One of the most difficult tasks in teaching and one of the most break-or-make aspects is classroom management. How do you manage to deal with up to 15 bouncing, energetic, elementary students? Or even more difficult, 15 cricket-chirping quiet middle schoolers? We all know that you’re supposed to get the material in their heads but we also know that as much as anyone plans, nothing will go the way you plan. Therefore, how do we manage the class to teach them effectively? Well, there isn’t any one-step-easy method. I do, however, have a lot of tips that I have learned from my experience of teaching in Korea for nearly three years and for three Chungdahm branches. I have learned a lot from my many mentors, and I would like to share what I have learned with you. While some ideas might seem obvious, you would be surprised how difficult it can be. I will also do my best to give the tips, along with solid explanations of each tip. These tips can be separated into three categories: Organization, Professionalism, and Attitude, or, OPA (Gangnam Style)!
Arguably, the most important aspect of teaching is being organized. You need to be organized in three ways: self, classroom, and students.
For you to be organized, it means that you know what you are going to talk about. When I prepare for my class, I take notes on everything that I want to talk about. I have an idea that I want the students understand, and a list of ideas and questions that might lead them to the idea they need. Then I answer all of the questions, underline what keywords were necessary in finding the answer, and what line and paragraph the answer can be found in. Next, I look at all of the vocabulary words needed, and come up with a way to either explain, or show that vocabulary word to help the students understand the meaning the way it is used in the sentence. Once I am in class, I have the notes nearby, but try to remember the ideas I came up with. The most important thing about preparing for class and organizing are the ideas. Be flexible, and be ready to jump to different ideas, along with figuring out how to get them to the idea you want. It takes time, but it is actually really good for your brain to practice it.
- Classroom Setup:
Every day, when I come into my class, I check my attendance. I write the students’ names on the board and then take however many students there are, and arrange that many desks. If you have 15 desks in your class, but only 5 students, push 10 desks to the back, and have 5 in front of you, either in a U-shape, islands, rows, or for group projects in groups. This is because then students are going to sit where you want. They can’t sit in the back, they have to sit where you want. After you set up the desks, you should then create a seating chart. I change my seating chart every single day for every single class. I write their names on a blank piece of paper set on each desk. This way I learn their names, and I feel a closer connection to my students, realizing their personalities as I put them next to other students, thinking about how they will interact. You do not need to do this, but they do need a seating chart. My reasoning is that in order for students to learn effectively, they can not be next to students who distract them. They need to feel that you are in control, and this gives you that extra bit of power over your students. There might be one or two that want to be in power, but generally, your students need to feel comfortable in class. That means you need to be in control. Also, you will have students with a lot of energy, that talk too much, that don’t pay attention, or that you want to have in certain places to be good examples for quieter students. With this method in place from day one, you can have that power without losing your rapport with the students. Initially, if no other teachers do this in the branch, the students will complain, however do your best to stand your ground.
- Student Management:
In order to have a good class, and the students to have fun while they learn, they need to be controlled. By controlled, I mean that they are sitting in their seats, they are not distracted, they are not talking or playing with anyone else, they’re not eating or drinking during class, and they do not have their cell-phones. They are watching you, they are underlining keywords, they are taking notes, and they are participating. While this SEEMS really simple, it is actually really difficult to maintain. In order to gain the respect of the students right at the beginning of a terms you need to try your best to memorize your students’ names, and call them by their names. When a student does anything wrong, call them out on it immediately by name. You do not have to be extreme, but you need to notice bad behavior and let students know it is not okay. If students do something you see, and you do not do or say anything, you are essentially saying that it is okay. On the other side of the coin, you need to encourage students to do good things by name. After you have already explained the class rule about students raising their hands to speak, when a student does this, you should call out their name and say “(Jimmy) is raising his hand, I need more hands.” From here, you say that you need to see all hands up, calling students’ names as they raise their hands. This encourages participation, brings up your control over the students, and reinforces your rule.
