The Classroom Management Experiment: Day 1

I guess one of my biggest complaints about teaching in public schools has always been the disciplinary situation. I have an expectation that students will behave a certain way, and that teachers will enforce certain rules, and it’s been challenging for me to realize that things aren’t going to just start working properly by themselves.

As it turns out I am actually rather shy and I hate asserting myself and I really hate doing anything that could be perceived as bossing other people around. So going into a school and demanding that my coteachers enforce American-style discipline on Georgian students would be very out of character for me. However, it’s been a long and painful struggle for me to realize that I can’t make these classrooms into positive learning environments without enlisting my coteachers’ help, which in turn means that I have to tell my coteachers what I think a good classroom environment is and how I think we should enforce it.

In other words, I would have had to basically tell these teachers how to run their classrooms.

But TLG really saved my butt on this one. At the beginning of this school year they issued course programs, which stated a bunch of stuff like learning objectives, grade level, how to calculate an arithmetic mean, etc., but the most important thing in my book was that they contained classroom rules along with penalties for breaking the rules. Each student was to have a course program signed by the student, teacher, and parents, so that everyone involved in the student’s education was (literally) on the same page.

So my expectation going forward from that point was that my coteachers would start implementing these rules. However, as far as I can tell my coteachers have never even seen these. At one point, I attempted to enforce some rules, and for my trouble I got a letter from a parent to my school director complaining about the new American teacher and his crazy ideas about rule enforcement. I had already complained to TLG about classroom management and they suggested that one thing they could do would be to call my director and make sure that all of the students and their parents had read and signed the Course Programs, which as I said include the class rules and penalties. I was told that the parents had indeed seen these things – and the student in question was super well-behaved for like two weeks after this whole thing went down, given that his behavior was reported to my director by the Ministry of Education, which I’m sure made no one happy.

In any case, things continued in the same vein for a while – with me intermittently trying to take a stand on classroom management and ending up embarrassed because no one knew what I was trying to do or why – and so I finally asked my coteacher for the fifth grade (my younger students make no trouble at all) if we could meet and discuss this stuff. We did, and I showed her the course program (with which she was not at all familiar) and explained that the Ministry expected me to enforce these rules, and I asked if we could maybe discuss them with the class together since I didn’t think that the students were really aware of them and what they meant, and I further asked if we could begin enforcing penalties if the students didn’t follow the rules. She agreed.

So today, in class, before the lesson, we wrote four class rules on the board (I edited these a little for content and clarity, but the basic gist is the same):

1. Listen to your teachers.
2. Don’t call out! Speak only when you are called on.
3. Stay at your seats.
4. Respect your classmates and teachers.

We explained these rules, in English and Georgian, and I clarified with examples. Then I told the students that today we would practice following the rules and that next week (they’re off tomorrow) we would start penalizing rulebreakers.

After two classes like this – with me enforcing the rules and pointing to the board where they were written when necessary – my coteacher told me that the rules actually seemed to work and class went much better.

I have to admit, I didn’t expect to have success after one day. If I did, I might have done this earlier (like on my first day, for example.) The only reason why I didn’t, to tell the truth, is that I thought that the students had already been told the rules, because I thought that they had all signed these Course Programs.

So the thing that really works about these Course Programs, in my opinion, is that they are from the Ministry, they are in writing, and they contain enough rules and penalties to enable us to run an effective classroom. TLG officials are quick to say that they don’t have control over the teachers – TLG can’t fire anyone, or really do anything except make polite requests – but to our teachers, The Ministry represents the big central power that is feared and obeyed, and TLG is close enough to The Ministry that documents that TLG issues carry a lot of weight.

As a result, any TLG volunteer can go to any coteacher and truthfully say, “these are the rules that my bosses at the Ministry want me to enforce, and I have to report back every month on how that’s going.” This is a big help for people who are shy about imposing themselves or don’t know where to start with getting coteachers on board for discipline.

So, like I said, classroom management has already improved, just today alone. In the future, I would like to implement other rules, such as a rule about keeping extraneous material off the desks (no phones, food, books from other classes, coats, bags, etc.) and then maybe a rule about punctuality. But one step at a time. For now I’m going to focus on keeping them from backsliding. We’ll see how it goes.

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8 Responses to The Classroom Management Experiment: Day 1

  1. Mach says:

    TLG staff seems quite organized, nice. Anyway, what exactly are the penalties you plan to use?

  2. It’s good to see people making an effort to implement classroom management in Georgian schools but unfortunately this is one of those problems that requires a top -> down solution.

