Dealing with conflict as an ESL/EFL Teacher

Teaching English as an EFL or ESL teacher will involve dealing with some conflict. Here is how to recognise that conflict and how to combat it!

Dealing with conflict as a teacher can come in many forms. Do you have kids screaming down the place? Are parents coming at you with unreasonable requests? Have you witnessed unfair or unjust behaviour?

Even after just one solitary year of teaching, we have experienced all the above. It’s not easy coming in as a newly qualified ESL teacher.

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If you’re like Henry and in a school, there are processes to learn, lesson planning, probably a new city to navigate. You also have to prepare for someone sitting in your classes occasionally to assess your teaching capabilities. This is hella daunting!

If like Jenni and you teach privately, unlike in a school environment parents will be around while you’re teaching.  Lesson planning is more casual but a necessity and kids will probably misbehave a bit more in a casual setting. There is a lot of, “can we just play games?!”.

Bad Behaviour

When we come home at night and have our one meal of the day together, we probably spend a good percentage of our catch-up ranting about unruly children. Every country has a different approach to how much kids can get away with. Some are stricter than others so be careful to adjust your attitude and not cross any boundaries.

angry bad john art black and white emotion
Photo by Jan Prokes on

In school and dealing with conflict

In a classroom environment when it comes to children and teenagers the biggest disadvantage is that they will want to talk to each other or mess around with their friends. What is important is setting your classroom rules before you start a semester. You can have set rules like no phones, only speaking in English etc. Make it an activity in your first lesson and make a poster and ensure that everyone agrees to stick to those rules from the get-go.

Hand gestures are another powerful tool. You can teach them to look out for certain signals. This tells them it’s the start of a new activity or to repeat a word. Therefore, it gives you control over the class without verbalising directions.

Private classes and dealing with conflict

Everyone is more relaxed at home. It’s a great way to teach kids because you have loads of materials/toys and real-life examples of language/vocab readily available. It does mean that kids will just want to play. Therefore, the first thing you need to do is agree on a workspace. This is better if it’s away from parents as they will learn better. The tendency to ask parents what something means instead of trying to understand on their own is often too great. Have a set of rules too, just like in a classroom. Again you can use all the same techniques to control one or two children as you use for a class.

man in black and white polo shirt beside writing board-dealing-with-conflict-teacher
No Phones! Photo by Pixabay on

What Do You Do About Consistently Bad Behaviour?

There are no quick fixes, but these are all things we have used in the past. In terms of teaching in school, there is usually a chain of command and other staff around to take your issues to. When it comes to privately teaching the parents are often there so you can talk to parents post-lesson. They can move forward with any discipline. While you are in the classroom you can use instant rewards, smiley faces or gold stars on a chart to encourage good behaviour. A promise of a fun game at the end of the lesson is also good bribery (we’re sure parents know this technique only too well!).

The Parent/Teacher Relationship (Dealing with conflict)

Parents quite understandably want the best for their children, so do listen to their concerns. Be prepared for parents who expect their child to be further ahead or concerned about their child’s behaviour.

This can be tricky….

As a private teacher, Jen gives feedback at the end of all lessons. Even if it’s just commenting on how well they focus, or how much they are concentrating on in a lesson. It’s good practice to write an in-depth report after a semester is finished. Write what they have learned, where they are at and what we do going forward. Send it an email to the parents. Short tests after each module, and projects also show parents how much they have learned.

In a school setting, there isn’t that direct relationship, but parents will speak to the school about their concerns. It’s always best to fill in your progress reports and to continuously assess your students’ level. This helps with teaching your classes and showing your superiors that you are doing the work properly. You will also likely be asked to come up with tests and projects as evidence of their learning.

Unfair/Unjust Behaviour (Dealing with conflict)

Firstly, do your research on where you are going to teach. We check, social media and even ask past employees to ascertain what a school is like before taking a job. Henry chose the school in Bratislava because it was recommended, and they have given him lots of support. Even taking us both to get the right documentation to live and work in Slovakia.

Remember you are a professional!

In a previous article, Jenni talked about being badly treated in lessons as a private teacher and she had to stand up for herself while doing it in a professional manner. Read more about that conflict situation here.

We’ve both heard from other teachers how schools have given them zero support, firing staff for having an undisclosed illness and bullying. ESL teachers are usually travellers so new staff are employed every semester and sometimes the working conditions are not ideal.

Things To Look Out For!

We recommend making sure you have enough money to leave if it’s awful. Find a mentor when you arrive at a new school and always fight your corner in a professional manner (evidence-based arguments in emails etc). You should never be made to feel uncomfortable in someone’s home if you teach privately. Therefore, set some clear boundaries and a professional tone from day one.

Schools can charge you for terminating a contract early so don’t be caught out by that!

Other teachers are a great source of help when you are in a tricky situation. Also, have a knowledge of employment laws of the country you are in or going to. Always be prepared. If something feels wrong or you get no support, know where you stand and how to protect your own worker rights.

Don’t forget to stand up for your rights!

We hope this helps with anyone thinking about ESL teaching or any new teachers looking for jobs right now. Don’t hesitate to comment or DM us on our social media channels if you need advice.

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