Picture this: you’ve planned your best lesson yet, and you’re confident your students will go crazy for it. They love learning English, they think you’re great, and they listen to your every word. What could possibly go wrong?

Year after year, fresh-faced ESL teachers head to China with rose-tinted visions of what awaits them (us included). And year after year they’re surprised to discover that the silent classroom of students giving you their undivided attention simply doesn’t exist. That’s right, even in the nation known for its hard-working knowledge thirsty children, misbehaviour is a factor. If like most of our applicants, you have no previous teaching experience, you might be wondering how on earth you deal with this. Lucky for you, we’ve put together our top tips to help you deal with bad behaviour in the Chinese classroom.


It’s tempting to enter the classroom on your first day full of smiles hoping your students will like you. Believe it or not, this is the biggest mistake you can make; coming across as too friendly and relaxed signals to students that you are less serious or strict than other teachers. Some may take advantage of this by playing up, not listening to you or by running riot, and once this begins it’s much harder to stop.

Whether you plan to be strict or not, start your first lessons by laying out a few simple classroom rules and the consequences for breaking them. Show your students that you won’t tolerate bad behaviour. Smile and be nice but maintain a certain level of authority and respect to set the tone for the semester.


While showing students you’re not to be messed with is an effective way to encourage good behaviour, it’s not the answer to all your problems. There will always be days when students aren’t in the mood or have too much energy, and this often translates into misbehaviour. Discourage this by implementing a points/reward system that students can work toward in teams. This is a great technique to help motivate your students; awarding points for good behaviour as well as answers will help you capture your class’s attention.

Don’t forget to praise your students for good behaviour or work. This will give them a sense of achievement and encourage them to keep working hard. Often, disruptive students will notice the recognition you’re giving to their peers and strive to do the same. This is a great way to promote good behaviour without raising your voice or picking out the badly-behaved students.

Learn Some Phrases

Some students feel they can get away with more in the foreign teacher classes simply because you can understand less. Most of us head out to China armed with no more than a basic ‘Ni Hao’. This is beneficial in many respects when teaching English, a few basic classroom phrases can be handy for showing your students you aren’t as clueless as they might think.

Uttering phrases such as be quiet (安(ān)静(jìng)), sit down (坐(zuò)下(xià)来(lái)), stand up (站(zhàn)起(qǐ)来(lái)), and listen (听(tīng)我(wǒ)说(shuō)) is sure to shock the class into listening and allow you to move on with your plan.

Discipline Methods

Sometimes you’ll encounter students who aren’t phased by reward or praise and only want to mess around. ESL teachers must be prepared to deal with such behaviour swiftly before other students decide to join in. A simple, yet effective first step is to ask the naughty student to stand up behind their desk or at the front of the classroom. In full view of all their peers, the student will likely be embarrassed and start behaving. If you’re planning an activity for the class, don’t allow the misbehaving student to participate. Most of the time the student will soon get their act together to avoid missing out!

No matter how frustrated a student is making you, try not to shout. This only serves to alienate them and cause a loss of trust. If you’ve exhausted all options with a particularly badly-behaved student, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Extremely disruptive students will be known by your colleagues, and they may be able to offer some advice. Some schools forbid teachers to send a student out of the class, so check the rules and see what else you can do. Just remember – you’re not alone!

Final Thoughts

Teaching in China is not only rewarding, but also character building. Learning to deal with bad behaviour and manage a class will equip you with skills and confidence useful to both your professional and personal life. Of course, it’s hard at times but all that you can gain from the experience makes it worthwhile.

Looking for some ideas to make your classes fun? Check out our 8 favourite activities for Chinese students!