Wanted: Your Opinion of IS Classroom Mgmt/Discipline

principalsoffice71845522bigA discussion of classroom management in International Schools was recently initiated on the ISR Forum by a contributing Member. ISR is transplanting this topic here to the ISR Blog to foster a wide exchange of ideas & experiences. This a topic not yet explored on ISR. Your input is requested:


.I recently returned to the US to finish up my alternative certification program. I was placed in a low-income school to do my student teaching. It is a bloody circus in my mentor teacher’s class! She is constantly having to tell students to stop talking, stay in their seat, etc. They don’t listen to her and laugh when you try to discipline them.

If a kid gets crazy-crazy bad, I have seen her send them to the administration. But for the most part she is content with just repeating herself a thousand times during class, I presume. For reference, my only experience has been mostly ESL work and some student teaching in Korea. The kids at the IS’s were behaved. As for the kids at the language academies, they can be unruly if you let them, but usually if you are stern, consistent, and discipline them they will shape up. I think the main problem with education is schools are not committed to having controlled, engaged, high learning classrooms.

It is frowned upon to send kids to admin, in-school suspension, after-school detention, and suspension. If a kid is incapable of refraining from disrupting the class, they should be removed from the classroom and school. The hell with hurt feelings and any other bs reasons to try and accommodate these types of students.

I do not imagine this is as big of an issue in the IS scene as that is a different type of demographic. But I am sure there are some outliers.

What has been your experience and opinion with this?

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24 thoughts on “Wanted: Your Opinion of IS Classroom Mgmt/Discipline

  1. No one has mentioned economic forces.
    I have found that some schools cannot expel students because of tuition needs. Even an initial enrollment package that states “all paid tuition will be forfeitted if a student is expelled” does not prevent parents from stirring up a lot of trouble for a school… And a lot of schools run on very narrow margins.


  2. Some teachers in international schools are afraid to enforce discipline in case they are not seen as “cool” or their students don’t like them. I tend to have a firm hand (you have to with classes of 18-22) but also use humor. One problem with trying to maintain a disciplined classroom is being surrounded by other teachers who let anything go and an admin. who believes that lunch-time detentions with the principal who makes it “fun” is sufficient. Firm but fair is a good standard to maintain.


  3. Well, I’ve had the same experience sort of similar to the author of this post. I’ve worked with well behaved motivated middle class students , and currently work in a title 2 school. I myself went to a title 2 School as a youngster in the U.S. What I’ve come to learn working in environment is the world of IEP, stands for: Individual Education Plans. By law, you have to teach students with IEPs in the least restrictive setting-most of the time that is the regular class setting unless determined different by a placement team. Most of these kids that are eligible for IEPs suffer from physical, emotional abuse or simply are diagnosed with any of the cognitive learning disabilities ranging from A to Z. By the way, when a student us refer and diagnosed with an IEP, means more money to educate that student to the school district and per say to the tax payer of that district. So in short terms, an IEP is costly and NOT preferred by school administrators. So in many title 2 schools, you easily find that “Officially 20% of students” have IEPs, those are usually “Official figures” you know like unemployment rates, poverty etc. So if you take in consideration all these thingS, and analyze the situation, you start understanding and the reasoning behind the tolerancethe for these students’ behavior. A d why many within the system believe that the average teacher should be able to handle these situations and be as effective as needed. So when we compare public Korean educational system to the American public educational , specifically title 2 schools, I would the comparison is inadequate, you are comparing oranges to apples to say the least.


  4. The discussion so far has a bit of an ‘island flavor’ to it, as if schools are somehow separate from the communities around them. As if rules are made by admin, teachers and (at more ‘progressive’ schools) students. As if the story ends right there.

    But that’s not the whole truth, is it?

