You may not have a lot of control over the physical structures in your classroom – the desks, the whiteboard, the tech (or lack thereof!).
You may not be able to have your students sit in groups and do group projects due to Covid-19 precautions.
You may not be able to change your JTE’s attitude toward the students. Or the students’ attitude toward you or the JTE.
So what CAN you do to create a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere? What can you control? It’s actually pretty simple: You can control you.
Here are a few simple ways to make your classroom a pleasant and relaxed space.
- Keep a positive mindset
- Provide positive encouragement
- Learn students’ names and show interest in their lives
Let’s dive into these a little deeper.
Keep a positive mindset
Remember last time, when I talked about the 1st commandment, and how important your attitudes and beliefs are in shaping what happens in your classroom? The same thing applies here, too. If you are bored or disinterested, your students are going to notice. Sometimes, I have looked at my schedule and thought, “Oh, them“. The noisy class. The disrespectful class. The hard to control class. The I’d-rather-be-hiding-at-my-desk class. Slowly, I learned some tricks to get them to listen that didn’t involve yelling. But it started with me realizing that a misbehaving class isn’t a bad class. They weren’t bad students, they were just unengaged and acting out …loudly. This realization helped me figure out ways to manage the class better. Instead of tackling the issue from a my-students-are-being-bad perspective, I came at it from a how-can-I-support-them-better perspective.
Provide positive encouragement
I love marking. It’s one of my favorite parts of being an ALT. But getting work returned probably isn’t my students’ favorite part of being a student. So I try to write something encouraging on every paper. If they haven’t finished the assignment, I’ll give them a “good start” comment. If they use a fantastic word, or compose a complicated sentence with panache, I’ll tell them (though I probably wouldn’t use “panache” on them). If they make a mistake, I might draw a cute diagram to show how to fix it. For example, if they wrote “the shoes wore the man” I would correct it for them and draw a shoe wearing a man vs a man wearing a shoe. This also helps keep ME motivated as I work through piles upon piles of essays.
Learn students’ names and show interest in their lives
This one is really hard for me. At least, learning their names is. If you have multiple schools it can be really hard to remember hundreds of names. Uniforms and masks don’t make it any easier. I tried to make my students use name cards to help me remember their names, but over the course of the semester, more and more name cards ended up under books, or turned around so I couldn’t see them. So much for that idea! One thing I wish I had tried was writing their names on popsicle sticks and using those to call on the students. This can save you from scanning a class list , and helps you keep track of who you’ve already called on.
I try to give my students lots of opportunities to talk about themselves and what they are interested in. Recently, for a speaking test, I had them bring in a special item or a picture of someone special to them and tell me about it. This way I learn a bit about them, and they use English in a personal and authentic way.
What are some ways you have created a positive atmosphere in your classrooms?