Teaching 1st w/o co-teacher (long)

For the past month and a half I’ve been teaching a 1st grade class without any co-teacher. For the first month I figured I would just search through threads here and try to implement some of the ideas I’ve come across. Unfortunately, I’m still at square 1.5. I’ve made very, very slight progress. And most of it has come because I’ve said “fuck it,” and started using some Chinese to explain stuff.

The main problem is that they are like little puppies, who won’t listen when you call their names. Any time I want a kid to quiet down, I have to call their name 5-10 times before they even look my direction. This is a huge problem because I have to walk to their desk to even get their attention. By the time I do get their attention, I’ve lost the attention of the other half of the class. Three kids are especially big problems and severely disrupt the class. One NEVER brings his book, so he just sits there talking the entire time, influencing every one around him. He’s sent to the other class the majority of the time. Only rarely does he do any work. One is good 50% of the time and horrible the other 50%. And the last means well, but she’s a drama queen through and through and has to have me check EVERY little thing she does to make sure it’s right. She’ll do a question, then badger me until I check it, even while I’m helping someone else, go back, do another question, lather, rinse, repeat.

The class was originally one large class taught by a foreigner and a Taiwanese co-teacher. Because there were too many students, they split it in two, and wisely decided to give me the most difficult kids, (which the other foreigner admitted was the case), and have the co-teacher stay with him, the one who has been teaching for 6+ years.

Here’s what I’ve tried:
I’ve tried yelling. That didn’t work, obviously.
I’ve tried rewarding. They don’t seem to care about any rewards.
I’ve tried setting up a system where they get 50 points at the beginning of the class. If they get to 100 points by the end, they get a star. If they get 5 stars, they get a party. If they get to 0 points, the next week there’s no game, no break. They didn’t care at all. They don’t seem to care much about games.
I’ve talked to the original co-teacher to ask what to do. She said: Just don’t hit them. Then she said: They like stamps. And they do, to some degree. Just not enough to actually behave for longer than 5 minutes.

What I think the problem is-they just plain don’t understand. Their English level is horrible. They didn’t even know what “we” meant. So unless I explain everything in Chinese at the beginning, they have no clue what to do. I mean, I’m trying to explain the difference between “is” and “are”, and they don’t know what “we”, “have”, and “what color” is. The only way I can get them to do their work is if I work one on one with them, because they just don’t listen when I try to explain to the whole class.

I really want to help them improve, since they aren’t “bad” kids, they just have zero discipline, but I just have no idea how, without speaking Chinese for half the class, and without any help for discipline. I can do well when I have someone to help discipline, as my other classes are no where near this bad.

I have the same situation for one hour twice a week and can feel your pain. It’s all about cognitive maturity and the kids don’t have it at that age. I don’t think you should bother with stuff like the difference between is and are at this stage and try to make activities and linguistic constructions that will help you with class management. You basically have to teach them how to be students in a classroom situation before you can teach them the finer points of the English language. I haven’t mastered the situation yet, but I’ve made good progress.

The first thing to teach is ‘back to your seat’, so you can regain control of completely chaotic situations. Make them all come and gather in front of you then shout ‘back to your seat! 5, 4,3,2,1’ One point each. After you’ve played this game, you can use it at anytime someone is out of their seat.

The next is ‘be quiet! 3, 2,1’ Wait 10 seconds, then give one point to the quiet ones. You can use it anytime they get noisy.

Also, at this stage of cognitive maturity, they can’t plan long term or wait for long term rewards, so you might want to adjust your point/reward system. I usually start the class by giving each student who is ready, in their seat with books on the table 1 point. I do the be quiet and allocate one point. I let them know just 5 points is one token/sticker/star, whatever so the reward is simply understood and easily and quickly attainable.

Most of all, be patient and don’t expect too much of them or yourself.

Get “Tools for Teachers” by Fred Jones and implement it consistently.

You are correct that the problem with your class is that the kids don’t understand a thing you say in English. Thus, it’s pointless to teach grammar concepts.

All kids do much better in a structured environment. You can help classroom management AND your students’ language skills by using procedures for everything, everything, everything!

When they come to class in the morning, you can require them to identify their own name on a chart and put a magnet (or marker of some sort) next to it. This way, they learn to recognize their names, and you don’t have to keep roll! There should be a procedure for lining up for breaks. There should be a procedure for asking questions, or offering answers.

There should be a morning routine–the same thing every single day. (Or afternoon, or beginning of class, you get the picture.) Have a calendar and go over what the day is, the month, the date, and the weather. Have story time at the SAME time each day, with procedures for how to sit and how to listen.

Anything and everything you can possibly structure–do it! First graders are not too young to sing songs. Have a song to sing that signals start of class, a different one when you want them to line up. When they line up, by the way, don’t allow them to go until they’re quiet and orderly. A finger to their lips with the other palm in the air to signal they’re all ready–model proper behavior for them.

