I’ve taught a variety of classes in my short time as a teacher – from hard-working businessmen, to dynamic university students, to genteel retirees. One thing that is important with any group of students is classroom culture.
What is it?
Classroom culture is the set of unspoken rules and assumptions about behavior and attitudes during the lesson. It’s created by you, your students, the type of course, the location… a whole heap of things that contribute to the atmosphere in your lessons.
How can you control it?
Do you even need to control classroom culture? Certainly, there are no correct or incorrect cultures. But if you are in control then the atmosphere will be more conducive to learning. The goal, then, is to be in control of the culture and gain the respect of your students – thereby allowing you to teach in your own style and encourage learning.
Sue Swift, in her excellent TEFL blog ‘An ELT Notebook’, wrote on a similar theme and defined seven key areas to think about. You might just want to let it happen naturally, but being aware of the classroom culture and influencing it, even speaking about it with your students, is the wisest course as it puts you in control.
Some key questions to ask about the classroom culture
What are the backgrounds of my students?
What is their motivation for learning English?
Should I expect perfect punctuality, attendance and attention?
Should I be more flexible, allowing interruptions, tangents and discussion?
Does the layout of the room encourage communication and openness or does it direct all the attention to me?
Should students sit in the same place every week, or do I want them to move around (people become territorial remarkably quickly when it comes to the classroom)?
Is homework compulsory or not?
What’s my stand on the use of L1 in the classroom?
When to establish culture
The first lesson. Don’t take let it fester. It’s considerably harder to solve a problem than it is to prevent one (what’s happened to me – I sound like a Labour MP!). First lessons are always daunting, but taking the time to establish a few rules and discuss some non-academic issues will help to build a rapport between you and the students and give you an insight into their way of thinking.
If you’re going to be meeting these people every week for a year, then you want to get classroom culture right.