Classroom Management: Setting Rules and Expectations for a Smooth Running Year

As a public school ESL instructor in South Korea, I know that my requirements and authority level are limited in comparison to my Korean counterpart, or co-teacher. Still, in my situation where I teach half the classes and my co-teacher the other, I’m bearing the full weight of what happens during each 40 minute session. That is, I’m not just responsible for covering the material but also maintaining my sanity based on how smoothly the classes run.

No one is really concerned whether or not your classes are organized and streamlined. The co-teacher cares some, but that’s usually because it has a bearing on how much involvement will be required of them. Other than that, noone from the Department of Education is concerned, no principle or vice-principal is taking note, etc. It’s up to you (and me) to ensure that our classroom management skills are effective and put in place. For our own sake.

The material itself, at elementary school level, is obviously very basic so getting through it is not the most demanding task. Having a class that just came back from the playground after lunch maintain focus is another story. This is where some classroom management skills come into play. In my opinion, it’s the most important role of an ESL instructor in a country like Korea. Our ability to control the environment in a way that captures the students genuine attention is what will ultimately make the material meaningful. It’s when the students are focused and at attention, yet still somehow interested in being in class with you that you have the greatest chance of them absorbing the material and evoking a desire for them to interact with you. It’s this interest in engagement that will really make learning the spoken part of English the most effective.

Listen and repeat, listen and repeat; I do it every day with songs I enjoy but I often don’t know what I’m really saying. Turn off the music and I can’t recite the lyrics. It’s when I come across a song that has some type of personal meaning that I really pay attention to the words and ultimately remember them.

One of the best ways to create an orderly classroom where your 40 minutes will be the most beneficial for students is by setting the rules and expectations up front. Early on. On the first day, if possible. The sooner students are trained in what is expected of them in terms of conduct and involvement the better.

In my case, I use a presentation on the first day to introduce myself (or re-introduce) to students and to present and practice the rules and expectations when they are with me. This includes penalties as well. It’s not good enough to just tell them what they’re supposed to do. At elementary school age, each step in the process needs to be presented and practiced. For example, how to answer a teacher’s question. Raise your hand, stand up, speak, sit down. Sounds pretty “elementary”, doesn’t it? It is. Don’t do it and you’ll be constantly hit with a rush of haphazard answers being randomly shouted.

All aspects that you have learned are sticking points should be covered. There are core rules and expectations that apply to every classroom, and there are those that are important to you because of your own style.

It’s important to remember that students need to be trained. They need guardrails.

They want to be trained. They want guardrails.

It’s up to you to provide these things. If you do, I guarantee the students will ultimately enjoy your classes more, get more out of the material, and be more drawn to you. The last being very important. It’s then that they will try to engage in a conversation on their own accord and where the language will really stick.

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