Mistakes teachers make the first weeks of school … (+Flashcards Freebie)

… that may result in behaviour issues throughout all the school year.

Before coming up with any successful classroom management strategy, it’s extremely important to teach manners first. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about. Having been an ESL teacher for over 15 years, I have struggled a lot with classroom discipline before. I went through a whole lot of “trial and error” before figuring out what really works. Why did I fail so often? So many different reasons, but let me introduce you to the main ones …


1. Being too nice

One of my favourites is teachers that try to be the kids’ best friends or favourite teacher of all times. And I totally get that. I’ve been there, done that. Checked off my list – for a long time even. The first years of teaching looked like this: I must be the best and most awesome teacher the kids have ever seen, because I want them to love the language and to love learning (and then of course there would be no behaviour issues, riiiight???!

Something in our brain tells us (maybe because our own schooldays were quite boring or we didn’t like our teachers) that we have to be cool and kids must love us and everything will be awesome, we will have the time of our lives together! But here comes the secret … you won’t.
Well, nobody says you can’t be cool and nice (you should be!), but there are times where you can’t be just that. You have to do what a teacher has to do, because … you guessed it… you are their teacher and not their 3-12-year-old friend. You are there to educate them and guide their way. That also includes to teach them how to behave in your classroom. If you don’t set the guidelines, who else will do it for you? The kids? The don’t have the life experience yet to know what they should do when and how and why. They need guidance and, believe it or not, they are asking for it.

Let me give you 2 examples of my own. When I first started teaching primary school kids in a classroom setting, I was determined to make the lessons superfun and that everyone would love me, because I’d be the nicest and coolest teacher they have ever seen in this school. Yay!!
That was, what was in my mind … reality looked a little bit different though.

So I did all this cool stuff, and the first couple of lessons were awesome but the class quickly turned into a nightmare. They were talking all the time, not caring what I had to say anymore, basically they did what they wanted and I had no clue how to handle them. I started to hate coming to school for this class. I just felt like I was the worst teacher on earth and didn’t understand why they didn’t respect me. After all … hey, I’m the cool teacher here, not like the others!

To solve the problem, I talked to them openly (they were 7 years old, by the way) and I asked them why they do what they do. And to my surprise, the girl that I thought didn’t like me at all, told me that they really like me, but that I’m really way too nice and that they know I let everything pass. And she told me that I have to be more strict. Now that was an answer I really didn’t expect. Children that told me to actually set the rules and boundaries and follow through … surprise!

The same happened to one of my colleagues a few years ago, by the way. She was told the exact same thing by her students. So you see, if you are struggling with anything like that, you are definitely not alone. So the intentions are great, but it’s not what the children need… you see the point?

Keep in mind: You are not their friend. You are their teacher!

Now, let’s look at situation number two. A bit later, I got a new class – same age as the class I just talked about. My “trauma” was still kind of fresh and I was determined to not let this happen again. So I thought about what I was told by the other class. And I thought about a new strategy. I’d be strict, but fair and still do fun stuff.
So I walked into the classroom, already with a firm face (still smiling though 😉 you are not a monster  after all – you still want to be cool), we talked about rules, we set the stage and from then on I was (what I thought, pretty strict). Imagine somebody who is very calm and nice by nature … being strict doesn’t come easy and it made me feel really bad to start with.

I’d reinforce the rules, I wouldn’t let anything pass. I used a clipchart for behaviour management and as soon as somebody tried to “test” me (because that’s what they do … to see how far they can go and how much you actually let pass), their clip would go down. Did I mention that I felt sooo bad doing this? This was really not the image I had of a cool, awesome teacher.
BUT, at the same time, I was smiling when things were going well and telling them nice things when they did well. I also prepared some activities that they really loved doing and they had a lot of fun.

After the lesson, I went to the teacher’s lounge and still felt bad, thinking they must hate me, when the headteacher of the class came in and said: Wow, they really love you! They told me all about the activities you did and were asking when they have English class again.
I was so surprised that I turned around to see if she didn’t talk to anyone else in the room 😉 . This class became one of my favourites, by the way.
Once the stage was set and they knew their boundaries, we had tons of fun, played many games, the children were motivated and interested to learn and to listen aaand I got lots of hugs and pictures that they drew for me … <3

The moral of this story: Yes, we want to be cool. But cool doesn’t mean I let them do what they want. It is better to set the stage at the beginning and not let many things pass and once the rules and routines are set .. you can start being a bit “cooler”.

If you do it the other way around, it’s too late. You can’t start being cool and let everything pass and then hope later if things are not going your way, that they will respect you.  You may go as far as shouting in the classroom, which many teachers do, because nothing seems to help to quiet the class down. You might have noticed by now that shouting doesn’t really help anyone. Neither your voice and health, nor do they respect you more because of it. You are only adding noise to an already noisy classroom.
By now they already have seen you from your soft side and it’s very hard to convince them, that you can also have a different face. Basically, you have lost your credibility, so to speak and it’s extremely hard to get that back.

That’s the reason why you have to start being firm and only let lose once everything is clear.

BUT again – this is not an invitation to be a bully. Faaar from that. This is merely about being strict in setting boundaries, not let things slip through and still smile and have fun! How would that look like, you ask?
For example, a classroom rule is “no yelling”. You are playing a game and the kids start yelling (even though it is excitement – which is great – you don’t want to let this pass). So you warn them that if they continue yelling, you will stop the game. Never ever give consequences without a warning. Then, if they do it again, you must show that you are serious about your rules and stop the game. Else, your word is worth nothing. So you give your strict look, “you were warned”, sorry, that’s it, pack up the game and I usually follow those up with some boring work.

Keep in mind – no child ever complained about a teacher who is strict BUT FAIR and not a bully!!

If you are interested in setting the rules about good and bad behaviour you may really like the FREE flashcards (make sure you add the address to your contacts to not miss out on the download!)

Comments (2)

  • Eiroj

    It’s bery helpful!
    Thank you ☺️

    • Svenja Sara

      I’m glad you find it helpful! Thanks a lot for leaving your feedback. I really appreciate it 🙂