27

I am new to teaching. Recently I was given the opportunity to teach at my own university (I am currently doing an MPhil from my university). If a teacher fails to control his students once, he wouldn't be able to control them until the end of semester.

This is my first time in teaching and I am afraid that my students would get out of my control. They wouldn't listen to me, would misbehave and wouldn't let me give my lecture without interruption.

Please advise me the best way to keep my cool and prevent my students from getting out of control.

EDIT: I have not started teaching yet. I'll be starting my classes from next week.

EDIT2: The students are Bachelors students. I don't actually want to control them. I just want to maintain discipline in my class. I want to prevent misbehavior in my class. I have seen students not listening to new teachers and just pass the whole lecture passing comments.

  • 13
    Are you teaching young children? Seriously, though, coming in with that frame of mind (need to control students) will probably not suit you well. – Thomas Jul 24 '13 at 6:04
  • @thomas I just want to maintain discipline in my class.I don't want things to get out of my hands(as I have seen happen several times when I was studying)The students are in their Bachelors degree. – zzzzz Jul 24 '13 at 6:09
  • @Thomas: I guess the downside of widening access to higher education, is that it's not longer the case the only people in class are the ones interested in learning something. There are also people who attend university because it's the thing you do, and then are herded into class more-or-less against their will, just like young children at school. In a previous age they'd simply waste their parents' money and skip class ;-p But it's still true that you at least don't need to approach it as a crowd-control job. – Steve Jessop Aug 24 '14 at 11:45
26

First, realize that the main reason they might misbehave is the same as every one else, whether they are 4, 14, 24 or 94 years old: they will be distracted if they are not interested, bored. Conjectural factors surely also play a role (if it's nap time, for example), but if you get them interested you increase dramatically your chances of having a well-behaved audience.

Now, with regards to exercising your authority on a crow, the principles are again pretty much the same for 4 years old and 20 years old:

  1. Immediately assume a position of authority. You have to be convinced that you naturally assume this authority before you go to the class. It derives from two factors:

       a. By naming you a lecturer, your university gave you authority over the lecture room. Be ready, but not overly eager, to exercise it.

       b. This authority also derives from your skills and knowledge: you are an authority on the topic you are lecturing. To maintain this, you have to be prepared to teach your topic.

  2. Be consistent. Lay out a set of rules, explain them, and enforce them. They have to appear justified and reasonable to the students, so that you can enforce them if need be. Always put things back in perspective: why are we here, and how this justifies what I do.

    To give an example: I always start by explaining that “I will not shout, because my voice doesn't allow me to go through the whole lecture shouting. Thus, if the noise level meets the point where I would need to shout, I will simply stop lecturing.” Standing there, silent, is a very effective way to lead the group to self-discipline (“hey, guys, shush!”). If necessary, I will remind them that even if I cover less material, the exam still covers the whole planned curriculum…

  3. Be pragmatic. If things are going bad for some external circumstances, be prepared to make a justified exception to the rules, for the benefit of everyone. For example, if it's Friday afternoon and all students are exhausted from a week of exams, giving them 10 minutes off in the middle of a two-hour lecture might lead to overall improved productivity.

But most importantly, realize that while first impression is important, it is not “do or die”. Even as an experienced teacher, sometime you will underperform a given day (because you're tired, because you're not committed enough to this specific topic, because …), but there is nothing you cannot correct later.

22

Well, as a high school teacher, I have a few tips that may be of help (and I will clarify that having taught undergraduates before, I found from experience that a lot of these still apply on a regular basis):

  1. Set the groundrules from the first lesson, calmly lay out your expectations for effort, behaviour, homework etc, be sure these are consistent with the rules of the institution and most of all - stick to them.

  2. Don't shout, it will turn into a shouting-contest that the teacher can not win and places too much 'power' (via attention) in the hands of any unruly students.

  3. Be consistent in all that you do.
  4. Remember - you are the professional, I have found that displaying knowledge that extends the curriculum gets the students engaged.
  5. Be helpful, firm and fair - be friendly, but not a 'friend'.
  6. Don't be afraid or ashamed of asking colleagues for help, or for them to sit in and critique a lesson. I am 14 years into teaching and I still do this.
  7. Be aware that external issues may affect in class behaviour, this would be a reason not an excuse for any misbehaviour.
  8. Enjoy the class, be enthusiastic in the subject, the class and the profession.

These are the ones that come to mind.

