Published 14th March 2016

Learning English as a Foreign Language is often done in a classroom. What this means is that there will be a number of students who spend many hours in the same room with each other. While this can make for a great atmosphere in the class if all the students get on, it can also spell trouble if the learners don’t. And let’s face it, we can’t get on with everybody all the time, so it’s not surprising that personality conflicts can happen in our English classrooms.

It is unfortunate that this can happen because when it does it can interfere with the learning process. The affective filter is a term used to describe the emotional and motivational factors which can help or hinder progress in the language classroom and it is precisely this which can be upset by conflicts between students. The optimal learning environment is one in which the students are relaxed and happy and the affective filter is low and learning can take place easily. If, however, the students are stressed, anxious or unhappy the affective filter will be high and learning will be difficult. If a student is not getting on with another student, this can result in precisely this situation.

Dealing with such a situation can be tricky because it must be handled with care and sensitivity. Especially with older students, it should not be the job of the English teacher to mediate between two students – they are adults, after all. Sometimes people just don’t get along and nothing can be done about it. On the other hand, there are methods and procedures which can be adopted by the teacher to ensure that this personality clash does not interfere with the classroom activities.

When possible, try not to group the involved parties together; there is no need to antagonise the situation further and it should be possible in this way to avoid any possible conflict. At the same time, though, it should not be necessary to tiptoe around the students in question so don’t let the situation affect your teaching too much. If necessary you can address the particular students and deal with the situation in a mature manner, but sometimes it is best to ignore it completely.

The bottom line, though, is that it is not your responsibility to maintain a friendly atmosphere in the classroom. This is something that can be expected from a group of adults and your students should not be any different.