    One point I always make for my students is this: The rules don’t really come from me or admin or some other school ‘superpower’. No, they are basically student-friendly rewordings of the national and international laws that govern wherever the school is. Then I hear some people say: “Oh, but what if you are teaching in some banana republic?” Well, I have taught in some true banana republics, but even if the local legislation is a mess, there are still international laws and treaties that govern such places!

    I don’t want to drift off into a legalistic spin, but my students do have a right to know that they, too, have to obey laws and that part of my job is to help them with that.

    So if there are some *true* behavior problems (most of it is pretty minor, at least I guess I’ve been rather lucky with my students…), my last resort typically would be to say “Look, you are not just messing with some school policy, you are actually violating a real, existing law! Is that a direction you want to keep going in?”

    Oh, and yes, I have called the police on a student before. Once. And once only. That was the absolute last resort and not something I would gladly do again, but at that point it made all the difference (the student ended up getting kicked out of school…)

    The point is: Why think it’s just about admin, your own classroom management, or keeping parents happy? There is a real world out there, and it’s not particularly cozy if you want to keep breaking rules.

    Anyway, one of my favorite colleagues used to say: “No smiles before the fall break!”. Start the year firm and strong and fair. By the time Christmas rolls around, you should have a well-organized, smooth-flowing classroom community.


  5. I worked at a low income middle school, experienced much of the same, and felt the same way about consequences. The school was all talk when threatening students with being sent to an alternative education school and they knew it. They got away with everything, including pulling down a fire sprinkler in the boys’ bathroom which flooded the entire floor and caused $30,000 worth of damage. That particular student was disciplined with a two-week out-of-school suspension (aka vacation). Like he didn’t feel and wasn’t treated by his peers like the king of the school? The weird thing to me is as I learned more about law and policy within schools, there was no reason not to remove these students to alternative programs because schools/districts don’t need to fear the backlash of a lawsuit when they are not removing a property right, i.e. the student would still be receiving an education. The result of never doing so is the school had essentially turned into a daycare as opposed to a school. Students need to be held accountable both academically and behaviorally from the get go, pure and simple. All of my seventh and eighth graders were essentially on a third grade level but they keep getting passed anyway and they know this too so where’s the motivation? Highest graduation rates ever doesn’t imply basic proficiency in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Only one third of students are proficient in reading and math, check the facts at nationsreportcard.gov.


  6. In my experience there appear to be two broad camps:
    – those that like to have rules for everything, with lists of rules posted everywhere. They seem to believe this is the only way that learning can be accomplished. They endeavour to impose this system on everyone and aren’t happy unless the whole school conforms to their perspective. They seem to measure the quality of a school by how ‘well behaved’ the students are.
    – those that believe schools are about learning, and while it is important that student behaviour shouldn’t get in the way of learning, managing student behaviour isn’t the main function of a teacher.

    I’m neither British or American, and have worked in Primary international schools for 21 years (Botswana, Colombia, Lithuania, Mongolia and China. Many, although not all, of the ‘rules based education’ group seem to be British and many, although not all, of the ‘schools are about learning’ group appear to American. I understand that student behaviour in inner city schools in the US and UK is far more challenging than it is in many international schools. Unfortunately the teachers from the first group still seem to feel that it’s important to rule with an iron fist irrespective of whether they’re in a tough inner-city school or an international school. My US colleagues, on the whole, seem to have far better student management skills and techniques and seem to manage unruly behavior far more effectively than the folk from the UK.

    I realise that this is something of an oversimplification, and I teach, and have taught, with some wonderful, gentle, caring and very effective British teachers. Sadly I have come across far too few of them.


    1. Sadly, it’s true that many British state secondary schools and the more conventional teachers in them are much as you describe. For the frequent results of this re. how kids feel about education, see the old Pink Floyd video of ‘Another Brick in the Wall’. Yet, for the results of not disciplining in this way with kids who have always been immersed in it, see end of same video.