  • 4
    +1 for point 2 - if you resort to shouting you've basically handed over control to the students and can already start taking anxiety medication for your future lectures (it is almost impossible to recover from this). I've had that happen to my Spanish teacher in high school. – Thomas Jul 24 '13 at 12:35
  • +1 for 'be friendly, but not a 'friend''. There is a very fine line between the two and that fine line should not be crossed. – Aamir Sep 24 '13 at 12:31
15

Just to point out one thing the other answerers (especially F'x, Damien and Nicholas) haven't mentioned, do encourage and reward any contructive interruptions, like asking questions about the subject you're covering or, even better, answering questions asked by other students, pointing out any mistakes you may have made or letting you know if the material you're presenting has already been covered in another class.

One of the best things that could possibly happen, as far as engaging your students to learn is concerned, is having a spontaneous on-topic discussion between students emerge in your class. If there's any chance of that happening, you definitely should encourage it, even if it's cutting into time you'd planned to spend talking about something else. You can always make up for the lost time later.

Of course, the size of the class matters here. In a class of 10 people, you can just let the discussion unfold naturally; in a class of 200, you're going to have to hand out turns for speaking and make sure you don't let a discussion between a small group of students drag out so long that others get bored. Just try to do it without sounding dismissive.

How is all this relevant to maintaining discipline in class? Well, the thing is that the #1 cause of classroom misbehavior is boredom. (The #2 cause is probably the mistaken belief that you have to misbehave in class to be "cool".)

On one hand, the more your students get to engage in the teaching process and to guide it towards things they're interested in, the less bored they will be. On the other, if your students are getting bored, you'll want to know about it and find out why it's happening: Are you going too slow or too fast? Do they find the material you're presenting irrelevant? Or are they just too tired and unable to concentrate? The best (if not the only) way to know that is to encourage your students to provide you with honest feedback whenever they have trouble following your lecture or find it uninteresting.

Another trick that may help is to tell your students up front that attending classes is voluntary, as long as they understand that anything they miss will still be on the exam. If they don't want to stay in the classroom, it's better that they leave than get bored and distract others. That way, you'll get rid of the students who are bored because they already know the subject, as well as, hopefully, some of those who just feel like they have to misbehave. (The latter group may flunk the exam, but that will at least hopefully teach them a lesson for the next time.)

(If you do this, it's a good idea to post a detailed lesson plan in advance, and maybe make your lecture notes / slides available, so that students who choose not to attend can check if they'll miss, or have missed, anything they didn't know already.)

You should also encourage your students to come ask you after class if they feel like they're not keeping up or if there's something they just don't get. Not only does that give you a chance to help them over their stumbling block and to keep up with the class, but it also provides you with useful feedback on your teaching. If you find a lot of students getting stuck on a specific critical issue, you may even want to announce a change in your lesson plan and use the next lecture to focus on that point until you're pretty sure everybody gets it. Just make sure to keep asking for feedback as you do it.

  • 9
    @earthling So what? That's their own risk. But by being forced to be present at (and probably disturbing) lectures at the expense of other students certainly doesn't help. And then there're those who prefer to learn from books, or who have already heard another lecture with 90% overlap. University students are supposed to be capable of judging their capabilities, they don't need Kindergarden rules anymore. If they fail due to being absent, maybe they picked the wrong course to start with – Tobias Kienzler Jul 25 '13 at 9:29
  • 9
    I'm with @TobiasKienzler on this one; college students are adults. If students don't find lectures useful for mastering course material, it's better for everyone if they stay home. Also, don't confuse correlation with causality; skipping lectures is strongly correlated with failure, but forcing attendance doesn't address the real problem. – JeffE Jul 25 '13 at 15:21
  • 2
    @earthling My wife once heard a lecture in statistics starting with "So, what connection shall we prove today? Maybe that watching TV causes your salary to increase?"... While it may look great for a school to have many students drop out, it will look even worse if they appear to let everyone pass no matter how inapt they are - that would imply the school's certificate are unreliable. There is a point at which you have to let go. Though I agree that students shouldn't be dropped prematurely and it's better to give them one chance more than they might actually deserve – Tobias Kienzler Jul 29 '13 at 13:15
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    @earthling +1 for wanting to motivate - but there's the dilemma: Some students are too weak (in this area, they might simply have chosen the wrong course) and you're doing no one a favour by trying to support even them as hard as possible because then you'll have to neglect those in the middle field who aren't great but with some support could become as good or better than the "gifted" ones. Everyone deserves an equal opportunity to start with, but it's better to let everyone understand how hard the course can be so they can try and estimate whether they'll manage it or not instead of – Tobias Kienzler Jul 30 '13 at 6:04
  • 2
    having to learn this bitter lesson after multiple semesters, effectively having wasted much time for something they then either fail, quit or barely manage but due to a low grade won't succeed with in applications later on. I (partly) agree with @IlmariKaronen here: Weaker students should be able to keep up - but not at the expense of the stronger ones. Ideally there'd be some common base lectures for everyone but the respective workshops might be split into groups where the lecture material is explained more thoroughly (for the "weak" ones) and groups where the bigger picture is taught – Tobias Kienzler Jul 30 '13 at 6:10
6

