Mairi Wilkins on Adult Classroom Management

H. A. Rehm

Mairi Wilkins addressed a topic of particular interest to new teachers of adults at the Ohio TESOL Conference on Friday, November 9th.  She pointed out that classroom management is an issue in adult classes because teachers don’t anticipate it, and don’t prepare for it. Like many new teachers, she initially believed that adults would know how to behave in a classroom, and would be respectful because they wanted to be there, so she wouldn’t have to address classroom management. Experience proved her wrong, and she found herself dealing with tardiness, poor attendance, and other disruptive behavior. From these experiences, she had a few important realizations:

  • Time management is crucial. Rather than waiting for students to settle down for class, and finish their conversations about their weekend plans, put them to work on a small warm-up task as soon as the bell rings. This task, or bell work, should be provided consistently, so students know to expect it. It should be clear enough that it doesn’t require instructions after initial modeling, so students can begin working immediately. In Wilkins’ class, bell work led to improved attendance and punctuality.
  • Communicating your expectations is the first step in having them met. If your expectation is that students be prepared for class, discuss what that means. If your expectation is that students be respectful, brainstorm ways to show respect. Students who don’t respond to questions often just do not understand what is expected of them. Students are less likely to engage in disruptive behavior (e.g. talking or texting) if they know that it makes their teacher feels disrespected.

By implementing time management techniques like bell work and clearly communicating her expectations of her students, Wilkins was able to create a more positive, supportive, and respectful learning environment.

For more information, contact Mairi Wilkins at

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