    You won’t get far helping these kids until the directors get their act together.

    • panoptical says:

      I disagree. So far (and it’s only been a week) we’ve made a measurable difference in the classroom by just listing and sticking to a few rules. I think that my experience is far from unusual – I’ve heard a lot of TLG volunteers talk about how they’ve managed to succeed to some degree in bringing discipline to their classroom.

      I think if the teachers see our methods working and engaging the students they might adopt them on their own without having to be told by the directors – especially if it is both more effective and makes their lives easier.

  3. Pingback: Stuck in an Elevator | Georgia On My Mind

  4. Any says:

    As a fellow TLG, I would certainly need some help. Any ideas on what to do with 5th and 6th graders, whose behaviour is out of control? To make matters worse, co-teacher only yells and refuses to bring a mandatori in, as it will show she is bad teacher.
    I tried to establish the rules: speak only when spoken to, raise a hand, do not shout or yell, listen to each other, with the penalties of being sent to stand in the corner, to see a mandatori or being sent to see the principal. However, so far, no luck and I face the screaming students on one side and a yelling teacher on the other every. single. day. Any suggestions?

    Also, do you know where to get this “Rules and regulations and penalties” guide for TLG? I’d love to show it to my co-teachers, perhaps then my suggestions would have a bit more of a weight.

    • panoptical says:

      The rules suggestions are in the Course Programs – they were emailed out to all volunteers so if you haven’t gotten them I’d suggest you email TLG and ask for that email.

      If you’re having persistent classroom management problems, and you’ve spoken to your coteachers and director about them, then you should definitely email or call your regional representative or the TLG academic team and let them know. They can make suggestions and if you give them permission they’ll intervene on your behalf too (usually this is a call to the director, but they’ll also do things like come to your school and serve as an intermediary if you are having trouble with the language barrier).

      You should also put this stuff in the reports, but keep in mind those aren’t read until the tenth of the month so if you need more urgent help, phone or email would be best.

      By the way, have you been in Georgia long? I ask because your written English has a lot of the same features as Georgian written English – British spelling, misplaced or missing determiners, a couple of comma splices, and incomplete mastery of idiomatic or complex grammatical structures. If I had to guess I’d say that if you aren’t actually Georgian, you’re definitely going native 🙂

      • Any says:

        Aha, well, that explains it, I must have either not received it and missed the notion of having or I accidentally lost the file. Anyways, I’ll write to TLG and ask them to send it to me again.

        If I were Georgian or pracitising it, I’d take it as a compliment, but as I am not, I’ll take it as a hint to improve my non-native-English skills, especially as I most probably use the grammar structures from my own native language, which are somewhat different from English 🙂

        Btw, I did have a very quick reaction to my report from October, which I submitted a day before the final deadline and received a call the next day. And they did call the principal and talked with that person and my teacher. However, the disciplinary problems are something that are not entirely the fault of my co-teacher, more like a combination of factors. But I’ll sure try the “writing the rules on the blackboard”, I just hope I won’t get any nonsense from my local teacher, she tends to dismiss my ideas 🙂

  5. engli021 says:

    Hello there,

    I realise this is a bit of a late comment on this post but I have just come across your blog for the first time.

    Nice work! I enjoyed reading it a lot!

    I especially found it interesting that you are experiencing what seem to be the same problems I am having in Turkey.

    Actually I should say ‘was having’ because thankfully I have found a solution! And I am writing to share it with you! This might turn into a fairly long post, but hopefully it is worth it! Its difficult to explain how amazing this classroom management solution has been for me and I really hope it will help someone else.

    I think part of the problems we have with classroom management is systemic and part of it is cultural. As native teachers effectively supplementing the local teachers ‘core’ material we suffer from the supply teacher syndrome.
    I don’t know about you but we didn’t even give tests for the material we taught as native teachers, a fact which the kids quickly realised and took advantage of. There isn’t really a clear laid out procedure of consequences for bad behaviour and there doesn’t seem to be a school wide policy on discipline type issues. Local teachers have the threat of reporting to parents or affecting report cards etc whereas foreign language teachers tend to sit outside of these systems and therefore have limited tools to use to encourage students to behave in the expected ways.

    With regard to the cultural aspect I mentioned above I am referring to an observation that Turkish adults tend to shout over each other and all talk at the same time during staff meetings, so it is hardly surprising that we can’t get the kids to have an organised conversation in the classroom, taking turns and listening to each other. We have to accept that we will never change cultural behaviours and find ways to adapt and live within them. Clearly a massive challenge and a major factor in determining an individuals ability to work abroad successfully.

