What would you do? Please contribute!!


May 18, 2011 by k. liz

So . . . we have only one and a half weeks left before final exams! That’s crazy. This year has gone by really quickly. I am wondering about some of you other teachers out there, and how you deal with some of the following problems. I’m going to give you some of my reactions, but I’d love to hear some of the strategies that you have used or use presently! And, just to let you know up front, I’m still in my first year, so I have not really established my best strategies yet . . . so please cut me a little slack!!

1. Late Students: 
My favorite strategy thus far has been to charge students for being late. But, I must say that after 7 weeks, and after racking up close to 50 TL, I am reluctant to keep taking money from my students.
I also sometimes just stare the student down, or ignore them altogether. Try to find a way to make them feel remorse for interrupting me and not considering my class.
Sometimes I ask the student a question as soon as they walk in the door to put them on the spot and make them sweat, hoping it won’t happen again. (I must say that this is a huge problem at my school, and I have not found a way to effectively combat it yet. It really stems from a lack of respect and the fact that they see no importance in learning English!)

2. Speaking the L1 in the classroom:
Honestly, I don’t have a good strategy to combat this yet, so please give me some suggestions!! I am still learning Turkish, so I cannot understand everything that they are saying, but I do understand a bit of what they say to me in Turkish, and sometimes I just force them to ask me in English and refuse to respond to them until they do so.

3. Not doing homework:
My strategy was to stop giving homework. Really, it was so discouraging to start every class with a lecture about how it is important to do homework, and try to find a system to manage everyone who did not do homework, that I decided it was better to have a profitable class with everyone working together rather than start the class angry and frustrated.
Seriously, I had a class whose only homework was this: choose a speech topic and write three questions about that topic. (10 minutes, right?) NOT A SINGLE PERSON DID HOMEWORK.

4. Refusing to work in class:
I know this won’t work in every class, but I have University students who really should be taking command of their own learning. This week, I have taken to just throwing out the students who don’t want to work. I have a handful that are really working hard and it is wasting their time and money for me to just stand there and argue with the stubborn students who think that it doesn’t matter what they do, someone will pass them anyway.

5. Not bringing books:
I sometimes charge for this as well. But, really, my students are happy to not bring their books if that means they will not have to listen and follow along. I know that when I was a student, if I didn’t have my book, then I was sad because I could not participate. That ideology is not very present here, so I have to buddy up my students or bring copies of the book to class. (I also have one my books on my computer, so I often project it onto the board.)
Otherwise, I will send my students out to find a friend who has the book and borrow it for the hour.

6.  Asking to erase absences: 
This is actually the reason I wrote this post! I have encountered this problem so much in the past few days. Our students are allowed 36 absences over the course of 7 weeks of class. They are in class an average of 30 hours a week. So, they can miss more than one week of classes. However, our students view that as “I have 36 times that I want to be on facebook, or I want to chat with my friends that I can sit outside in the hallway and just not go to class.” Then, when they feel ill, they come to class, try to make me feel bad for them, and sleep the entire lesson.
The recent problem is that on the weekends, students will come to me and tell me about a family emergency or a wedding, or a holiday, and they can’t go to their hometown because they have too many absences and if they have too many absences they will fail Level B, again. So, they plead with me, they try to tell me that other teachers will erase their absences, they say that they won’t talk to me if I don’t erase their absences, they try everything in the book. Sometimes, I am cheated out of my whole 10 minute break between classes because students are begging me to erase those absences. I refuse to do this! For two reasons: 1) Because of my integrity, and 2) Because I cannot keep track of the students I allow to once, and the ones I don’t!
The only time I have ever changed an absence was when I changed the time of the class, and a student legitimately did not know. But, I am getting worn down (I know, I only have a week left!) But, I am getting worn down, and I’m afraid I’m about to crack just to get the students to stop asking me!! What do you think?

So, what are you responses to these situations? What do you do? Or what are some other difficulties you face in your area of education. If I get a lot of responses, I will try to compile them into another post of ideas on how to deal with difficult situations in class.

Thanks ahead of time!


7 thoughts on “What would you do? Please contribute!!

  1. Ceri says:

    Wow! Long list 🙂
    I’m going to tackle them one at a time I think!
    being late (I’d make loads of money in my classes!)
    1) try to make sure the class starts with a fun, everyone on their feet being active type of activity so that late comers feel like they’re missing out on the fun.
    2) talk about it – they might have legitimate reasons for being late – if they’re kids, maybe it’s their parents’ fault (being a parent I know I’m guilty sometimes)
    3) and then turn it into a game – get them all , the whole class, writing the best, most extravagant excuses and apologies – make sure u always get a good excuse from then on

    gonna try and come back later to tackle number 2!

    • kylieliz says:

      Thanks so much Ceri!
      I’ve gotta say – I got kind of discouraged after taking money for a few weeks. It became more of a game rather than a punishment!
      I like your ideas. The one thing that I struggle with in my school is that my students will freely lie to me about where they were. For example, I might look over the balcony and see my student in the canteen eating breakfast, and he will walk in 10 minutes later and tell me that the bus was late!!
      I like your idea of having something exciting at the beginning of class. That will take a bit more discipline on my part, as I usually want to wait until I have the majority of the class before I start. Thanks for the advice! I’ll have to try it out this week!!

