Teaching ESL: Enforce Behavior, Drop the Ax, But Keep It FUN!

Coming into teaching ESL later in life presents a challenge for me. Without time on my side, I know I need to get training whenever it’s available. I took on obtaining ESL-related certifications along the way. Since coming to Korea I got a TESOL certification, a Business English certification, and my teaching license from back home.

In addition, EPIK holds training modules at times, and although they’re not the most in-depth, hands-on training, they’re better than nothing. You can usually walk away having learned something. Over time, a lot of little things add up to a big thing.

I also try to learn from my co-teachers. They have experience with Korean students. I try to watch their demeanor, how they hold themselves around students, and what techniques they use to manage their classrooms. I’ve learned a lot this way.

Certifications alone don’t necessarily prepare you for applying what you’ve learned to the classroom. There’s a bit of trial and error.

This is particularly true when it comes to rowdy classes and figuring out how to get them back into order.

I’ve run the full gamut.

I went through the phase of trying to out-volume students. I’ve, at times, been too harsh. Sometimes I let too much slip which ultimately came back to bite me. It can be frustrating when there are huge language and cultural barriers. Again, there’s going to be trial and error along the way.

I’ve learned to use my experience, my understanding of students, and resources such as my own co-teacher to better control behavior in class.

Sometimes I still run into classes that just don’t want to COMPLY! It’s summer now and the students are completely off the hook. I miss the cold weather that would cool their blood down a little. I’ve learned the techniques, I’ve watched other teachers, but the students just don’t want to be in class. Sometimes you just have to drop the ax. Here are two ways I do it that sends the loudest, most effective message to students:

ITA - Photo LogoSit or stand with the co-teacher: Students know very well that the main authority rests with the Korean teacher. You can only get them to like and respect you so much before they just blow through the boundaries. To escalate a situation with a perpetual trouble student, I have them go sit with the co-teacher during class. If the co-teacher is working on something else, this is GOOD. They will need to ask the student why they were sent there which forces a CONFESSION! Very uncomfortable for the student. After a few words and some time in the penalty box, the co-teacher generally sends them back to their seat and things are remedied.

Speak with the student after class: Another thing I do in rare cases is I speak to the student after class with the co-teacher. Having the co-teacher there is effective for driving home the seriousness of the conversation, and it also sends a message to the student that we are together on the issue. There will be no playing up to the Korean teacher after the fact. Having a good working relationship with your co-teacher is important for situations such as this.

I remember a time early on where I lost control of the class. I was at an all-girl’s middle school and it was my first six months in Korea. It was my first six months in teaching for that matter. One day I was thoroughly PO’d at the girls and it showed. The co-teacher went on this long soliloquy in Korean with the students. Afterwards, the students came up to me apologizing ever so respectfully. Such a stark change in attitude. Sounds so sweet, right? WRONG!

250_250This is the very worst thing that could happen. Both teacher and class having pity on me for not being able to control things. It was patronizing to say the least and it spoke volumes to me. It was at that point that I knew that managing the classroom environment and controlling student behavior were going to be the most important functions of my job with EPIK. That is, unless I don’t mind being looked down upon and subtly mocked.

Things have changed since those days.

Our role isn’t to be a drill sergeant. Though there are times where you’d like to makeĀ students drop and give you twenty (and I do this often by the way), it’s more effective to be an engaging person that wants to promote conversation and English speaking commotion in the classroom.

If the students find a desire to be part of the festivities in your class, this will by far pay the greatest dividends.


  1. Avatar Angelica Stringfellow says:

    I love this post! Classroom management is so key to teaching. I grew up in a family of teachers so I tried my hand at sub-teaching in a district here in Texas and it wasn’t for me. Then taught Biology to homeschoolers at a Nature Preserve. Best job ever! However i had to quit because it practically paid in pennies and i had just graduated college after that financial crash in 2009.

    My mom is the master at classroom management. She’s stern yet knows when to have fun. Her class is run like a tight ship. It’s amazing seeing her run her class. Experience is key. In my opinion, middle school is fun and the most difficult and high schoolers just don’t care enough to misbehave.

    I’m sure you’re a great teacher. Besides God is on your side so you can’t lose šŸ˜‰ Looking forward to more post!

    – Angelica

    • Thank you for sharing that. You are completely right that classroom management is an experience thing. I always learn something from seasoned teachers here in the way they handle the students in ways that are counter-intuitive to human nature. It seems like the solution to most classroom issues is a learned skill, not something that is a knee-jerk reaction. It’s a tough process learning how to cope, but once you learn it makes all the difference in the world. Would love to see how your mom handles kids. Since I started late, I feel like I’ll always be learning as long as I teach. Thanks again for the great comment.

Share Your Thoughts


Loading Facebook Comments ...