    2. As an American teacher who’s worked in a slew of British schools, I’d say your assessment is fair.

      My graduate teacher program emphasized classroom management, social justice, and differentiation. Not so much emphasis on benchmark achievement or ‘teaching to the test.’ I think my teacher ed program was typical of most in the US. Take from that what you will.

      I find that many of my British colleagues tend to be ‘old school.’ Teacher rules are less about essential agreements and more about ‘Because I say so.’ There’s a great deal of teacher-talk, as opposed to student-led lessons.

      As has been said by other posters, IS’s in regions like East Asia, a top-down approach — really, any approach — works fine because the students by and large are self-motivated to learn, and there’s a lot of pressure from home besides.

      But that ‘old school’ approach does NOT fly in places like the Gulf States. I’ll never forget my time with a British school in one of the Emirates, where the discipline head would scream himself hoarse in an attempt to keep students in line. Picture it: a short little man, dashing about the courtyard at lunch time, literally screaming at a bunch of uber-privileged Emirati kids, every single day, all year long. Needless to say, no amount of volume or frequency changed their behavior. A few of the kids made a game of it, to see who could make him explode first.

      That said, the American system is far from perfect. We tend to OVER manage our classrooms. I mean, without American school teachers, Pinterest would’ve crumbled into obscurity a long time ago! Perfect bulletin boards, perfect call-response routines, perfectly manicured lessons with interactive technology… the list goes on. But take the micromanaging teacher out of the equation (a sick day, for example) and the house of cards comes tumbling down. In brief, I think we could do better at instilling self-reliance, self-discipline, and self-motivation in our students.

      Of course there are exceptions on both sides of the pond. Plenty of British teachers who embrace child-centered, holistic education. Plenty of Americans who insist on being ‘sage on stage’ and publicly embarrassing students who get out of line.

      I feel that as international teachers, we benefit from having an enormous orchard from which to cherry-pick!


  7. Eunice ,Africa.

    I will like to state here that a teacher is the master of his teaching environment and should not wait for the admin to do it .your teaching becomes successful depending on how well you prepare for it .According to the definition of classroom management which says is the creation of an atmosphere in which all learners are empowered to learn,you are the resource person ;a teacher’s teaching is studious when he/she creates a proactive learning environment ,he achieve this by starting his rules from the beginning of the lesson ,makes routine checks during the lesson ,create room for learners to respect him and give incentives for good behavior.
    Safety classroom it is the responsibility of the teacher to create a physical safe learning environment by encouraging every positive traits in a child ,be supportive to the students by encouraging them to ask/answer questions,no negative labeling, no criticizing /sarcasm of learners with wrong answers ,no raising of voice to your learners and find a way of balancing your learner’s answers with the right one when they give wrong response instead of complete dismissal
    A stimulating learning environment will promote your class when you create a clear,shared focus lesson filled with varieties of activities and resources that will engage the learners ,especially starting your lesson with activities /clip play, give them time for class discussion/recap of the lesson,
    As a teacher you do less talking ,yours is to guide the students. Finally i will like to end with this quotes ‘People will forget what you said,People will forget what you did……. but people will never forget how you made them feel,’


    1. I agree with what you’ve said about in-class management. All best practices, what you describe!

      However, admin must take some responsibility for behavior management if the school is to run harmoniously. What happens on the playground when your students encounter kids who don’t know the language of the “I message” or the empathy training or whatever else you may do in your classroom to help the kids be great human beings?

      I believe there needs to be shared vocabulary and expectations across the school, and only admin can make that happen.


  8. Student behavior varies widely at international schools. It depends upon many factors. Some of the worst behaved children I had were Taiwanese or Kuwaiti/Saudi. In one school English was required but not valued and in the Middle Eastern school it was a difficulty of children being raised by nannies. So consequently the children wanted to treat me like their nanny. The abuse those nannies took was incredible.