      • Ceri Jones says:

        Hi again, know what you mean about wanting to wait for the majority, but then it’s not fair on those who do get there on time – if it’s YLs/younger teens I often play one of their favourite games, and then stop very soon after the latecomers arrive – at least the early ones feel that it’s worth being punctual that way 😉

        Gonna come back again later, but here’s a link to a post I wrote about non-homework doers six or seven weeks ago http://cerij.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/the-dog-ate-it/ – didn’t really solve the situation, but at least we had a bit of fun!

      • Kelly says:

        Wow! What a load of questions…I think every EFL teacher struggles with these issues, no matter how long they’ve been teaching. Regarding the students speaking L1 in the classroom, this is the technique I always tried: I made a small sign with the American flag on one side and the country where I was flag on the other. The first 5 min, were used for discussing any doubts, news, whateverin the L1 language, and as soon as the sign was flipped to the American flag, it was a clear signal that only English was allowed. I always tried to leave a few min at the end to address any questions or give homework in the L1.
        Also, I noticed the students always asked the same question “Can I have a pen?” “Can I go to the bathroom”, and although they knew how to say it in English, they wouldn’t. So again, I went back to sign-making and made some big signs with common phrases on it. So anytime someone asked me a question in their L1, I’d just point to the sign.

        Good luck!

      • kylieliz says:

        Wow! That’s an awesome idea! Thanks for the tip. Has that worked well for you? I think it sounds very inventive, and giving them some of what they want may make it easier to get what you want in return. We’re not technically supposed to have any signs on the walls here in my school now, but I also only have 2 weeks left, and I’m pretty sure next year my room will be plastered with posters like the one you mentioned with common phrases. Thanks!

  2. Wow! So it’s not just me! 🙂

    I agree with Kelly that many of the problems you mentioned are almost ubiquitous in our profession and I don’t know a single colleague who hasn’t had to deal with them.

    At the moment I’m teaching 13-18 year-old students in Argentina. I’ll go through your point one-by-one though I can’t say I’ve got solutions to these problems, not by a long stretch. 😛

    1. Lateness. I have a class which I share with another teacher and unfortunately I am far more lenient when it comes to their timekeeping than my colleague. So this problem seems best combated by meticulous record keeping. In pre-sessional university courses I’ve taught elsewhere this approach has certainly helped and it requires an almost sadistic following of the rules – 30 seconds late = marked late.

    2. Speaking L1 is a difficult one because I’ve told some students off for speaking in L1 only to find out they were actually explaining the work or a difficult point that were are covering in the class. I know that the idea is total immersion but if we absolutely insisted on that then our classes would probably be a lot slower. L1 allows students who do understand a point to transfer that knowledge, or that complicated idea on to their classmates who have not quite grasped it. Struggling and coping with L2 only is good, but frustration and annoyance in the classroom is not.

    Also, there have been other embarrassing times when I’ve told students off for speaking in L1 only to have the whole class swear that the student was using English. Upon further observation I realize that it was a thick accent that deceived me and that I was, in fact, in the wrong.

    3. Again, meticulous record keeping seems to be the way forward here. Sorry, my suggestions here are no quick fix and can be quite mentally draining. Having a record of not-done homework so it is on paper can sometimes scare the students into action.

    With regards to this and lateness or absences, an “I don’t care” approach could be very effective. A digital “done/not done” or “present/late/absent” (not digital, I know) approach where you visibly switch off and shut down excuses before they get more than a few words in, quickly sends a message that their excuses just won’t work.

    4. Yep. I agree. Kick them out of the class. But also, I’d probably also make it known that their dismissal will be recorded in the register. Again, an everything on paper approach to back you up when confronting them.

    5. Actually, I had this yesterday. One student didn’t have the book (a capable English user but he knows it and he’s lazy and has an attitude in class) so I stared him down, told him there was no reason for him to be in class and said he might as well go home. EVERYONE was shocked when I didn’t back down and he left… then promptly came back in, asked if he could come back in if he picked up the book from his house (I said yes), so he went home, got the book and was back in class within about 15 minutes.

    I haven’t had problems with the students asking me to erase absences but in general I will say this. I don’t think a completely zero tolerance approach is as harsh as we might think. While you will end up punishing some good students or honest mistakes once or twice, those couple of bad marks will not hurt the students’ overall records. The issue of fairness is a very important one and I know a lot of the time I avoid harsh or due punishment just in case I have to punish a really good student. But overall I think the good students won’t hold it against you and the more problem students will see that they are not being victimized – as they often feel they are being.

    Sorry for the long post.

    • kylieliz says:

      Thanks so much for all of your thoughts!! I really appreciate the time you put into answering these questions – and for me too, it is encouraging to realize there are others of you out there who are struggling with the same things!! I think I need to be more meticulous in my record keeping, My institution does not actually enforce this, but that is no reason why I cannot. Thanks for the suggestions!!

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