Are We to Blame For Our Teenage Students’ Indiscipline?

It’s expected that experienced teachers’ classes will be more peaceful and freer of problems than novices’. But let’s be honest: no matter how long you’ve been working in ELT (English Language Teaching), there will always be difficulties, since we are dealing with people. That alone already means facing the unexpected on a daily basis, not to mention the extra unpredictability commonly seen among groups of teenagers. So yes, there are issues which will always be there. Above all: indiscipline.

At times we have our classes observed, and we panic over all sorts of things. We dare say that our main concern is that students will “go wild” and we’ll be assessed under this condition. In short, our vulnerabilities will be judged by a fellow teacher, who usually happens to be at a superior position than ours. So we also fear consequences. In truth, even if no external interference is at stake, we tend to be harsh on our own performance and suffer when the class doesn’t turn out to be the way we’d planned or if we struggle with classroom management. We always have worries spinning round our heads whether students are enjoying the classes or not, and if we are providing them with a safe environment for learning.

The most important thing we’d like to pass on to you when it comes to teens’ behavior is a sentence taken from the book Positive Discipline For Teenagers:

“When you realize that the things your teens do and say are statements about them and not about you, you can stop blaming yourself for their behavior or taking it personally.”

Jane Nelsen takes the weight off our shoulders with this quote because it is time we stopped feeling responsible for our students’ misbehavior. Yes, there are tons of things teachers can do to build rapport and promote a healthy interaction between students, but these things don’t guarantee that things will go smoothly all the time. Teenagers are unpredictable. And we have been in their shoes one day, remember? Let’s not forget we also wanted to experiment, put our feet in our mouths, make mistakes and mess up. From this point of view, expecting a perfect behavior from them is unrealistic.

While it’s true that delving into articles, books, sharing experience and knowledge with other teachers make us feel stronger and more confident, things might be chaotic quite often. It really depends on the group, the dynamic built by those specific individuals who are studying together. To make matters worse, teachers – as any other human-being – have bad days and are not always at their best. Therefore, they might not be able to be at the top of their games all the time. This will most likely make it hard for them to handle challenges in the classroom, especially challenges that are related to indiscipline, which are usually very delicate and stressful. It goes without saying that professionals who are committed to what they’re doing will already do their best to wear their best smile and gather all the positivity they can. But that will not always be enough.

On this note, we all know that there isn’t any “good enough” status. We constantly want to improve. And we also know that we have to meet parents’ expectations, our superiors’ and most of all our students’ expectations of what is the ideal environment for their learning to take place.

As we are the first to be too judgemental, there has to be some self-forgiveness in order to keep ourselves motivated and determined not to give up. Another quote from the brilliant Jane Nelsen that has been helping us a lot is this:

“Stress is the space between your thoughts of how life should be and how life really is.”

Let’s not be fooled by appearances or by our minds. It’s easy to get discouraged when things don’t work out and start spiraling into a cycle of fear and inconfidence. However, we must go on and be resilient. As educators, we are in a process of learning too, so we might as well face difficulties as growth opportunities.

We’d love to hear from you and exchange experiences. Feel free to contact us at or


 Co Author:

A licensed Biology teacher who fell in love with English language teaching in 2011, Michelle Hudson holds the CELTA, TKTs Modules 1-3 and a TESOL certificate from Languages International (Auckland, NZ). She is now based in Seville – Spain, teaching at English Connection and also private students.

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Henrique Zamboni

Henrique Zamboni has been in ELT for more than 15 years, having worked for different schools and language institutes. He holds the C2 Proficiency Certificate and the CELTA, a degree in Letras and a degree in Marketing. He is the founder of Inglês Para Adolescentes, where he is a teacher of teenagers and teacher trainer.

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