Adult Classroom Management for New Teachers

Adult Classroom Management for New Teachers

Reading Time: 7 minutes

For new teachers, adult students require a unique classroom management skill compared to managing a class of children.  This skill differs because the adult students, age 18 years old and older, are mature enough to realize that respect is given to those who deserve their respect.  In addition, adult students have their own standards and expectations for their teachers, and they have life experience that must be considered when managing adults in a classroom.  Also, many new teachers are closer in age to adult students, or may be even younger than their students, which presents a unique challenge for new teachers.  Therefore, if you are a new teacher of adult students, then you must strengthen your classroom management skills to be effective.  

Classroom management skills are essential to successfully teach adult students.  A teacher can motivate children with games or candy, but those tactics do not work with adult students.  A new teacher needs to learn how to motivate and challenge adult students, so the student wants to come back for another lesson.  A good rule of thumb for new foreign teachers is:  If you would NOT do it in your own country, then you should NOT do it in another country!  In other words, new teachers should be very clear about their own professional standards for themselves, and be confident to share their standards and expectations with the adult students.  Consequently, it is the teacher’s professional standards and personality that will make or break a new teacher when managing a class of adult students. 

One challenge that many new foreign teachers encounter when teaching adult students is that older students expect a teacher to know and become a part of the teaching culture in that country.  For example, teachers in China are highly respected, so the adult students are wise enough to have high expectations for both their native and foreign teachers.  Therefore, adult students will require a foreign teacher to not only respect them but also their culture by performing as a professional teacher.  So, if are going to manage a class of adult students, in China or elsewhere, then you will need to honor your students and their culture by being a respected teacher first and foremost.  One way to manage an adult classroom is to show the students that you are a teacher that deserves their respect by being prepared, organized and resourceful.  

As one experienced teacher of adult students explained, “I am friendly, but not their friend”.  Yes, there is a difference.  One may think it is a fine line and a small difference that does not matter, but it is crossing this fine line that creates many problems for new foreign teachers.  I have seen many new foreign teachers crossing this line and failing with their adult students by trying too hard to be the students’ friend, instead of focusing on being a respected teacher in the classroom. I have witnessed many new teachers who were not invited back to teach in the next semester because their adult student evaluation scores were very low.  

Many adult students will not confront their teacher directly, instead they will simply give them a low score on their teacher evaluation. After all, it is not the students’ responsibility to tell the teacher how to conduct themself, but it is the students’ responsibility to evaluate the teacher’s conduct and effectiveness on behalf of their school.  Most of the time, these new teachers thought they were ‘friends’ with their students.  The reality is that adult students do not pay money to go to class to be friends with their teacher.  Adult students attend class to learn a skill that they can use for their futures.  Therefore, adult students expect their teacher to be friendly, but not to be their friend, because adults have higher standards and expectations for themselves and their teachers..  This is one of the classroom management skills that a new teacher must incorporate in order to be successful when teaching adult students.

This real-life situation will explain why being friendly but not their friend is important when teaching adult students:

A handful of students approached me asking for help with their new foreign teacher who invited them to the foreign teacher’s apartment to hang out.  The students were embarrassed for the teacher and uncomfortable to go to their next class, as they each took turns explaining:  I think it is weird and strange that a teacher wants to ‘hang out’ and be our friend.  Don’t they have their own friends?  My other teachers don’t invite us to their apartments to hang out with them.  What do they want to do with us in their apartment?  I want to spend time with my family and friends after class, not with my teacher.  I am uncomfortable and I don’t want to go, but I feel obligated to go, because they are my teacher and I must respect them.  

This example explains why classroom management skills are of the utmost importance both inside and outside of the classroom when teaching adult students.  Classroom management is a valuable skill that new teachers struggle with.  If one can not manage themself outside of a classroom, then one will have even more difficulty with managing adult students inside of a classroom.  Also, this example confirms the high expectations that the adult students have for their teachers in many countries.  This is why it is critical for new teachers to have their own professional standards for themselves before they start teaching adults.  

As a new teacher, you need to decide what is acceptable and unacceptable for you personally and professionally.  Also, a new teacher must understand the teaching culture in the country he or she plans to teach in before accepting a job in that country.  Lastly, a new teacher should speak to the experienced teachers at the school or read the school’s Teachers’ Handbook, if available.  All of these sources will help a new teacher to develop their classroom management skills that are essential for teaching adult students.

To clarify the above example further, this new teacher was young, it was their first teaching position after they graduated from a university and their first year living in China.  This new teacher was homesick, but this was not an appropriate way for them to fill their free-time.  A professional teacher of adult students will spend their time outside of the classroom with other teachers, their peers, their family and friends.  Or, they will work on developing themselves in their profession, but they will not just hang out with their adult students for fun.  

Those students were comfortable enough to speak directly to their new teacher, and that situation was resolved amiably.  Conversely, there are many situations like this that escalate quickly to an even worse outcome for a new teacher when the young adult students speak directly to their school counselor, their parents or the university officials about their new teacher’s behavior.  As a new teacher, you do not want to be the one who is called into the school office to have that talk about how to conduct yourself with adult students in any country.  Therefore, new teachers must demonstrate strong classroom management skills that include managing themselves first so that they area able to manage their adult students appropriately, both inside and outside of the classroom.

It usually takes two years for a new teacher to form their own teaching style and establish their own classroom management skills.  New teachers need to determine how they will implement their teaching style while also managing and developing their adult students’ skills.  For example, some of my peers are musicians, so they made the decision that it is acceptable for them to take their guitar to their class, because that is their teaching style and their standards for their adult students’ classes.  As a new teacher, like my peers, you will also need to be very distinct and develop your own standards and expectations of yourself so that you are able to effectively manage a classroom full of adult students, who have their own ideas and expectations for you.

It is the classroom management skills that are essential for a new teacher when teaching adults.  If one can not manage the class, then the best lesson plans and exercises do not matter.  Unlike children, adult students are responsible for themselves, and they will get up and walk out of your class.  Adult students are able to make their own choices, and they will choose to not attend your next class if you do not meet their expectations of managing them while developing their skills.  Many new teachers have low attendance scores that are directly linked to their lack of classroom management skills.  

The art and science of teaching adult students is a balance between independence and dependency coupled with teaching and developing their skills.  If you are too lax, they will not respect you and take advantage of you.  If you are too strict, they will feel disrespected, and will not come back to your class.  As a new teacher, one must be very clear on how to communicate their expectations and standards to adult students from the very beginning, which will set a foundation for all of the adults to work together.  New teachers can do this by providing their classroom expectations in a written document and shard with each student, so the students will have something to reference on their own.  Therefore, I recommend that you share your teaching standards and expectations in writing with your adult students in the first class as part of introducing yourself to your students.  

Consequently, the more clear and up front a new teacher is in the first class, the better understanding the adult students will have regarding what is expected from them.  This will earn the respect of the adult students, which is different than teaching children.  The saying I seem to use over and over again with my adult students is, “I am not strict, but I do have standards”.  Then, I remind the adult students that I know they can do it, because I am here to support their learning.  Also, I remind them often that I am available if they have any questions or concerns.  New teachers as well as experienced teachers will need to remind the students of the standards for the class for at least the first few weeks.  Yes, adult students will test a new teacher to confirm their conviction regarding their standards, as that is simply human nature.  So, as a new teacher, be prepared for your adult students to test your convictions on your expectations and standards.  You must be consistent with both of these, as this is how you will earn the respect of your adult students. Once the adult students respect you, then you will know that your classroom management skills are strong.

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