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 This is the first part of a short series of blog posts on the topic of Discipline. 

My first encounter with discipline problems was in my very first year of teaching – untrained, naive, ignorant as I was, I had to deal with two major crises:

The first one was the appearance of two teen sisters in my class one of who had a safety pin stuck through her cheek and the other an earring pinned to her cheek.

The second, was a 12-year-old student who grabbed hold of one of his classmates, let him dangle from the window of the third floor threatening to let go!


Having discipline problems?

Which of the following discipline problems do you face most often?

  •  Late to class
  •  Lack of attention
  •  Lack of participation
  •  Being rowdy
  •  No Homework
  •  Irony or sarcasm to one’s classmates
  •  Disrespectful behaviour to the teacher or classmates
  •  Physical damage or violence to one’s classmates or teacher
  •  Verbal violence to one’s classmates

Which of these learners are your learners?

Made with – the words in the word cloud have been taken from


But why do students behave “badly”?

There will be many different expressions of undisciplined behaviours; teachers of adults will find they have different problems to teachers of very young learners and they, in turn, will face different issues to teachers of teenage learners.

The causes of such behaviours have been the focus of many studies and much speculation in staffrooms; in ELT, very little gets written or researched on this subject and it is a pity, because a very large percentage of the student populations taught by ELT teachers around the world, are younger pupils and teens, and much more likely than adults to be unruly!

Some of the causes mentioned in various books, blogs, etc. include power thirst, or a desire to take the control away from the teacher; anger is also mentioned, which in turn may be caused by all sorts of issues at home or at school; attention seeking, either because a pupil feels attention is owed to them or perhaps because they do not get enough attention at home; issues of confidence or self-esteem are also mentioned, poor self esteem or overconfidence which may result in undisciplined behaviours.

It seems to me then that some of the reasons that students exhibit lack of discipline are caused by their home situation, others by their own self-perception or feelings.

But, oftentimes, lack of discipline may also be caused by the school environment itself or teacher behaviourswhich provoke it.

Most information sources  neglect to mention the teacher as a cause for lack of disciplne – yet students are often naughty due to

  • boredom
  • lack of interest
  • failure and more failure
  • lack of involvement
  • inability to understand or follow the class
  • the teacher’s personality
  • poor classroom management
  • etc

These are not reasons related necessarily to their own poor ability to learn but often to a teacher’s inability to support and explain or, worse, due to a bad relationship with the teacher herself/himself/

From Basic Grammar Worksbook 2, English Schoolbook Publications, ©Marisa Constantinides

What can teachers do?

There are two ways teachers can deal with discipline issues – proactively and reactively.

In this first post, I would like to begin with some of the proactive teacher actions, and discuss reactive action in a future one.

 Plan Discipline Problems away 


The Value of a Good Start

The first few days of any class are crucial for encouraging disciplined behaviours. From day one, set you class on the right track for good behaviour by being a positive role model yourself and by being on the ready to give warm praise to the slightest evidence of good behaviour!!!

Some Suggestions

  • Getting to know you activities (it’s easier to misbehave against people you don’t know) Most of the more recently produced coursebooks (if, of course, you are using one) provide a battery of such activities in the first unit. If you do not use materials which include such ideas, a quick stroll around the web with the key-words ‘getting to know you activities’ will yield hundreds of great activities, or you can create simple questionnaires yourself which will result in class posters, glogsters, wiki entries or simple class albums with everyone’s photos, achievements, hobbies and creative art work!
  • Encourage a collaborative learning environment Many teachers forget to introduce activities which train their students to do collaborative work; seating students around tables, for example, is a clear subliminal message that ‘in this class, we will be working together, in groups’; some positing thinking activities where students brainstorm and contribute ideas on the value of working together, should be a standard start of the year practice, in fact, a topic like that would make a great lesson anyway, in the age of connectivism!
  • Team building activities which will  bond the students together, give them a sense of group identity; team names appropriate to the age group; do please check out an older blog post on just this topic.
  • Disciplined behaviour is everyone’s business, not just the teacher’s. Get your students involved in collaborative projects in which they negotiate and make decisions on the rules of conduct of their class, the modus vivendi of their day-to-day existence; don’t be afraid they will go the other way; young pupils appreciate teachers with a firm (but kind) attitcude (see this evidence);  don’t be afraid they will come up with bad rules. What is certain is that your students will come up with some guidelines for good behaviour and those will be the ones they will respect (because they came from themselves) and those they can deal with (because they will be what they can deal with at their age and stage of conceptual development). Just make sure you

Explain the consequences of not following rules very clearly – your students may have their own ideas on this

Assign Responsibilities and duties to all

Ask them to list some school rules and say why these exist.

Tell them to think about their English class and brainstorm rules they think are a good idea.

To start them off, elicit and feed in ideas such as:

                            * Students should try to speak English whenever they can.

                            * The teacher should be patient with the students when they make mistakes

                            * Students should show respect to each other.

                            * The teacher should make his/her lessons interesting

  • Let them work in groups, perhaps making up five rules for the teacher and five for the students. Get the class to agree on the best rules. Make sure things you think are important are included!
  • Expected behaviour is made clear to everyone. It’s not enough to get students involved in creating the rules governing good conduct; these have to be visible, memorable, in full view and often reinforced, not though punishment, but through rewards. Get your students to make posters, glogsters, blogposts, a mission statement on the front page of their wiki; use Web 2.0 tools or apps that are age appropriate (or don’t use them – this post is not about technology really); use what is available and accessible to fulfill the principle behind the tool.
  • Use the rules & laws you have agreed on to write a student contract – everyone should agree on the terms of this contract and sign it, teacher included!

                         Rules and laws should be included in this contract

                         Ask students to be involved in rules and laws for good behaviour

                         Once the contract is agreed and written up, it should be signed by everyone*.

Parent Involvement 

Finally,  although in some cases this may be difficult, do try to involve your students’ parents as well; the younger your pupils, the more important this will be!

Translate your contract into the parents’ language and if you don’t speak it, get the pupils to translate it or use Google translate and have them edit the translation (they will be much more involved!)

* The idea of signing contracts is becoming more and more common in ELT

P.S. Are you wondering what I did as a young teacher? 

I don’t  blame you! I would be curious, too! Well, of course, I grabbed the dangling boy and rescued him. I think the horror in my eyes and the look of total disbelief I felt must have been so obvious to my student, that he turned bright red and whispered something I cannot even remember, then ran off and disappeared!

I was so flabbergasted that I went to my Director of Studies and asked her for advice – she told me that the boy (who was in fact one of my best students and always attentive and responsive in class) was too oppressed by school and home and she would take care of that, which was great! Subsequent to that, the boy went back to being an angel.

With the two sisters, I think I had gained a little bit of confidence in myself, so I called them out privately after the lesson and told them they looked great and very trendy but would they please refrain from wearing their new pins and stuff in the lesson as everyone was really curious and distracted by this sight because it was so new and modern!!!! 🙂

I still can’t believe I actually said that and they actually bought it!!!!

But, on looking back at how I taught this class, I can tell you for sure that my lessons suffered from every possible flaw I can think of – no need to go into all the gory details of what an untrained teacher can get up to!!!!

More on this in my next post

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