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Updated: Oct 13, 2020

You've just signed your first official contract to teach English abroad! Congratulations! Now, it's time to get ready to teach in the classroom. English classes are like seashells on the beach — all of them are shells, but they are all very different. Some classes are filled with angels who listen, sit well, pay utmost attention, and others with naughty students. To be sure, effective teaching requires considerable skill in managing the myriad of tasks and situations that occur in the classroom each day. Practical classroom management skills are central to teaching and need a good sense of judgment, consistency, and an often undervalued teacher behavior - a sense of fairness and courage. These skills also require that teachers understand their students' psychological and developmental levels. The skills associated with effective classroom management are acquired with practice, feedback, and a willingness to learn from mistakes. The learning curve is steep, indeed. Here are some tips on how to handle challenging student behavior and get back to class.


Sharing expectations with your students is vital in the classroom. I spoke to Dr. Norman Hart, Operations manager at Houhai English, about how expectations are essential in the classroom. "Teachers are held to a high standard so students can learn. Student to teacher expectations are also essential in the classroom." The best way of establishing expectations that stick with the students is through classroom rules. 

On the right, Dr. Norman Hart, handing a teacher training certificate to Shalom, a trainer and teacher at Houhai English

Classroom rules are a must for classroom management. It is best to present classroom rules at the beginning of the class. Dr. Hart stresses the importance of creating measurable rules in the classroom. "Don't put up a rule to not cry in class." Rules should be measurable with positive reinforcement. For example, instead of presenting "no Chinese" as a rule in the classroom, use "English only" instead. Creating positive reinforcements leaves negative enforcement out of the classroom.

Adrian, a teaching quality management and teacher at Houhai English, explains how he uses classroom rules to maximize classroom energy. "I tend more to the side of high energy in my classes — which is also my downfall at times. With younger kids especially, when their energy gets too high up, it's hard to bring them back down. That's why it's important to have rules in the classroom. So, when the kids get out of control, you can point to the rules. When I first started, I underestimated the power of rules, but it's proven to be highly effective."

Adrian, teaching quality management and teacher

It's good to have the rules written up on the board at the beginning of each class. The kids need the rules written and concrete. When the kids misbehave, those rules are always there to direct their attention.


When it comes to classroom management, consistency is critical. If the students don't believe in your direction, they will opt to misbehave. They know they can get away with misbehaving when there is no consistency in the classroom. Presenting rules is equally important as implementing them consistently. 

Consistency is also essential for teachers to build trust. At the end of the day, they are kids. Each day is a new day to try again. Having a clear structure in the class creates a natural way to be consistent.


Communication in the classroom helps facilitate trust between the students and teacher and a complimentary class report. I spoke with Kathy, a Chinese English teacher, and trainer at Houhai English. Kathy informed me she always starts with a smile. She behaves kind and gentle in her class until someone continues to misbehave. "I give a disapproving stare. It can work wonders on a student who is off task. A bright smile for a student who is having a bad day means more than he will ever reveal."

Kathy, Chinese English teacher and trainer at Houhai English

Communication can also help facilitate optimal learning environments. Clear and concise delivery of lessons allows for a smooth communication line. Opening up dialogue in the classroom is vital, allowing students to share ideas and ask questions without judgment.


Motivation is the key to creating a successful and engaging learning environment. Dr. Hart says motivation and creating a nurturing environment is fundamental. He mentions that the words we use in the class can be mighty, especially if a teacher wants to redirect a misbehaving student. "If you want a student to sit down, you need to use your voice in a way where it gets the students to do what you want out of respect. When redirecting kids, you often want to say things that can promote good behavior. It's not what you say, but how you say it. They are challenged already learning English as a second language," Dr. Hart explains.

Kathy adds, " To motivate ESL students, we must praise them. Praising students maximizes their confidence."

Adrian talked about learning to never give up on students from personal experience. "Every day is a new day. We start fresh and can try again. I have a student named Kiki, who is always misbehaving. Kiki is a great reader, so I allow him to read a lot because it gives me the chance to praise him and make him feel good."


Rewarding students is another great technique in classroom management. Students tend to have a competitive nature. Using stars or a reward system immediately gives the student an incentive to learn and engage well in class. Earning stars is a great way to reward good excellent behavior. That way, if naughty students begin to feel like they are the only ones not earning stars, it might give them an incentive to behave better.

"I use stars and stickers in my class. For every ten stars a student receives in class, they will get a sticker. I try to hook them with something tangible." Kathy explains. 

Rewards create incentives leading to positive classroom management and more learning in the classroom!


The energy in the classroom can dictate strong classroom management in the classroom. 

Adrian tells us more about how this technique works in his classroom. " I always subscribe to the rollercoaster theory. I bring the energy up, and then bring the energy down. For example, we start to play a game, and then they get all riled up. That's when I begin to bring the energy down. I make sure to do this throughout the whole class. Bring the energy up, then back down." 

Kathy also spoke about the power of entertainment. She uses select educational games, some of which keep the students from speaking Chinese but only use English in the classroom. "If a student keeps speaking Chinese in class, we begin to play a game. I write all their names on the board. Anytime a student speaks Chinese, they lose a letter in their name. I know it sounds very simple, but the kids tend to freak out when their name changes from 'Tony' to 'ony.' All the kids laugh, and the students make sure not to speak Chinese or lose their name."

Energy can also help in gaining full class control. Kathy makes sure to use her voice intonation and physical reaction to better control her classes. "If you're feeling stressed in the classroom or things are getting out of control, increase your voice, of course, not in a threatening manner. Your intonation can help a lot in controlling the class."

There are other class management techniques not mentioned here. Every class report is different; finding what works for a particular class is always important. When classroom management is under control, the best learning is well underway.

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