What to do when you get the “class from hell”

It’s a difficult phenomenon to describe to non-educators, but classroom teachers will instantly know what I’m referring to–having a group of students that just don’t click with you and are extremely difficult to handle, usually with more than the average extreme and violent behavior issues tossed into the mix. These experiences seem to suck the joy out of the work you love and make you question why you ever entered the profession in the first place. Here are 5 pieces of advice if you’re facing that situation right now:

1) Stop commiserating with teachers who had your students last year.

If your students’ prior teachers have any helpful advice, you will have already heard it within the first week or two of school. The only thing you’re doing with them now is complaining and rehashing all the horrible things that the students have ever done. Let the past be the past: this will open you up to recognizing change in your students and perceiving them as capable of improvement.

2) Recognize that group dynamics and individual behaviors WILL change.

You’ll have new kids transfer into your class and others transfer out, shifting the dynamics of your class continually. The addition or subtraction of just one kid can make a huge difference in how the whole class behaves and how you feel about your work. Also, individual student behavior often changes a lot throughout the school year as students mature and as they experience shifts in their home and social lives. I can’t guarantee all the changes will be for the better, but take comfort in knowing that things will be different: current problems will go away and fresh challenges will arrive. Discouragement sets in when you envision yourself having to deal with exactly the same headaches for the entire school year–but that will never happen. Change IS coming.

How to create a resilient mindset when you get the class from hell!

3) Learn everything you can from your students: one “class from hell” year is worth three years of regular teaching experience!

After this year, you will know so much more than if you’d had a more typical teaching experience. You will have tried out so many different interventions and witnessed such a wide variety of issues that you’ll feel like a 30 year veteran by summertime. You’ll be experienced enough to deal with whatever issues are presented by next year’s class, and there’s a good chance that group will feel easy to handle in comparison.

4) Take big risks. Try new things. You have nothing to lose!

Many teachers don’t try different lesson ideas or behavior management systems because they’re worried about upsetting a delicate balance or ruining a good thing. You don’t have that problem. :) So, experiment with the reward system you were scared to try, test out a new room arrangement, or take a chance on redoing your daily schedule. This is the year for experimentation.

5) Refuse to make any decisions about your career based on one year’s class.

This is the single most important piece of advice I can offer you. When we get groups of students like the one you have (and we ALL have them at some point!), it’s very natural to think, “I can’t take this, I need to quit, I don’t want to teach anymore.” But here’s the truth: this will all be over in June. Keep telling yourself, “I can do anything for 7 more months.” Then you will get 6-9 weeks to recuperate and start fresh with a brand new class. This is only temporary–most people can’t say that about their jobs! You can do this! Do not be swayed from a career path you once loved based on a single group of students you’ll never have again.

I would love to read your stories. How have you coped with having a difficult class? What advice would you give other teachers facing that situation right now?

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Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

{ 75 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Elicia Cardenas November 21, 2013 at 10:43 pm

Thanks for posting this. I am a new teacher. I am at a school where kids end up when they don’t have success at regular schools. I have the class from hell and that last piece of advice- #5- is hitting deep and hard.

Experienced teachers- share what you know with an isolated new teacher who is not only dealing with the challenges of first year teaching, plus a school that neglected to invest in curriculum, but also intense behaviors, disrespect, and all the other issues that are normal in a public school. Help me (and others) stick with it and find some joy in our day-to-day lives.

Thanks.

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2 Linda Kardamis November 22, 2013 at 8:43 am

Well you’re in a great place here on Angela’s site….lots of great advice.

I feel kind of bad promoting this here but I totally know how you feel & I just wrote an e-book that shares the lessons I learned during my first few years of teaching. If you’re interested…..http://teach4theheart.com/dreamclassroom/

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3 Connie Rauch November 25, 2013 at 8:19 am

I had a group one year that did not like to work. Sometimes when we did worksheets I would mark some of the worksheets on the back with a sticker or a mark. Whoever got the marked sheet got a prize. Just remember to change up how you mark the backs.

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4 Richelle November 27, 2013 at 11:40 am

Wow, thanks for posting this. I had a “class from hell” two years ago and it nearly did me in. I had taught for 12 years prior to that and it was the first time I had questioned my abilities. On top of having every “behavior problem” from the 3 classes the year before all in one room (those who weren’t were moved into my class during the school year because I could “handle them”) I had one student whose 2 year old brother was accidentally killed when he tried to take a loaded gun away from him, which as you can imagine only added to the stress of the year for both me and the students. At the end of the school year a computer lab position opened up and I moved to that the following year and love it. Not sure if I would have been able to risk another year like the one I had.

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5 Angela Watson November 22, 2013 at 9:14 am

Elicia, I love what you said about reaching out to to other teachers. This can be a very isolating profession, and having another teacher who cares can make such a big difference.

