Starting the School Year With Strong Classroom Management

Two months ago, we were counting down the days until the school year ended, and now we’re counting down the days until the next one begins. We should have a good idea of what our curriculum will cover, how to assess new students’ progress and returning students’ abilities at the next level, and what materials we’ll need to get us through the first week’s lessons. Probably the last thing we’re thinking about is how we will manage the students, especially since we don’t know either what the new students will be like or how well the familiar ones matured.

By this point we most likely have already reflected on what worked and didn’t work. And whether we are returning to our old classrooms or are starting our first year at a new school, we 04Here are some things we need to think about when we visualize how the early classes will go.

Being an agent of socialization while being culturally responsive.

Teachers are figures of authority. Students who grow up in American schools have a certain expectation of what that means from the moment they meet their kindergarten teacher. But few ELLs at the secondary level have been in the American school system for that long, so it often falls on the teacher to be an “agent of socialization” who helps them navigate the differences between their home culture and the academic setting (Fillmore & Snow, 2000). This may not be something that is assessed in terms of language, but it is still vital to their success in school.

However, when it comes to classroom management, we still need to keep students focused and directed, and how that is expressed may vary from culture to culture. Some students may be willing to shout out answers, while others may be shy and say very little despite having strong language abilities. You may want to consider how to be responsive to the ways your particular student population expresses itself and alter the activities in a way so that their behavior is more productive (Hoover, 2006). It also may help to consider whether your students are sitting too long or have a distracting environment, such as a loud hallway outside their class, and do what you can to minimize this before resorting to disciplinary measures. Adapting your teaching style to deal with these inconveniences will take some work, but if you keep the curriculum objectives and goals in mind, you can do this without compromising the quality of your instruction.

Can you expect them to understand your expectations?

Before I talk about the need for clear class expectations, there is something I need to be clear about: I never read a syllabus all the way through before I had to write one for a college-level class I taught because it seemed like too much work to go through all of that information. In the same way, students who get a long list of things that you expect of them may decide it’s easier to make a mistake and ask about it than understand what you want them to do. This is why you need to focus on a few important points early on and expect to reinforce these points when the students slip (Serra, 2014). There will be situations in which you have to resort to disciplinary measures, and when that happens it’s best to deal with it appropriately as you would for a native-speaking student.

Put the M and E in TEAM.

Experience and training help you understand what your students are going through, and this is where your role as a specialist becomes important. Even though your colleagues likely respect your skills when it comes to making adaptations, you may want to proactively tell them about how to handle discipline problems with students in a culturally sensitive manner. They can also offer advice about what they observe in the classroom, which will help you understand more about the students’ individual personalities (MacDonncaidh, 2016).


Fillmore, L. W., & Snow, C. E. (2000). What teachers need to know about language. ERIC Clearing House onf Language and Linguistics Special Report. Retrieved from

Hoover, J. J. (2006). Managing behavior problems by differentiating curriculum and instruction. TESL Electronic Journal, 10(2). Retrieved from

MacDonncaidh, S. (2016). Get it together, teach! 8 crucial elements of superb ESL classroom management.” Retrieved from

Serra, R. (2014). Back to school again: What about ESL classroom management? Wandering Educators. Retrieved from

About Nathan Hall

Nathan Hall
Nathan Hall, MA TESOL, MS Education, lives in Pottstown, PA with his wife and two daughters. He has been involved in ESL since he volunteered as a tutor in 2001, which inspired him to leave the field of journalism for education. He has since taught English language learners in a variety of settings ranging from community programs to colleges as well as in several different types of middle schools and high schools. He is currently an ELL specialist at Achievement House Cyber Charter School in Exton, PA.
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