    It basically all boils down to your ability as a teacher to manage your own class. It can be a challenge. I find it often useful to find a same grade teacher who I can send children to in an emergency situation for a time out. Arrange this in advance. But I do almost all of my discipline myself within my classroom. The minute you send a student out you are giving that student a clear message that you can’t manage their behavior and it gives them control over you.

    I try very hard to shine a light on all the positive behaviors. I am alert to their body cues. If the class is moving around in their seats a lot time to give a more active learning task or to take a movement break. If I see behaviors it is most likely because the work is too hard, too easy, or maybe they have a learning challenge (autism, learning challenged, etc.)

    I build relationships with parents right from the start of the year by sending notes home about positive behaviors i see. Most kids are golden the first week of school. Then if I have to talk to a parent about behavior at least we have some positive history behind us.

    I spend a lot of time at the beginning of the year teaching class routines and behavioral expectations. This helps too.

    I move around the classroom continually. I change seats of students often and stress personal responsibility. If a kid screws up then I talk to them 1 on 1 to ask them what they can do differently, why the behavior occurred, etc. I am also very quick to take away their play time. I stress if their behavior interrupted their learning then we still have to have the time learning so they can learn during their recess. It is not a punitive thing, but focused on learning,

    Most kids respond beautifully. Some kids need constant attention. Figure out what their interval is for attention. Land on them when they drift. Constantly scan the classroom giving nonverbal positive signals to kids who are on task and engaged.

    I also stop all behaviors when they are at a low level so they do not escalate. Children get one nonverbal warning then the next step is a consequence. I am very, very strict. I am not here to be the friend of students, I am their teacher. I tolerate no disrespect and I walk around the classroom projecting an aura of authority and love. I talk often with them about how I have high hopes and expectations that they will develop the skills they need to be excellent, skilled, caring, responsible adults of tomorrow.

    It is always a lot of work but within a few months or less the students all come around and have good behavior.

    I have rarely been lucky enough to have supportive admin, At two schools the biggest problem kids were the child of an administrator. In both cases the children had pretty severe disabilities. The admin people in both cases should have returned to their home countries where there were services for children with those types of disabilities. That creates a lot of heartache for teachers.


  9. I find it very surprising that there have been so few responses to this topic. I think many educators recognize themselves as that teacher that Ricardo referred to when finishing his certification in the U.S. Of course, Ricardo, it is unfashionable to manage your classroom in that way, however, like you, it is the way I do it too. In the school I teach at, which is an International School, I would estimate that out of about 50 teachers in primary about 10 can really control there class and engage them in high learning, I dislike going out of my classroom as I meet unruly classes, shouting teachers, and a whole heap of noise. Goodbye to any real learning!


  10. As a teacher I am a part of the class managment,some times or to be honest most of the time I can’t controle well my classes.
    Specially when you are learning a foreign language like me as a french teacher some of the students are interesting and other no
    The only way that help me to have a class managment is to prepare well my lessons
    the variety of activities the competition between the students and of course to prepare a prices for the winner but we add the winner some times they are not the top for the the lesson but they arw well behave they are following most of the rules of our competition to encourage my students even if they are still weak in the language to participate


  11. It is because of the nightmare in classrooms and a system in denial. Discipline begins with school admin, parents and then teachers who implement. If the admins and parents do not support then a breakdown of basic discipline ensues, which kids abuse in and outside the classroom. It is because of the liberals in education that the system has broken down and they see nothing wrong!


    1. Yup, totally agree. In some international schools the kids are spoilt rotten and parents enable the bad behavior.


  12. Very thought provoking question and responses!

    I agree with a few of the different viewpoints on here. When Admin doesn’t support and provide a clear system of consequences it can be incredibly frustrating. At the same time there is something to be said about a teacher who can get their students to care about their own behavior, allow them to make their own mistakes in order to learn by experience, and who foster a really positive relationship with their students.

    When you’ve got both administrative support and a culture like described above the top down consequences become truly a last resort.