    There is also a challenging paradox. Our remit from the English department powers that be was to ‘just get them talking’, meaning in English and on topic presumably. But I spent most of my time telling them to shut up!

    I spent most of last year battling with grade 6 and 7 students and I felt like I was wasting my time. No matter how interesting and creative I made my lesson plans I could not get them settled long enough to teach them anything.
    It was a hopeless situation and I was on the brink of quitting many times. Pushed to my limits, I lost my temper several times and, with it, any shred of respect from the kids.

    So I went in search of a solution.

    I found a methodology which I had never come across before but instantly recognised as something which would address my specific challenges.

    I was excited but also apprehensive.

    The method does require the teacher to step out of their comfort zone and try something new and this is never easy. Especially if there is a class that you really dread going into. The thought of doing something a little risky is pretty daunting. So I started with a class I felt was one of the better ones. More open to having fun and going along with something new. The effect was incredible! Virtually 100% student engagement in the lesson and 100% of the lesson time spent on topic.

    I could not wait to try it with another class. The results were the same, and in the worst of worst classes the results were even better!

    So I will give a brief introduction to the first key steps but there is a lot more to it than this!

    The first step is the attention grabber. Whenever you say CLASS! they must respond instantly with YES! and stop whatever they are doing and look at you. It might not work perfectly the first time but as you work through the following steps it will get better and better. One way to engage them is to add an element of fun. So tell them that however you say CLASS they have to say YES in the same way. Then try CLASS CLASS, and see if you get YES YES. If not practice it again. All the time they are getting used to doing exactly what you say, when and how you want them to. Then try a very deep voice, or a high pitched ladies voice. They will be smiling and giggling and so will you.

    Once they have that nailed you introduce the rules.

    There are 5 simple rules that cover pretty much any situation in a classroom.

    Rule 1: Follow directions quickly
    Rule 2: Raise your hand for permission to speak
    Rule 3: Raise your hand for permission to leave your seat
    Rule 4: Make smart choices
    Rule 5: Keep your dear teacher happy

    Now the key to this approach is that each rule has a physical action to go with it. The actions are fun to do and also help students remember what the rules are. Matching gestures to key learning objectives is a central idea to the whole brain teaching method.

    We all know that different students have different learning styles and that there are various types of memory. So the ‘whole brain teaching’ method integrates a variety of ways to communicate information, which simultaneously activates a variety of brain areas, offers ample repetition and thus leads to longer lasting, better quality memories.

    A key element is the amount of repetition. Thinking back over all the classes I have taught in all the different settings I wonder how much I have really allowed students to repeat new material and really absorb what I have taught. In my current school we have some much course material to get through that we have to cram as much information as possible into a lesson and move on, without giving students the proper opportunity to really learn it.

    Once you have introduced the rules with the gestures/actions and repeated them several times, you are ready for TEACH-OK.

    When ever you say TEACH they class must respond instantly with OK! However you say TEACH they have to say OK in the same way. Try two claps and TEACH and practise until you get every student replying with two claps and then OK! They then turn to their neighbour and teach the rules to each other using the gestures.

    This creates a lot of noise and activity but there is nothing better than the sweet sound of kids on task, communicating with each other in English with big smiles on their faces!

    To be honest once I mastered it and I was able to integrate the techniques naturally into the flow of a lesson I was able to tone down some of the more extraverted (silly voice) elements. However, in the beginning I think the more of a performance you can give the more dramatic the effect and the more the kids will be eating out of your hand.

    Whole brain teaching incorporates:

    1. a teaching technique which helps the learners acquire more information in a shorter space of time and with a deeper more long lasting memory imprint.
    2. a classroom management technique which makes the kids actually enjoy following the rules!

    It is so simple and practical to use but there is also a huge amount of opportunity to progress to various more advanced levels.

    It has been tested successfully by hundreds of thousands of teachers all over the world, and speaking from personal experience has saved at least one life!

    I recommend you watch plenty of videos on youtube and read the e-books before you try it out because its important to know how to deal with various things that will come up while you use it, and it will be more successful long term for you and the students if you have done some research first. The main website it http://www.wholebrainteaching.com. Register as a user to access the free videos section, and a search for ‘whole brain teaching’ or ‘Chris Biffle’ on youtube for tons of videos.

    I really hope this is useful and let me know if you decide to give it a try!

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