Yes, it will take some time to teach these things. About two weeks until everyone catches on and starts to play along–likely longer for the three “special” kids you mention. But once this starts to sink in, new procedures will come much more quickly. The kids will LOVE this because they will always know what to expect from you, and what is expected of them. They WILL lean the language you use with them to communicate the procedures, and the songs you sing, and then you will have something to start with, something to build on.

Usually, time spent in a classroom is governed by a clock, so start there. This is the most basic structure your classroom already has, so use it to build on.

Good Luck!

Oh, and Tools for Teachers is a good resource. There are others out there. Google procedures and classroom management.

Housecat is absolutely correct.

The main point here is that discipline precedes instruction of any kind. Without classroom management, it doesn’t matter how good a teacher one is, or what content is taught or presented. And classroom management of a bunch of novice-level first graders is very difficult to do in English only.

The reason I am copying, then replying, is because it’s a lot easier that way. Don’t think I’m trashing your post at all. Just trying to be helpful. I understand your pain…TRUST me.

We’ve all been to that “fuck it” point at least once. But let me point out you HAVE made progress.

I think a month and a half is not a lot of time. I do, however, think a lot can be done to help. Let me begin by pointing out one assumption I have any time I hear about a difficult class. My assumption is that there is nothing wrong with the students. It’s the teacher not stepping up to the plate. Now, that’s not saying you’re a bad teacher. I mean to say that there is a certain mentality we have to have when we step into the classroom. You have to feel like this is YOUR classroom area. Let me point out more what I mean from your post.

Rewards, punishments, and yelling won’t work. Throw away the stamps. (I don’t pass out our school’s “money” except to random students at random times outside of class).I see things like that as more harmful than helpful.

Their level isn’t too low. The curriculum is too high. You’re throwing stuff at them that they aren’t ready for. That’s an example of not blaming the students and you’ll see a different problem. All of the problems you mentioned can largely be fixed by a change in the curriculum to something more appropriate.

I can’t imagine what kind of work 6 year olds could be doing 1 1/2 months into an English program. Well…I can. But it simply doesn’t sound like this work you’re giving them is correct for them. I know that’s usually not the teacher’s fault, but it explains the problem. Can you give an example?

Again, you have to be the teacher, not someone else. Most of that comes from a change in your mindset. It takes knowing when something is about to happen and calmly bringing the energy back to a normal level before it explodes. That takes a lot of time to really develop. If you’re a fairly new teacher, don’t worry…you shouldn’t have this easy yet. :slight_smile:

Some practical tips to help begin:
–The door to your classroom changes their mind set. If your class is rowdy right away, take them all outside. Tell them to go in and sit down quietly. Repeat if needed. Sense the energy they have. If they come in and are still ready to spring, but quiet, try it again.

–Is the classroom too small? With a high energy class, stupid owners often put kids in smaller rooms. Their logic is smaller rooms = less room to run around. A more realistic analogy is a spring. A spring compresses when you squish it, thus creating more potential energy. Watch out when it blows.

–Move to the students, calmly, before the enegry erupts. Realize that calling to them adds to the energy. Actually, the fewer words, the better.

–Do activities that help kids learn to control their own energy. I have several ideas, but no time to list them now. A later reply in this thread. If I remember. But kids really have no clue how to regulate this lately because they’re not raised in peaceful environments. To prove it, fireworks just started outside (in the middle of typing that last sentence) and I’m sure a loud blue truck will drive by later.

-Most important- Stop blaming the students for classroom behavior or difficulties. I’m not saying a student never does anything wrong, but this idea is so overused and often incorrect. When something is not working, start by looking at the classroom environment and the curriculum. You’ll be amazed at what you can find.

Stop teaching the curriculum until you have taught classroom behavior.

Start with TPR to teach some very basic commands: Stand up. Sit down. Take out your pencil. Put away your pencil. Look at me. Line up.

If they are young students, have them repeat certain commands. For example, when I say “Look at me, Look at me” the students say: “Look at Teacher.” (They use the name of whomever gave the command.) One of my coworkers uses “Up-up!” and students say “Stand up!” and “Down-down!” “Sit Down!” In my writing classes I also use “Pencils down, pencils down, pencils…” and they say “Down!” as they put their pencils down and look at me.

Create a signal which calls for silence and all students paying attention. Create 2 or 3 if you want, such as a silent/subtle one and a loud one. My school has uniform signal the entire school uses. Teacher says “Ding Dong Ding Dong” and all students clap their hands (and are then silent). I’ve also used fist in the air/finger on mouth, the scout sign, and “BOOM BOOM!” students: “Shakalaka!” With silent signals, students who see the teacher make the signal immediately copy the signal and become silent. This saves your voice, but requires patience.

If you use a “silent signal” command, make sure all students follow it immediately. Do not try to give instruction until every class member is attentive.

Model behavior you want students to use. Verbally praise behavior you want students to repeat. Make sure the entire class knows why you are giving the praise.

Create student groups, such as Row 1, Row 2, Row 3. Give rewards according to group behavior.

