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The Four Major Challenges Facing Public Primary School Teachers & How To Deal With Them

In this article, I tackle the four most common problem situations that public primary school teachers can encounter and also suggest some ways to deal with them. They are as follows:

1. Large classes

Large classes can present the teacher with a number of problems from trying to involve all students equally to classroom control.

Large classes are often more dynamic and dramatic. A large number of students equal a greater variety of ideas. Experienced teachers can use this to their advantage and organize humorous, involving classes.

Few teachers would choose large classes over smaller ones, as they make a difficult job even more challenging. However, most teachers, at some time in their careers, especially in public schools, will find themselves dealing with groups of 30 to 100 students.

Using some of the below suggestions can make this potentially difficult situation a great deal easier and more enjoyable.

Using worksheets

Rather than going through activities with the whole class, hand out worksheets. This way, each student will participate and gain some benefit.

Using pair/group work

Experienced teachers can use a lot of this to maximize student involvement. Clear instructions are vital with pair/group work done in large classes.

Making sure everything is clear

Not only should your voice be audible but also board work should be visible. Try to ensure that everything is clear to the whole class.

Using choral repetition

Again, this will help get all students involved.

Appointing group leaders

Use them to make classroom management easier. Group leaders can be used to hand out copies, collect work, keep control of the group, etc.

Get the guidebook TEFL Essential Skills to learn more about how to manage EFL classes.

2. Use of native language

The use of the students’ native tongue can be problematic in monolingual classes. This is usually not ”malicious” but more a case of wanting to communicate something that they feel unable to express in English or wanting to explain something to help another student.

Although many teachers understand and sympathize with this, the main job of the EFL teacher is to have the students practise and improve their English language skills.

There are a number of things that the teacher can do in such a situation:

Using appropriate activities

Make sure the activities you use are at an appropriate level and that the students have the necessary language to cope.

Using clear explanation

Make sure your explanations are clear to all class members. They then shouldn’t need to clarify or explain to each other in their native language.

Encouraging the use of English

Encourage the use of English where appropriate. This doesn’t mean a total ban on their language, but for them to only use it when absolutely necessary and never in a speaking activity!

Don’t respond to them in their language

If students try speaking to you in their own language, make sure you don’t respond. Students should get used to trying to express their thoughts and ideas in English, even if it isn’t grammatically perfect.

If you show them that you understand their language, they will try and use it more and more in situations where they could have found a way to express themselves in English.

Constantly remind the students and encourage them to use English in the classroom.

Refer back to When And Why To Use The Mother Tongue In EFL Classes

3. Reluctant students to talk or participate in class

At some time or another, most teachers come across students who don’t seem to want to talk or participate in class. For some it may be cultural, for others, it may be intimidation or confidence issues.

Here are some useful ideas to encourage students to speak and participate in class:

Use plenty of pair work

This will allow the students to practise in a safe environment, with the support of a fellow student, before having to contribute to open class discussion/feedback.

Use controlled practice

Ensure the students are able to produce language in a controlled way before expecting them to be able to produce it fluently.

Use role-play

Some students find it more comfortable to communicate when they are acting as somebody else than when they are being themselves. Role-plays are very helpful in this respect.

Use a tape recorder

Ask the students to record what they would like to say outside the lesson. This allows the student to express themselves in a less threatening atmosphere. The teacher can listen to the recording and point out errors.

Get the guidebook TEFL Essential Skills to learn more about how to teach speaking and develop your students’ speaking skills.

4. Students struggle with listening texts

This seems to be a problem that is common to students of nearly every nationality.

To solve it, many teachers avoid using cassettes and read aloud the listening text or ask students to do so.

This is not acceptable because if it happens, the listening task will be converted to reading comprehension.

The teacher should work with the students to help improve their listening comprehension skills.

First of all, make sure that the students listen to a text and then do some tasks based on their listening.

Another common problem the teacher is often faced with is what to do when one or two students have finished tasks, yet other students may be only part way through.

Should you go at the speed of the quickest or the slowest students?

Most teachers take the ‘common sense’ view that we should carry out the lesson at the pace of the majority of the class.

A solution for this situation is to select extra activities/materials on the listening text. In this case, if some students finish early, they can do these extra activities. Word searches are convenient and often popular as useful finishers.

Get the guidebook TEFL Essential Skills to learn more about how to teach listening and develop your students’ listening skills.

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