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6 Lynn Swanberg November 23, 2013 at 9:49 pm

These issues are NOT normal in Public schools. There are many wonderful well run public schools. Reach out to experienced teachers, your principal and your supt. It’s hard to ask for help but you will not get it without asking. Celebrate each little success and hang in there. Every new year is another new beginning.

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7 Jennifer November 24, 2013 at 8:41 pm

This is normal in any school whether it be public, private or charter. There are behavior issues in any school. I have worked in suburban and inner-city schools and have these issues. I taught 6 years and have had 2 classes like this. It’s called luck of the draw.

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8 Heather November 24, 2013 at 8:52 pm

I’ve been in several different public school systems in several different towns/cities and it is in every public school system I’ve ever seen. I’d love to see one where there wasn’t an issue like this somewhere. Where do you teach?

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9 Mrs.E November 22, 2013 at 12:19 am

This is so what I needed to hear today.

I am also a first year teacher. My class is full of behavior problems and a whole mess of other issues that clash with each other. Today, within the first 10 minutes I had 2 different sets of students arguing over ridiculous things. Other teachers even shake their head and apologize when they find out that I have not one, not two, but several of these troubl

I keep telling myself that I always hear teachers talk about “that one class” and I just happened to be so lucky to get it on my first year. So next year will be easy peezy right??

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10 Angela Watson November 22, 2013 at 9:16 am

Yes, I *do* think next year will feel easier to you in comparison to this year! And don’t stress out worrying about whether you’ll get “that class” again next year…that’s extremely rare. I had two of “those classes” in my eleven years and they were spaced well apart. That seems to be the case for most teachers I know.

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11 FranK November 22, 2013 at 6:45 am

Hi! thanks for this article…so true…I have been teaching 15 years and this is my 3rd class from h@*#.. In K, I have had suspensions, “boot camp”, and constant guidance interventions. Luckily in my school, we have a fabulous guidance team that works tirelessly to try to guide our troubled kids to see better ways. We have a Kindergarten “bootcamp”, which is 5, 10 or 15 days of intense following the rules (they use songs!) This is fabulous for 5 year olds. I had one child pulled from my class and our school because the parents were mad at us for this child biting, hitting, punching, etc other children. It was our fault…but, still I did breath a sigh of relief and so did many of my parents when this child left. I was sad at the same time, though…because I felt that Ihad tried so many interventions with this child and was making teeny tiny steps with this child. Anyway, most of our children have problems because of the parents…and lack of respect or time for their own kids….yikes…. I did find a great quote on Pinterest and it is tacked on my wall here at home and on my desk at school.. Look it up…it helps me everyday… “The Kids Who Need Love the most will ask for it in the most unloving of ways…” Hope my experiences and my school’s ideas will help some struggling teacher out there… I just remember that all kids are good…it is their environment that makes them who they are…we can help them to become better than that, but it is not easy…nothing really great is is it? Much love! :)

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12 Angela Watson November 22, 2013 at 9:18 am

The kindergarten boot camp sounds wonderful! What a great support system your school has!

The quote about kids and love is one of my favorites. I shared it on my Facebook page back in August (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151865822339188&set=pb.71659544187.-2207520000.1385129824.&type=3&theater) . I love the idea of hanging it up in your classroom–great reminder.

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13 FranK November 22, 2013 at 7:53 pm

I’ll bet I got it from your site! I love all of your stuff!!

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14 Candice December 3, 2013 at 11:10 am

Hi Frank. I would like to know more about this Kindergarten boot camp and which school system do you work for? This is an excellent idea and I think my school could benefit from something like that. Thanks.

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15 Linda Kardamis November 22, 2013 at 8:38 am

What a great post! That’s so true. I had a few tough classes but you do learn so much from them…… I think it’s also so easy to start assuming that “this class is just awful” and then projecting our lack of faith to the students. We have to try to combat that natural tendency & believe in their potential (even if they’re not living up to it now.) It’s so exciting a few years down the road to see students succeeding who used to be a huge challenge. (if you’re a first year teacher just keep this in mind. It may seem like you’re making no progress but you are making a difference. It just sometimes takes months or even years to see real results.)

Angela, I hate to point this out but I think you’re missing the word “to” in your picture graphic.

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16 Angela Watson November 22, 2013 at 9:21 am

Linda, I’m really glad you said something about the typo before the image gets spread all over Pinterest and I feel even more embarrassed. Thank you!!

Your point about projecting our lack of faith in students is a really importatn one, and I think it’s worthy of its own post. When we believe a class cannot change and is inherently “bad”, we train our minds to only see the bad, and we project an energy to students that makes them feel hopeless. Believing that students can and usually do improve is powerful.