For university students, you could point out the obvious - that they are no longer at school, and things are done a little differently here. Classroom discipline is essentially an implicit pre-requisite, which should have been learned at school.

Primarily, they will be expected to behave as adults. This means showing both their lecturers and their fellow students the respect they deserve and pay silent attention to the lecturer.

In conjunction with expressing this view, I have seen the application of the policy that, if there is prolonged disruptive behaviour from any student or group of students, following N warnings, the lecturer will simply walk out of the class, return to his/her office and wait for a/the class representative to apologise on behalf of the class.

Getting the approval of your line manager of this policy is recommended before you follow it. Telling the students up front that this is how you will deal professionally with class disruption will give you the confidence to actually execute the policy, if needed. You will know that you have a plan in place, the students know that plan, you know you can follow through with your plan as required.

Peer pressure is your ally, here.

  • 4
    Be very clear that even if you walk out of a disruptive class, students are still responsible for the material that you would have covered. – JeffE Jul 24 '13 at 14:13
  • @JeffE Excellent point and one that I always mention on those very few days I have had to walk out on a class. – earthling Jul 25 '13 at 9:22
6

When I first began to teach, nothing I said would make the students behave. It was only when I acted did students start to behave. For your first semester of teaching, I recommend that you strictly follow all the rules your university has on disciplining students. This includes sending them to the office of student affairs, filing disciplinary cases, giving failing grades for an activity or for the whole course, and so on. It is important that your response be quick and consistent. Again, you do not have to say anything, you don't even have to warn them or remind them of the rules. Just implement the disciplinary measures quickly and consistently. Act as if it's no big deal to you, as if you've been doing it your entire life so many times that it has become second nature to you.

If you do this, trust me, you will have absolutely no problems with discipline during the next semester.

5

There are so many great answers here already but I do feel there is one important point which is not covered which needs to be. Before I get to my point, I will just say that being a good teacher requires you to get it all right, not just get most of it right. If you let one thing slip (like classroom management) your teaching can end up being extremely ineffective which will be reflected in the final grades of your students.

The point I want to add to all of the others already mentioned by others is to engage the students. I don't mean just making it interesting (that is also extremely important) but you should actually make the students do as much of the work as you can (read up on Active Learning). The more you can get the students actively working on the subject of the class, the less chance there will be, even for those who are quite advanced, to become bored (thus turning to their friends or their phone).

Group work is extremely helpful (perhaps the most helpful) but there are plenty of plenty of other ways to consider. The key point is to keep them actively focused on the class at hand so they will not focus on something else.

2

They will certainly not remain disciplined if you will give the impression of fear and confusion. Your revealed weakness (of mind) may give them negative impression that might make them courageous for misbehave etc.

So, first and above all, don't be fearful and increase your confidence level.

You should also check what possible disciplinary actions your university may allow to take against miscreant students. But definitely, it should be the last tool you may use.

2

Lots of great answers already but there are a few things I haven't seent that I think are important.

Establish eye contact with your students to engage them and show them that you are paying attention to them (and check if they're paying attention to you).

Walk the room, use the whole space. If you stay in front all the time, people think that can get away by sitting in the back and spending their time texting. You don't have to warn most of the time, just using the space helps to establish your authority.

If you think a student is starting to get bored and distracted from what you are saying, find a question pertaining to the topic and call on them to answer it.

Use humor. If I'm trying to start a class and some students won't stop talking to each other, I'll either just get into their conversation in front of the whole group and link it back to class somehow.

The only times I've had to do more serious discipline, it was mostly because someone had a real behavior problem (problems managing their anger, etc.) In those cases, most students will be glad that you will put the other in their place because they're likely to be disturbing the whole class.

Most schools I've taught at have new teacher workshops and there is always one about class management. I would look into it, it can't hurt!

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