Pet hates as a TEFL teacher, and how to get round them!

It happened to me just the other day, during my second week with a new class, all in their teens, all aware that class starts at 18.50. I walked in my room, in quite a jolly mood, and there was no one there. I checked my watch, no one? At all? I peeked back down the corridor to see if anyone was following me in the class. Not a face in sight.

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I don’t really hate anything…or do I? Photo by K-SCREEN SHOTS

So I started to fume a little. Then I remembered the week before they were a bit late as well, and I had told them to be in the class before me. I paced about, my temperature and temperament rising simultaneously, like a moody teenager stuck on a sunbed.

After two minutes I had a quick look out the window to see whether they were gathered by the steps, no one. My blood levels were reaching the projector on the ceiling now. I had sip of water and tried to calm down, but it was no use.

Another minute past and I began to write a sentence for them to copy, for homework, once they’d come in the class ‘I will never, ever be later for Barry’s class again.” Then I stormed outside.

They were all gathered outside the main entrance to the academy. Some were chatting and laughing, but most were leaning against the wall with their necks bent looking at their mobile phones.

“Is this some kind of joke, or what?” I said, in Spanish. The disgusted look on my face wiped a few smiles of theirs. “Get in the class.” I marched back in. I was fuming by the time they all got in. No class had ever kept me waiting almost 5 minutes before.

I blew my top, going into a rant, this time in English.

“Do you have no respect for this school? No respect for me? Five minutes? You are all outside, chatting on your phones, for five minutes? This has never, ever happened to me. I am furious. Why? Why were you outside?”

I picked on a couple of the lads, but they couldn’t understand my simple question at first. So I had to translate. One tried to fob me off by saying they thought I was going to come down and get them. I threw him another look of disgust.

I gave them 50 lines, which they had to get their parents to sign. They all did the lines, but a few forgot the signatures, so they had to do 60 for the next class.

They have never been late again, and for a rowdy class, they have actually behaved pretty well since, so maybe it was worth them seeing my dark side.

These are some other pet hates for making me blow my top, and ways I try to solve the problems.

Too much Spanish

I don’t mind a little, in fact I think it’s necessary with lower levels and younger students, but when it gets out of control, I get edgy. I set the boundaries at the start of term by telling them what is acceptable: a 90/10 English/Spanish mix. If they speak too much Spanish I put a line on the board, 5 lines is more homework. 10 lines is copy a text or write lines out.

On more than a hundred occasions I’ve gone into one about Spanish in class though. I remind them how much their parents are paying, how long they are speaking Spanish in their daily lives, and how much English they should speak in the class. This normally does the trick, but some classes just never give up trying to get round me. I find that I have to be firm throughout the whole term with this one, if I have one lax day, then they’ll run riot.

Not acknowledging me when I walk in my class

Or I suppose I should now say, not putting away their mobile immediately when I walk in the room. I think this one stems back from when I worked in Thailand, where the kids were actually polite. It was great, every morning the kids would line up outside the class, then individually say good morning to me as they went in, then the class leader for that day would ask the others to stand up and they would all welcome me. Now I’m lucky if one or two say hello when I say hello to them. The young kids are normally fine, it’s the teenagers that are too school for cool, or whichever way round it is.

So when I get the occasional raised head, grim face, or sigh when I walk in the room these days, it grinds. Ways round this one? I once made a class wait outside and do a Thai wai (where they put their hands together as if praying and bow their head) for a whole week. That worked a treat. They hated it, and always said hello from then on.

No homework

I get that students have a lot, and I mean I lot, of stuff to do after school, and that sometimes people forget things, but when students constantly forget or don’t do their homework, especially when they are 7 and say they haven’t had time, then I get a little annoyed.

My way of dealing with it is to give out red cards. Three red cards and I speak to their parents. I’ve never called a parent, but I have written notes in their notebooks. By the end of the first month things are normally in order.

Asking colleagues what I said even before I finish speaking

I know I speak fast, and mumble, and at times I’m unclear when I give instructions, but what really does my head in is when students just stare at me when I speak, obviously not actually listening to me, and then as soon as I have given the instructions, they turn to their partner and say ‘Que ha dicho – what did he say?’ or ‘Que hay que hacer – what are we doing?’

It drives me mental. Why can’t they just ask me, I know they don’t want to make a fool of themselves in front of the class, or they find it embarrassing, but if they don’t ever get over that fear of speaking out loud, then how are they ever going to really learn the language, or anything for that matter.

This one is a tricky one. I try not to make a big deal of it at the start of term, but this week I actually asked a student to stay behind and asked if she understood me okay. She admitted she didn’t, so I asked her to let me know during class when she didn’t, even if it’s just a simple wink or a shake of the head. Let’s see if it works.

So, there you go. That’s what makes me blow in class and how I get round it. I suppose it’s nothing that trivial, compared to kids throwing chairs at teachers back in the U.K. but still, you have to have your pet hates, or they would be nothing to work on or turn around.

What about you? How do your students do your head in and what do you do about it?

Profile photo of Barry O'Leary

Author: Barry O'Leary

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2 Comments

  1. This post could have been written by almost any teacher in Italy too — or at least I found it super familiar. Unfortunately I haven’t found good ways to go around these little things yet as when I teach in schools I don’t really have the “power” to call in their parents or write them a note. I did do this once though, when one student was doing his maths homework during my lesson. I had his mum storm in my classroom, furious because I didn’t understand that her poor soon was worried about the maths test the following day.

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    • Profile photo of Barry O'Leary

      Ha, yeah I’m sure. I’ve taught Italians on many occassions in the summer and they can be a handful too. Guess I am lucky where I work in that the academy generally backs us up over the parents. Yesterday I had to call a mum in because her daughter was naughty and she was fine. Where abouts do you teach? Thanks for writing.

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