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17 Anne Gardner November 22, 2013 at 6:40 pm

For those of you suffering this year, keep in mind you will also be likely to have classes that make you smile years later. I had one group of first graders I will never forget. My wish is for every teacher to have at least one group like them. On a tough day, I think back to them and remember the feeling. It keeps me going . . . :) Anne

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18 Karli Lomax November 23, 2013 at 5:04 am

New teachers- don’t lose heart! I have taught for 18 years and this year I have a very challenging class that has brought me more than a couple of “hellacious” days!
I’d add two more tips to Angela’s list:
1) Treat each day as a new start: don’t carry over any hard feelings from day to day- that will be self-defeating for you and for your students. Try to look at a week as a whole; if you can say that 3 out 5 days were pretty good, consider that progress! I agree with Angela when she says that change will come because it will. Be patient for it and set yourself up for success by starting fresh each day, meeting it with the right attitude.
2) One size does not fit all! Each student is different and responds to different routines and management styles. Plus, they each bring their own history to a classroom. Consider why they are behaving the way that they are. This tip goes with point #4- try out different things. If something is not working, change it. Ask for help if you don’t know what to do- colleagues, blogs- the information is out there.
Don’t give up- it does get better!!!

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19 paul November 23, 2013 at 11:37 am

I really like this article. I was almost expecting the usual rant of punitive behaviour management, let em know who’s boss approach. I particularly agree with points 3 and 4.
To help with everyday behaviours then within such a difficult classroom i recommend reading empowering discipline by Vicki Phillips, and also this article that has some modifications to her approach: http://paulgmoss.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/empowering-discipline/

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20 ErinW November 23, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Thank you for this post! I am only in my third year of teaching middle school math, but have had a couple of those classes where it’s not that all of the students are bad, it is just that particular combination of students that does not seem to work well. What I’ve tried to remind myself is what Linda K. was saying, to not project my feelings about the class onto them, as it only feeds into the problem.

Instead, I try to focus on a few of my more troublesome students, and build that relationship, during my tutoring hours if necessary. It does seem to help during their tougher days, that they have learned that I’m there for them and not just the authoritarian in the room. It has even occasionally improved to the point where they “shush” each other, because the teacher is trying to talk!

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21 Emmy November 23, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Thank you so much for this. After 7 years of teaching, this years class might be the one class that breaks me. This article was extremely helpful!!!!

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22 Chrissy November 23, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Did you write this for me? :-) Excellent post!
Chrissy (@singalullaby)

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23 Carrie November 24, 2013 at 8:26 pm

These are great tips! I think that when you have one of those classes, it’s always good to remember that the year WILL end. That doesn’t mean give up, but it helps to know that there is an end. Sometimes, when we are deep into a year, especially with a difficult group, it seems like the problems will go on and on and on. That is one of the greatest perks if being a teacher. No matter how difficult a class is, come summer they will move on (hopefully improved from where they started), and we get to start fresh with a new class and a lot more wisdom.

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24 Traci November 24, 2013 at 8:28 pm

I teach in a school with 2 choice programs and “regular” ed. The “regular” ed classes are getting more and more challenging to teach in…and I’ve taught in a tough school in my past (19 year veteran here). This year is one of the more challenging years: hitting, calling out, talking, ignoring instructions, etc… and I keep telling myself “It’s only one year.” I hope. I pray. I use incentives. I use consequences. As the saying goes, “This too shall pass.”

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25 marissa November 24, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Hi! This is SUCH great advice. I am now on my THIRD class from hell. In a row.
You are definitely right that it’s like 3 years added on to your teaching experience. It has taught me how to be a better teacher with better boundaries and better classroom management. I have found that nothing can change a difficult classroom dynamic. All you can do is keep trying to help everyone stay on track and try to find something you like about each kid, even if you don’t click with them.
Also, this website helps:
http://www.classdojo.com

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26 Mrs. K November 24, 2013 at 8:33 pm

I truly appreciate this article. 3/4 of my classes throughout the day are the definition”class from hell” depending on who shows up to school that day. I also have a question. What can teachers do when we’ve done all we can in regards to discipline in our own rooms, including MULTIPLE phone calls home, but nothing is changing because behavior is SO extreme day in and day out, and the administrators who are to handle that kind of behavior give them a sweet little lecture and send them on their merry way back to our classrooms? That’s where I’m at now. I’ve made a tiny bit progress with them since August 21st, but some days it’s like I’ve done nothing at all and it’s very, very frustrating and discouraging. Inner-city charter school, by the way…which explains a lot!

