Number one for English language teachers

Tuesday 15th February: Confessions

Type: Reference material

In her eighth diary entry, Maria Alamanou ruminates on classroom management

I have a confession to make: I envy those of my colleagues who seem to never have encountered any classroom management problems. I wonder how they do it! Are they so disciplined themselves that they manage to get this discipline through to a bunch of youngsters who are restless and unruly by nature or are they lucky enough to be only teaching ‘tame’ groups? They won’t tell me, of course, because, if they did, they’d be giving their professional secrets away. But if you ask me, the ‘tame’ option is probably more likely, in which case there is no big secret to give away after all, hence the reluctance on their part and the desperation on mine.

Over the years, I’ve tried out all the time-honoured techniques I learnt in my Teacher Training Practice. Having also taken courses in Teaching Psychology, I felt so empowered to deal with classroom mishaps in the beginning that I thought I could win all sorts of students over and twist them round my little finger. In theory at least! But classroom practice has its own uncanny way to bring you down to earth with a thump. Let me give you only one example of no-win situations I’ve come across and then maybe you’ll know why I’ve turned bitter.

As you may have noticed, there is always at least one agitator in any given group and all the others either feel happy to follow suit or just look on, obviously amused and sometimes also secretly instigating such misbehaviour. I remember once I had a new late-comer in one of my most well-behaved 'D-E' classes. He seemed a nice kid and we took to each other instantly. Apparently, the boy had a totally misconceived way to show his partiality for people. On his first day in class he started tearing sheets of paper off his notebook, taking them to pieces and then, having placed the heaps of scraps on the desk, blowing them off all over the floor and into oblivion.

I saw red but I was well-versed in my child-psychology techniques and therefore didn’t rise to the bait. I just smiled at him thinking that the poor kid was crying for attention. ‘The poor kid’ for his part must have mistaken my tolerant smile for encouragement and his classmates’ flabbergasted looks for approval. He therefore went about his dubious craft unruffled and the show went on for about two hours. The other kids looked at me in disbelief from time to time, knowing how strongly I feel against disorder and untidiness. By the end of class that day, the floor seemed fit for skiing practice and the kid in question thoroughly content with himself.

As politely as could be managed, I took him into my office and tried to talk to him about it. His innocent smile implied that he was testing my limits as well as probing new territory. So I just asked him to be a little more considerate in future and let it go at that. On his second day in class, he had done absolutely no homework but he was very nice about it and explained that he didn’t really like grammar and therefore didn’t feel like studying it. Not knowing the rules made it very difficult for him to do the exercises so he hadn’t bothered. He said all that smiling and looking round for signs of acknowledgement from his peers. As none was forthcoming, he sulked and turned nasty.

This time there was no tearing and blowing but there was a lot of senseless smudging and doodling on his grammar book and on the desk. Sticking to my guns, I didn’t let him have a piece of my mind concerning his attitude. I went on with the lesson, dropping him dead for two whole hours, which only seemed to aggravate him further. I suspect that this was when he stopped liking me, for on his third day in class, he didn’t contain himself to his pleasurable hobbies but became disruptive. He whistled, whispered, whined and giggled a lot and, inevitably, the others noticed. At ‘class dismissed’ I asked him into my office once more and lectured him about people’s individual merits, our sense of self-worth and a whole lot more of psychological nonsense but to no avail. The kid was obviously in a world of his own and didn’t seem to take in a single word I said.

Painful as it was, I had to admit that I had given up on the child. So next time round, when the tearing and blowing, smudging and whistling – all at once - were in full swing, I calmly walked out of the classroom only to return with a broom which I handed over to him, telling him to get up and sweep all the paper scraps off the floor and then, kindly, leave the room. He got up alright but never swept the floor. Obviously embarrassed, he just walked out of the room and out of our lives at the same time. The dumb-found expression on the other kids’ faces still haunts me sometimes and I can’t help feeling sorry for the kid but what would you have done, dear Diary?

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