    I would say that regardless of where you teach it’s mostly about the relationship you have with your class. As said above: Students will show up, behave and monitor themselves if the right teacher can teach them how to do it.


  13. Many are probably not going to like my point of view, but here it is: The teacher is the major influence, by far, on what happens in the classroom. Whether the classroom environment is productive or dysfunctional is the teacher’s doing.

    I say this having taught in both inner-city ghetto schools in California and in wealthy private schools in Asia, and many in-between. Two things are true of all of these schools: (1) Curricula and lessons that are engaging, relevant and valuable for students will overcome apathy, bad behavior and acting-out every time. (2) Students will perform for teachers who genuinely care about them, respect them, and like them. Relationships trump course content.

    Developing an awesome classroom requires skill, knowledge, practice and patience, which is why teaching is not for everyone. Most of all, it requires acceptance of the responsibility, rather than deflecting it onto students, parents, administrators, school boards, whomever — along with continual reflection and self-assessment of your practice.


    1. You know, rather than me repeat the same things you stated above let me just say that your insight is dead-bang on. Engage your students, build relationships with them, teach the behaviors you want to see and then watch learning flourish in your classroom.


    2. Yes Ricardo, same same for me. I couldn’t have put it better than China Teacher. I’ve taught in Australian State schools for 20 years and 12 years in 4 International Schools. Just retired and not missing the hard work but which brought so many rewards.


    3. I couldn’t agree more. Teachers that like and respect their students get more from them. While kids will always act up occasionally (they are kids after all), they will work hard and take pride in their work and themselves if they have a teacher they know cares about them and believes in them.


    4. The China Teacher speaks the truth! As a 34-year teacher and principal in both public schools in the US and in an International School in Europe, I concur completely. Now I am a consultant and trainer for Safe & Civil Schools, an organization that looks to the research about classroom and school management. We know too much about what works to blame student behavior on something that might be out of our control…..those are few and far between. Most students will behave appropriately and learn with teachers who have positive relationships, set clear expectations, structure their classroom for student success and genuinely like (if not love) their students!


    5. Yes, China Teacher, you are right! Saying that, it can, nevertheless, be just so much easier to get on with doing this in some catchments/cultures than in others. Also, speaking stereotypically from my own and many colleagues’ experiences over many years, it is– very broadly and for reasons to do with regional culture– somewhat easier in the Far East & Sub-Saharan Africa and harder in Latin America & the Mid-East.


  14. The reason I left the United States is because of the situation you described. I was also in the “worst” part of town. My first four years there were fine, but you get tired.

    You will have better behaved students in international schools. There are certain places where the only kids that can go are the wealthy ones … stay away from those. However, most international schools are made up of either “the cream of the crop” or students that are foreigners themselves.

    I’ve found that I have adopted a very dominating presence, so it’s very obvious who rules the classroom; hence no behaviour issues. I always love the students telling me at the end of the year that they were scared of me at first. I reply, “Then I’ve still got it ;)”


  15. I think it really depends on the school you are at. The parents, local attitude towards education, director’s and principal’s support and the level of entitlement the kids demonstrate. I found South America to be full of over indulged kids who thought they were really something special….too special to study or pay attention in class. We trudged through the year.

    In Thailand I found kids that challenged me to keep them challenged. They were polite and focused and ready and willing to learn. I found the American students at the school the least focused as a group. In Romania we had kids from 52 cultures. Some kids were great learners and some were not. Although some people would like to blanket an entire culture as learners or as slackers, I don’t think this is a fair assessment. It really depends on the school culture.

    I will say that without admin support it is pretty much a lost cause. Especially when admin will not allow teachers to exercise any sort of consequences for poor behavior, or when they make the teacher the culprit when kids don’t behave….”what is it about you that incites kids to talk in class, not do homework and not get on task?” Directors that take that stance are a detriment to education, puppets of the parents and students and really should do us all a favor and pursue a different field.

    Liked by 1 person

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