Classroom management for adult students can be a tricky road to walk. One of the benefits of teaching adults is that you don’t have to constantly deal with discipline and class management the way you do with kids.

For the most part, adult learners can stay in their seats, follow directions and willingly complete tasks. They are usually in your class by choice, whether it’s because they want to improve their career prospects or get into a good university abroad.

However, that doesn’t mean you can completely forget about classroom management. Your adult students are human beings, after all, with bad habits, egos, opinions and complex relationships that often clash in the ESL classroom. Here are some tips for to manage of your adult ESL students.

class management

Make the Rules Clear from The Start

Just like kids, adults need your expectations spelled out from the start. Your list of rules will hopefully be much different than the ones you use for younger students, but you will still need to lay out your expectations around behavior in the classroom.

Anticipate issues such as cell phone use during class or speaking their native language in the classroom, and spell out the rules around those issues from day one. It can save you a lot of hassle down the line.

Manage students’ expectations

Often, your adult students are in the class by choice and are probably shelling out their own hard-earned money for classes. As such, their expectations can be high.

It’s easy to forget what a long-term process learning a new language can be. When students are frustrated that their English isn’t improving as fast as they hope, it’s easy to blame the teacher.

Be realistic about what they can expect to learn in your class, invite input on what each student wants to focus on, and help them find a way to track their progress over the course of the class so that they feel that their expectations are met.

Maintain your Authority in the Classroom

Especially when your adult students are older than you, or are in high power professions such as law or business, it can be difficult to be the authority figure in the classroom. Thus, you need to maintain your authority in order to have effective class management.

You have to remember that no matter how highly educated your students are, how many decades they have on you, or how respected they are in their field, you are the expert in English.

They are coming to you and paying money for your expertise, and that means they are acknowledging that in your class, you are in charge. You may occasionally have students who try to challenge your authority (it’s human nature to push boundaries, after all).

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Whether it’s a student who talks too much during lessons or someone who consistently questions the validity of your information/lessons, or a student who doesn’t think what you are teaching is useful, make sure you strike a balance between addressing any real concerns and keeping the class moving along for other students.

Keeping your authority is about earning the trust of your students and presenting yourself with confidence.

Be Careful of Developing Friendships with Students

When you are teaching students who are close in age to you, it can be easy to feel like they are your peers. Your students also love hanging out with their teacher and are happy to show you around and introduce you to their culture.

This can get complicated in a lot of ways, though; friendships with some students can lead to you subtly playing favorites, or going easy on those students because they are your friends.

And, not to be too cynical, but it’s not uncommon for students to hang out with you because they can get free English conversation practice. I recommend keeping a comfortable distance between you and your students until they are no longer your students; then if you find yourself still wanting to hang out you can let a real friendship develop without the complication of the student/teacher relationship.

Manage Debates and Discussions Carefully

No matter how old they are, some students want to be heard and will talk over others. Other students are shy and tend not to speak up. Don’t assume that just because someone is an adult that you don’t have to worry about how much they are speaking up in class.

As a teacher, it is your role to make sure that even the quietest student has ample chance to speak up. Don’t let one or two students dominate discussions and answer all the questions before anyone else has a chance to chime in.

Some adult students may even talk over you and start to take control of the class away from you. Make sure that you structure class in such a way that everyone has a turn to practice their speaking or express their opinion, and that you are able to carry out effective class management to those more talkative students.

Be prepared to resort to methods such as raising hands before they speak, or only allowing 1 minute per student during group discussions, or even pulling a student aside after class and pointing out the problems their behavior is causing.

classroom management

Be Aware of Interpersonal Relationships

Just like sometimes your younger students don’t get along, your older students will have the occasional conflict or drama. One student may say something that offends another, or different backgrounds may cause tension.

Often, these conflicts can be much more subtle than those between kids, which means you have to be extra alert and extra sensitive to them. You may also have the opposite issue: students who form close friendships and cliques to the exclusion of others.

You don’t necessarily have to split up groups of friends or force students to work together, but it’s important to pay attention to these relationships so that when problems start to crop up, you can nip them in the bud.

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