Classroom management is a phrase and concept all teachers are familiar with and know intimately.

The concept can be defined in several ways, but essentially refers to the actions a teacher uses to create an environment and climate where effective teaching and learning can take place. If students are not engaged in instruction and are off-task, even the most exciting concepts or topics and the most dynamic instructional techniques will fall short, as students are concentrating on something else or behaving inappropriately.

Teachers get into the business of teaching because they want to help people learn to develop new skills and knowledge, and ultimately to make the world a better place. When asked what the purpose of education is, teachers often report they want to help students become life-long learners and productive members of society.

Employers are seeking students who ...

  • are self-regulated learners and are motivated to learn about the world
  • want to improve on their own work in the workplace and learn how to more efficiently implement a process
  • are creative and critical thinkers
  • know how to communicate well and collaborate with others

But when inappropriate or disruptive behavior interrupts the process of helping students to develop these skills, frustration may ensue for the teacher and other students.

There are numerous issues that impact classroom management skills, in general terms, but also when working with students who are English learners or who come from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Issues of bullying and lack of empathy impact many students in schools today. Prejudice and perceptions of race or social class can impact student dynamics among students and teachers.

Students from differing cultures may have different experiences and notions of how school works, what the expectations of school are, and how to behave appropriately in school. When to address a teacher, when to talk to other students, gender roles in communication in the classroom, eye contact, and the concept of discipline vary from culture to culture.

As we learn about students' cultural backgrounds and norms, our perspective and strategies to manage the classroom should change to respond to student behavior in a more culturally appropriate way.

When students feel threatened, humiliated, ridiculed or even disliked by the teacher or other students, learning is negatively impacted. When working with students who have experienced some form of trauma in their lives, the "fight or flight" instinct may take over when a student feels as though they are threatened in some way.

For students who have experienced being in war-torn countries or have been refugees, or students who have had harrowing experiences coming to this country, the instinct to initially resist against authority or to rebel when being confronted may stem from past experiences outside of school. It is important that as teachers we recognize that these negative experiences may impact students' negative behavior.

In second-language acquisition theory, the concept of the affective filter states that language learning can be facilitated or hindered based on the emotional variables experienced by the student.

When the student feels stress, anxiety, a fear of failure or embarrassment, the affective filter is "high" and does not allow language (and potentially content) to come through. When individuals feel comfortable and risk-taking is encouraged and celebrated in learning a new language (or content), learning is facilitated.

The affective filter can be raised or lowered depending on the actions of the teacher and other students in the class. Classroom management, in part, plays a part in the facilitation or hindrance of language and content learning.

In Part 2 of this article, we will explore some effective classroom management strategies for working with culturally and linguistically diverse students.