As teachers, we know possibly better than anyone else that when things go wrong, they can really go wrong.
Being able to solve problems on your feet is one of the most valuable skills a teacher can have. There are so many variables as to what can go awry in a classroom that generally luck would have it, many things tend to go wrong at the same time. Face problems head on with these tips, and you will be able to handle the worst of classroom disasters!
HOWTO: Problem-Solving on Your Feet
It may seem obvious, but when a situation goes wrong in the classroom, the number one element that will serve you best is to simply, stay cool. Sometimes this is easier said than done. Problems that arise in the classroom can be embarrassing, mentally taxing, and downright excruciating. If you stay calm though, it will only help you to see the picture in front of you clearly, and also discover what the solution is. For example, if an activity is not going according to plan and is failing the objectives you had set for it, if you were to get worked up, you may just add to the problem. With a clear head, look at what the students are doing, and then examine what you assigned them to do. If the two don’t come close to matching, the next thing to do is to find the disconnect. Perhaps students weren’t clear on their directives, or they took it upon themselves to change the activity once they got into it. Don’t get upset with the class, but definitely intervene and rectify the situation.
Some classroom difficulties are easier to rectify than others. If you come across a particularly unsettling situation, like having technical difficulties, try to intersperse some humor. Perform any solution you can think of to fix the problem while making fun of either yourself or the technical problem itself. It does wonders to lighten the mood, takes the pressure off, and gives you time to really assess the problem. Students are generally understanding when a technical or computer issue arises. Engage the class with a joke or funny story while you are working on fixing the issue. This way, the students’ attention will remain on you, and it won’t be an excuse for them to start side conversations, begin texting, or worse, become unruly or out of hand! Show them that you can handle the situation and if you can’t fix the problem, all is not lost.
There are all kinds of problems that can happen when you are not prepared or when you are not prepared enough. If, for example, you are trying out a brand new activity and are uncertain as to how it will go, prepare yourself that it may not go as well as you hope and it may not take as long as you think it will. Try to troubleshoot new activities by noticing any gaps or things that may not be clear for students. Estimate the time to be less and if it goes longer, then you be prepared for that as well. If it falls short, falls flat, or is just plain bad you can try a couple of things. If it falls short, you want to have enough planned so that you are not left struggling to fill the class time. Always have an arsenal of quick games or activities that you can whip up if something falls short. If your objective is lost to the students, and they don’t jump in to the activity, you can try re-explaining it or asking what questions they have about what they should be doing. Give the activity a second chance to launch and see if there is anything that you can quickly tweak to make it more palatable. If you need to abandon an activity, do it in a way that the students will respect. Either admit that it didn’t go well and ask them for their feedback, or tell that you have other things planned for the day and that time is running low. You don’t have to prepare yourself in advance for things to flop necessarily, but you do want to make sure to always well-equipped to deal with equipment failures, student distractions, or logistics gone wrong.
If things don’t go quite as you had planned, flexibility is a great trait to develop. Don’t take it personally that your activity flopped or that students were particularly uncooperative. Allow yourself and the class to move forward without getting stuck in the bad juju of a situation that went wrong. It is really important to be their guiding light in all situations, but particularly during a storm. If you display flexibility and can switch gears it can be a remarkable example and learning moment for students.
Ask for Help
There is no harm in asking a student or another teacher for help. Often with technical problems, your students may be just as savvy as you are, and you can enlist their help while you manage the class. If there are other teachers close by you could possibly send a student out to locate and bring back help. You will no doubt learn how to fix the problem, and never forget it. There is no harm in asking for or requesting help as long as it isn’t a weekly occurrence.
Don’t let one glitch (or several) get you down.
Teachers are resourceful beings and we always find a way to rescue ourselves and our students from painful situations. Don’t beat yourself up, and if all else fails, cut yourself a break, have a good laugh and trust that you pulled out the best possible solution in that particular scenario!
I am an ex-ESL teacher who has transitioned from that industry into the field of adult education. I have a long history of teaching ESL in numerous countries and varied classroom settings. I’ve also taught a variety of learners, but found I loved teaching teens and adults the best. I spent three years certifying and training want-to-be teachers in China and the Czech Republic. I am also a writer and editor interested in anything to do with education, travel, and lifelong learning.
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