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.