book you’ll find answers to these questions: How can I get an overseas English-teaching job? Why in the hell would I want to get an overseas teaching job? How can I survive that job once I’ve got it?

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