How and Who to organize classroom management – Backtalking and discipline

As we began talking about classroom management we first have to consider the word classroom and its components, as there is the room itself, its decoration, its outer conditions and the protagonists inside it: the learners and the teacher. Where do they sit, stand, write, talk, listen, interact, sing etc. and where does the teacher stand, sit, talk, listen, interact write etc.? Do they have any preferences? Do they perhaps like to change the classroom design before beginning to work?
When I think about the word discipline many ideas come to my head and I like a lot what Fred Jones said about being a disciplinated teacher, the one that knows how to deal with his students’ behaviour as well as how to deal with himself. To teach discipline in classes we need to know us as well what our concept of it is like. I have had the possibility so far to get to know many different teachers, differencies depending on their subjects but first of all and mainly on their own individual characters.
Being calm (and serene) is having strength; that is what Dr. Fred Jones tells us; and I totally agree on his point. And in contrast to this becoming upset is a synonym for weakness. What do we want to be like then being teachers – for sure we (should) want to be calm and strong. Because being calm and demonstrating strength is a characteristics that gives students security.
Being a student I have lived some situations in which students created a melodrama for the teacher by inviting him/her to his backtalking. It has been really annoying and disturbing for the rest of the class. But being the center of the backtalk, the one pupil who is organizing the comedy, that was quite a funny experience I have to admit. Other teachers would never have entered this game and let the fire burn down – as Jones said and as I will mention later on.

My latest experience and perhaps one of the most vivids was during my teaching at a private university where many many classmates would not want to listen, to interact, to write or do anything concerning classes – not even play games; they would be backtalking all the time. And I think I just gave up hope and interest and go on giving the lessons with just the few pupils interested sitting in the first row – I just did not know how to react to all those “mocosos”. And besides, I was not even interested in them; I just wanted to get out of that classroom and go far away. Discipline was very far away in these moments. It was probably me throwing gasoline on a fire – as Jones states – as I opened my mouth and yes, backtalk then just blowed up in my face. That was one of the worst but as well one of the best experiences in my teaching experience so far because I learned to get to know my limits. It would definitely have been better to have them run out of material so that embarrassement would have set in; as: “When students begin to feel foolish, they fold.”(

Discipline is a behaviour and attitude we want the learners to learn or that we could suppose they have already learnt at home – but many many times discipline is taught in school and any (private) class we give. Being a teacher is a lifelong learning process and together with the students we are getting more and more mature; we are all (as human beings) on our way to find out about wisdom. Before we have been talking about teachers in their role as facilitators, moderators, asesors – supporting students in their learning process; and now with Fred Jones we are concentrating on another aspect of being a teacher. What we are saying and showing to the class might not be interesting for everybody; that could be one reason for backtalking.
The so called “Cardinal Error” a teacher could commit is backtalkig to students for they have backtalked before. In this moment the teacher gives up any discipline himself, as he/she is doing exactly the same he/she doesn’t want the student to do – so he/she is contradicting his own principles and the classroom is to become a backtalk room.
Here is what Fred Jones says concerning the backtalk dialogue created by a student and the teacher: “It is not uncommon to witness two children arguing. But witnessing a child and a teacher arguing is most disconcerting — which brings us to our first rule of backtalk:
It takes one fool to backtalk.
It takes two fools to make a conversation out of it.”

Discipline has to do with respect, mutual respect and it only works in a space of respect. So this is a principal component of classroom management and a great basic tool for formulating rules and any recommendation (as seen on Aloha’s blog: And Ed states something very similar on her blog, where she mentions:
“Discipline is created by giving behaviour rules to students.” (
“Effective classroom management, i.e. organising the classroom and the learners, is dependent on the teacher adopting appropriate roles. For example, when learners arrive late in class or misbehave, the teacher needs to deal with the situation appropriately to ensure that the learners understand that this is not acceptable behaviour. In this situation, the teacher’s role is primarily to maintain discipline. If, on the other hand, the teacher adopts inappropriate roles, this can have a negative effect on classroom management.” (TKT book page 200)

So last but not least I would like to end up my commentary with some questions that I have been reflecting about during reading and writing:
What do we need discipline for?
How important is it though in a classroom/in class?
Without discipline is there any good working class possible?


2 thoughts on “How and Who to organize classroom management – Backtalking and discipline

  1. I think Judith makes a very important point with her reflection: Discipline, in my opinion, has to be taught in order to have respect and to be able as a teacher to manage the classroom in an effective way. But for all of this, as Judith states, it is necessary to get to know ourselves first and as she comments in her not so funny experience with the private university, it really helps to know our limits in case we are about to explode because of the childish or disrespectful behavior of our students.

  2. Judith,
    In many of the private institutions in the country where we live and work, most students come to school to judge you as their teacher. It is not fun.l And falling into the backtalk game as you say, feeds the fire.
    I agree with you when you say that students need t come to class ready to learn, and in most cases they do. When they are forced into classes, such as they probably were in your case, they feel little motivation to learn. That is where our first job as teachers is not to teach them the language is to motivate them. It seems silly, but we first have to go out of our way to share our enthusiasm with them.

    That does not mean that we are going to sing and dance; it does mean that we are going to give them the responsibility for their learning and that is hardly ever done, as well as set them as the center of the learning. Asking them to help establish goals at the very beginning is one way to bring them on board, as long as they do not go against school policy. Another way is to let them know that you care about what they feel and think. In private schools, students’ feelings are very much ignored, and it could be a positive way of getting them to respect and self-discipline.

    It is not a matter of knowing how to act…they know. It is matter of motivation.

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