I would like to also say, that you and your students are allowed to have fun. I have fun with my students every single day. I legitimately love my job. I get by every day telling myself, okay, now to have some fun! How do you have fun with such strict structure? Be fun. Be interesting. I always try to have a small point of information to share. I also have small games. For emphasis, small. I will say, “First student to raise their hand gets to read!” or “First student to stand up gets to read.” I don’t spend more than one minute on games, but it’s something to get the students moving and having fun. Remember to be fair though, and give all students a chance. Also, if your students love drawing, let them draw when it doesn’t matter. For example, I tell my students if they finish the vocabulary test early, to draw a silly picture, “Draw me as a dinosaur.” Sometimes, if they seem really tired, or you can tell they are having a bad day, throw in a dad joke. “Why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 ate 9.” They are allowed to be entertained, they are allowed to have fun, but make it learning focused. Sometimes you will lose control of your class. If all of your students are laughing, yelling will make them not like you. If you make all of your students laugh, they will like you. As long as you are the one in control, it is okay. If you are not in control, pretend that you are and laugh with them, then bring them back to the subject of the day.
Lastly, most students are wonderful and are hard workers but there are some that need help. It does not make them bad. They just need the skills, the patience, and the knowledge. If you notice your students are really struggling to participate, it probably means that you're going to fast. So, slow down and emphasize your words.
One issue that I have seen is that some teachers come off as way too relaxed. They don’t have any rigidness with their students. If this is the case, their students tend to walk all over them, don’t respect them, or they become overwhelmed. Obviously, no one wants this to happen. While you don’t have to be super rigid (I definitely am not), you need to show to your students that this is your JOB. You are their TEACHER. You are not a student, a friend, or just some random person without any authority to teach what you’re teaching. So, how do you do this?
First, dress nice. Not over the top, but for guys, button up shirt, or polo, dark pants or khakis. For both genders, no jeans, unless your manager says it’s okay, and decent shoes either plain black or white. I prefer nice black athletic shoes, as anything less hurts my feet. Black jeans are sometimes okay, if they look nice and can’t be seen as much different from dress up pants. Just be wise about it.
Second, when you talk, make eye contact, use hand gestures, and don’t mumble. When you move, make the movement. Don’t just walk around. Stand up straight. Don’t say um. Face your students. Don’t eat in front of your students, that’s rude.
While these rules will help with professionalism, they are not all rules. And the rules at whatever branch you go to might be different. These ideas are to help you to do the best that you can. The other thing teachers don’t realize is that they need to be careful about what they say. Not only to students, but to other teachers. If you want to be successful, you need to be careful with your words. They make up how people view you.
When you start your new job, you need to know that parents spend top dollar to have their students be taught by YOU. That means that you need to have the attitude of success. First, you need to have the attitude of a learner. You need to ask the right questions and you also need to study the material given to you. Take notes, highlight, separate ideas, create and practice writing and speaking for yourself. Teachers who give their best effort, even if they aren’t very good at teaching, often do better than those with the ability but don’t have a good attitude.
Second, you need to instill that attitude into your students as well. It is extremely difficult to get a good job in Korea. Therefore, students all over are scrambling to be the best. They are meeting you so that they might be successful. Explain to them that you are here to do just that. Talk about world class universities, and about good jobs to get. Push them into a good direction. Help them to grow.
I hope that you use my tips. It has taken me a long time to figure these out, but I have been given solid feedback that these tips work. I also have a very good reputation with my students as being fun, but learning focused.
Neil Frazer has been teaching with Chungdahm for a little over two years. He comes from a small town in Wisconsin, named Spooner and graduated from Olivet Nazarene University with a Bachelor's of Social Work. After traveling to Korea in college he quickly fell in love the culture, food, and quality of life that Korea has to offer and immediately knew he wanted to come back. He looks forward to sharing his experiences of living in Korea and working at the Pyeongchon branch, near Seoul.