Rules for Classrooms

At the moment I am getting ready for the start of a new course. One of the things I always tell my students on the first day of any course are my three golden rules.

  1. Don’t panic.
  2. Don’t die.
  3. Don’t kill the teacher.

While these three rules seem simple they cover a lot of ground. I rank them in order of importance. Let’s look at them a little closer.

Don’t Panic

When a student panics or gets flustered, they stop enjoying their class and instead focus on their mistakes. Panic is the first step in a negative cycle which reduces the chance of learning. Panic reduces the students willingness to take risks and make mistakes, both of which are essential in language learning.

Don’t Die

This one has a couple of levels to it. At the simplest level, it means that a student shouldn’t do anything which is dangerous. On another level, it can mean don’t spend so long studying that you don’t get a good night’s sleep. It can also mean that students treat each other with a degree of respect.

Don’t Kill the Teacher

The students always get a big laugh out of this one. However it is serious. Students can kill the teacher in a variety of ways; pressuring the teacher to answer too many questions in rapid-fire, or not waiting for the teacher to have time to go and talk to them. Anything which increases your stress as a teacher increases the chances of you losing focus and getting in the way of helping a student to learn rather than facilitate the learning.

If you think back on some of the most common discipline problems you have faced or classroom management issues you have dealt with, I am sure you could relate those to the three basic rules. For example, for a student who is always late, you go to talk to them and the first thing you do is remind them of rule number one. Then you relate being late back to rules 2 and 3, “By being late, you are losing points and I am worried you will not get the grade you deserve. When you are late it makes me frustrated and makes it more difficult for me to help you and your class.”

So, those are my golden rules, and they get spelled out with examples on the very first day.

I also have some guidelines for myself. Always try to apply the rules in a productive manner. Punishment does not achieve anything but alienating the student. Provide a way for the student to regain your trust and confidence after they have broken a rule. Apply the rules fairly and openly; explain to the best of your ability why a rule has been broken and how.

The biggest guideline I have is that rules you establish for your students must equally apply to you. If you have a rule about no cellphones in your classroom, you must model that behavior, and if you forget or break a rule you should be held accountable by yourself. Part of the reasons I don’t use too many punishments is because I know I will forget the rules and end up having to apply them to myself. If you do break a rule make sure you point it out and that you bring in your extra work or apologise to the class. Rules that only apply to the students are unfair and create a two tiered classroom that is counter productive.

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