Next: Keep activities short and leave no down time between one part of the lesson and the next. During longer activities, such as reading a text aloud or something, have students stand for a minute. Then have them sit. (I yell “5, 4, 3, 2, 1!” and occasionally reward groups that beat the count down to keep them conditioned to do it quickly.) If students have too much energy or too little energy, stop what you’re doing and have the students quickly stand up and do something physically active for about 2 minutes.

Nothing you do will work, just muscle through the class and try to get out of it like the last foreign teacher did. I imagine that your the new guy at this school if they did that to you so prep the resume for when you get fired. Your window of opportunity to right this class has been closed. That is unless you have a cool boss.

Here’s the thing, if you work on classroom discipline, they’ll say you’re not teaching. If you work on teaching, they’ll say your class has no discipline and they are learning nothing. Taiwanese teachers break kids down, yell at them, hit them, humiliate them, pretty much anything to take out their frustrations on the student.

So the best thing to do is to play games, sing songs and let them have fun. Learning in your situation is merely a byproduct of other things. The guy who gets the class after you will either crash and burn, or turn it around and be thought of as a super teacher. I’ve been both, trust me. The Taiwanese co-teacher wisely stuck all the trouble kids/moms in your class so she can wash her hands of them. That’s why she is no longer in a class she should be in. :roflmao:

Housecat and Ironlady have great ideas, I’m willing to bet none of them will work for you because you have neither the skill, training nor experience for it. I’ve been there. :whistle:

My recommendation is just play games and sing songs. They will have so much fun in class and do what you want that despite learning little to nothing you still look like a champ.

I will say it again. Get a copy of Fred Jones’ “Tools for Teachers”. Read it cover to cover three times. Then pick one technique per week and implement it consistently. You do not have to be an experienced teacher to use his techniques – that’s the whole point.

I would not assume that the school will not be supportive, but I would not assume that it will, either. That depends on the individual situation. There is no reason the OP can’t continue teaching “the curriculum” (seemingly) while really concentrating on classroom discipline.

Will this particular class turn around? It may take awhile. But if the OP does this now, his future classes will not be in this situation. He’ll learn to get the rules across in less time. And just for the record, IMO there’s nothing wrong with using Chinese to explain things. How would a Chinese co-teacher exert authority, anyway? All in English? I seriously doubt it.

Make them stand, facing the back wall with a pen in their mouth (works at the school my wife teaches at…I hope you know I am NOT joking).

It keeps them quiet and humiliates them.

The first thing to teach is ‘back to your seat’, so you can regain control of completely chaotic situations. Make them all come and gather in front of you then shout ‘back to your seat! 5, 4,3,2,1’ One point each. After you’ve played this game, you can use it at anytime someone is out of their seat.

The next is ‘be quiet! 3, 2,1’ Wait 10 seconds, then give one point to the quiet ones. You can use it anytime they get noisy.


How can you possibly keep track of all those individual “points”?

I only have to deal with (I assume) relatively “low energy” university classes, (so this is largely OT for the OP, for whom I have the greatest sympathy) but I’d lose them even more quickly and thoroughly if I tried that level of “live” accounting.

I’ve pretty much given up on “live” individual assessment/monitoring in class.

I get them to do (usually written) tasks from the textbook as group solutions, then I play “weakest link”, trying to pick on the group “passengers” with individual questions covering the same material.

I score and record the responses live, as group scores, on the blackboard, and these scores(together with the small amount of written groupwork that I mark) form the bulk of thier classwork grades. All students present on that day get the group score.

Sometimes there’s a small “prize” for the top-scoring group that day.

It can get pretty tedious but its as close as I’ve come to a workable system for continuous assessment.

It doesn’t work with really uncooperative “fuck you” classes, (I had one last year) but its been more or less ok this year, even, mostly, with (and despite) American Headway 3

The first thing to teach is ‘back to your seat’, so you can regain control of completely chaotic situations. Make them all come and gather in front of you then shout ‘back to your seat! 5, 4,3,2,1’ One point each. After you’ve played this game, you can use it at anytime someone is out of their seat.

The next is ‘be quiet! 3, 2,1’ Wait 10 seconds, then give one point to the quiet ones. You can use it anytime they get noisy.


How can you possibly keep track of all those individual “points”?

I only have to deal with (I assume) relatively “low energy” university classes, (so this is largely OT for the OP, for whom I have the greatest sympathy) but I’d lose them even more quickly and thoroughly if I tried that level of “live” accounting.

I’m talking about a class of 13 6 year olds. I’ve never used a point system with university classes.

Keeping track of points is easy for an experienced bushiban teacher. I haven’t tried it with university classes as there is no reward cabinet with hello kitty/doraemon pencil cases at the colleges I’ve worked at. Maybe you could suggest it to administration.

You might note that the OP is already using a point system, but it’s more cumbersome and beyond the cognitive maturity of a bunch of 5 year olds who are struggling to think one minute ahead and count to 5.