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5 tips for coping with tricky TEFL students

There’s usually a few tricky TEFL students in every school – the ones who won’t settle, won’t participate in group work, won’t complete their homework. Knowing how to deal with them is the mark of a great English teacher, making these top five tips essential reading for all classroom hopefuls. 


TEFL students
Teaching | © myTEFL


Set clear achievement goals


It’s been proven and proven again that many ill-disciplined TEFL students aren’t actually all that ill-disciplined at all – they’re just lacking a distinct and clear goal in each lesson. It’s the not knowing what the teacher’s after that really leads to the loss of attention, the misbehavior, the fidgeting – whatever it may be. To solve this problem, you need to return to basics. That means using the first couple of minutes of each session to identify exactly what you’re hoping to achieve that day. You can even drag your students themselves into the process, asking them to create their own lesson aims. The upshot? A definitive trajectory for the learning and activities, and no excuses when someone’s found not to be working towards that goal.


Try to stifle attention seekers


There’s a certain type of naughty TEFL student who’ll always be pining for attention. They go by various monikers: The class clown, the ringleader. If you’re dealing with one of these in your sessions, there’s a lot to be said for getting right to the root of the problem and stifling the very thing they seek. In effect, that means simply ignoring the bad behavior in the hope that it will go away. In many cases you’ll find that it works, as the learner slowly realizes that the only way to get what they’re after is to participate in activities. In time, the need for attention can even be converted from disruptive action to positive classroom energy. 


TEFL students
Teaching | © myTEFL


Identify the cause


Some TEFL students who like to disrupt the flow of a class are doing it because there are underlying reasons. There’s one easy way to find out if that’s the case – just ask! Set aside some time before or after a session to quiz the challenging child on just why it is they’re being awkward. Teachers are often surprised with the raw honesty they’re met with, whether it reveals concentration issues, a particular learning style that you’re teaching methods aren’t covering, or distractions in other walks of the student’s life. The upshot is that talking and communicating with your class is the first step to ironing out a whole load of discipline issues.


Give incentives, not punishments


The debate between sanctions and rewards is one that’s raged in the teaching world since time immemorial. There was a time when unruly TEFL students acted at the risk of a detention or extra homework. These days, the school of thought leans much more towards positive action. That means trying to wrest control of your class back from disruptive folk by making it worth their while to behave. The results of incentivizing good behavior are said to help nurture a more trusting relationship between teacher and pupil, too, though you’ll need to be careful it doesn’t come at the expense of teamwork, creating an each-child-for-themselves sort of environment. 


TEFL students
Teaching | © myTEFL


Talk to the parents


This over-the-head technique should surely be a last resort. It’s usually the only option left in the arsenal of a teacher that’s tried everything to quell the behavior of their worst TEFL students. Before you do approach a parent to discus their child, it’s important that you have clear and easy-to-understand complaints, evidence to support what you’re talking about, and – crucially – a suggestion on how to move forward. Doing it constructively and calmly like that will demonstrate that the success of your class and their English skills are your real priority.



If you’re a veteran teacher with more tips to add, we’d love to hear the in the comments below. If you think you’re ready to get out there and teaching TEFL students, it might be time to get signed up to a course. 

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