Mistakes teachers make the first weeks of school … part 2

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

Here is part 2 of the most common mistakes teachers make during the first weeks of school. If you want to check out part 1, please click here!

2. Not having a routine or not teaching procedures

A trap that many (especially new teachers) fall into is to underestimate classroom routines and procedures. Often they see them as a waste of time that they could use to “actually teach what they should teach – English!”.

What they don’t see is the time they spend during the school year when they have to deal with interruptions, unclear expectations, confusion, explaining things over and over again and many other things that only result from not having set routines from the start. Those are hours lost when you count them all together.
So after all you end up losing more time not having routines than spending time in the first weeks to implement them.
Especially if you teach very small children, you should spend quite some time on routines, because it gives them security.

Imagine the following … you are 3 years old and you have never been away from your parents – or at least not very often. Now suddenly your mum brings you to this school and wants you to learn stuff.
Already ..” what’s this building? Who are those people? And who are those other kids??? Oh my God, what’s happening?” Then suddenly mum leaves and I’m alone with those people in this place … how freaky is that?!
And now the best part .. They speak in a funny language I don’t know. What if something happens? I can’t even make myself understood! And where is mum? Is she ever coming again to pick me up? This is enough to make any little person be scared, don’t you think?
And now imagine you, the adult, just start your class by teaching colours and expecting the kids to be focused and actually learning English from you, when he or she is in such a state.
How well do you think this will actually work?

You may think, this is exaggerated. In some cases it may be (depending on how well the kids were prepared for day one), but for many others this is how it is.
So routines are a great way to give security to the children as they will know exactly what will happen when and how, and when mum will come back to pick them up.
I actually love to use schedule cards and pin them on the wall, so the children will know exactly what will happen and what will be done next.
There is no teaching in a classroom where any kind of negative emotion has its place.

But even for “bigger” kids routines and procedures are very important.
There is less time for distractions that interfere with the learning. They know what to expect and don’t waste time on trying to understand things or guess how things may work.
A lot less frustration and therefore for bad choices when it comes to behaviour. A lot more time to actually focus on what they should focus on, because they know exactly what to do how and when.
You can even put students in charge and give them some responsibility, when it comes to procedures by giving out classroom jobs. This boosts their motivation big time.

However, there is a big mistake teachers often make when it comes to this topic, except for not teaching routines and procedures at all. But they can also teach them in a wrong way.
Most of the ESL teachers I have seen just explain what they want the kids to do (Listen! Look! Etc), but they are not actually teaching them. How much are you learning when people just tell you “do this” and never actually show you how?
The more you model a behaviour, the easier it will be for the children to implement it. So don’t just say “get in line”, but practice it over and over again and don’t expect it to work after a day or two. Be patient and repeat, repeat, repeat and you will see the magic unfold 😉
Just to tell you a little real life story to show you the importance … We had a new teacher a while back at our school, teaching our 4 year olds. I told her about how important the routines are. She basically said “yea, right!” and ended up doing it her way – meaning no routine, because “the schedule is tight and I have to finish the book”.
Ooook … there is a time where you just have to let teachers make their mistakes on their own so they learn ;).
It didn’t take long that she called me and asked for a meeting in which she started to cry, because the class was “so bad”, not listening to her at all, there is no order, nothing is working and the kids don’t even learn 2
words of English in a lesson, because they wouldn’t stop talking and listen to her.

So I came to observe her classroom and it really was a mess. However, it was pretty clear that it all came from not having a set routine and expectations as well as procedures.
Once we worked out a plan together, it still took a while, because the kids first had to unlearn their behaviour and then exchange it for the good one. But a few weeks later everything went a loooot better and she was finally able to actually teach English.
Moral of the story … implement routines and procedures right from the start will make you not waste any time and have a good functioning classroom that will allow you to actually teach English instead of just reacting to behaviour of the students most of the time.

ANNNDD … don’t get scared that you can’t turn a classroom around. It is not easy and won’t go quickly, but it is possible and depends a lot on the right strategy and your ability to implement it : ). So, don’t give up!