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27 Olivia November 24, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Be positive, you may be the turning point in just one student’s life. You may be the only consistent person they know. Your attitude and tough love may be the key to unlock just one child’s mind! Remember #1 and try to make a difference. After all, isn’t that why we do this?!?!

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28 Ms. Hayes November 24, 2013 at 9:01 pm

I agree Olivia. I have had more students come back from that “one class” and say hello or just to hang out in my room. I’m thinking the whole time, “weren’t you the one that I went round and round with several times?!” I did more character development with those kids that year than I usually do. Maybe it payed off.

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29 Karen November 24, 2013 at 8:45 pm

I had this class.. 3 different schools for almost 3 years in a row.. I quit this past October.. between the class and admin and non supporting team mates , I had enough. I can tell you life has gotten easier with my son because my cup isn’t running over by the time I get home. I am still searching for a job and honestly , yes teaching is my passion, but I am not so sure I want to deal with classes like that and just the changes in the whole education system anymore. Only time will tell.. I do miss being in the classroom that is for sure.
Karen

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30 Geo November 24, 2013 at 8:47 pm

Basically, the “class from hell” is a group of children who have learned that being disrespectful to their teacher is the norm and acceptable. A “social contract” created by the children and the teacher together is a step in the right direction. The next step being the children (and the teacher) holding one another to the contract. They just haven’t learned, and held to, proper social behavior in a classroom. As the adults in the room, it’s up to us to teach them that behavior. And the adult has to show the children that he/she refuses to allow children to disrespect them. Then, and only then, can education happen.

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31 paul g moss November 25, 2013 at 4:09 pm

The real issue with this approach however is that these types of contracts are essentially forced onto the kids, and most likely only offer tokenistic autonomous action. The intentions and trickery will be very transparent to students, especially to those who are at-risk and who are street (or adult) smart, and the result will be further disempowerment – which is the reason they are acting out in the first place. To avoid such irony, use empowering discipline: http://paulgmoss.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/empowering-discipline/

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32 Terri November 24, 2013 at 8:49 pm

After teaching for 33 years, I have indeed had a few of the classes “that shall not be named” in my career. I am a firm believer in teaching procedures and expectations the first weeks of school. This can be time consuming but in the long run, the benefits will outweigh the deterrents. I have also used variations on social stories, depending on the ages of the children and the behaviors. We all know that the climate of each year seems to ebb and flow but in today’s classrooms there seem to always be challenges. Never be afraid to reach out to your colleagues as they are your best and closest resource. Learning from your community of educators is your greatest tool.

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33 Ms. Hayes November 24, 2013 at 8:52 pm

I have taught 8th grade English for 18 years and 2 years ago I had “The Class From Hell”. First, I should say that I think they were this way because for 4 years prior they were labeled this by teachers and other students. They then morphed into this raging class of about 350 students who were fulfilling their own prophecy. I think that it was because the “good kids” were the instigators and used the “bad kids” as their minions. Anyway, that’s a whole separate dynamic that I should probably research.
What I did that year to survive was: 1) promote my “million dollar attitude” classroom motto even harder=if you’re negative, you don’t belong in my classroom 2) get a massage at least once a month 3) don’t grade everything and don’t let the students know it i.e. do a lot of credit/no credit 4) make their behavior in your classroom a part of their grade 5) stay away from complaining teachers; this will only bring you further into the “Pit of Despair” (say it like that guy on Princess Bride) . If it means eating alone in your classroom, do it. 6) do something to promote a team spirit in your class; take pictures of the kids and post in the class or do a slide show occasionally…check out that “Tribes” philosophy. 7) Take care of yourself and don’t take it all personally. They will be out of your classroom in 9 months and Angela is right, after this year you can count it as 3 years! :)

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34 kris November 24, 2013 at 11:17 pm

This is really really awesome advice. I am going to type it up and keep it somewhere in my home office! I had 2 bad classes in a row – left the school because of the attitude I was receiving from everyone around, despite the fact that I staryef a club on my own, for free, to have kids do their hw. Anyway. Excellent ideas, thank you!

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35 Rachel November 24, 2013 at 9:15 pm

I teach high school. One of my tricks is to say, “If you act this way at school, you must be even worse at home. I’ll bet your mom could use a treat, so I am going to come to your house today with a snack for her, and we will eat ice cream and talk about your behavior. No, you won’t get any ice cream. Your poor mother needs it more.”

I do not know why this works (though a former boss once told me, “People don’t want the school staff showing up in their yard.”), but I assure you it does. You’re there at the end of a long day, you are tired. Mom is tired. You have chocolate or ice cream, and a shocked, humiliated kid. You can see what he lives in, so you understand him more. Mom has a snack, likes it, likes you. The kid DOES NOT want you to come home again, so he behaves better. It gets around school, and other kids don’t want you showing up at their homes, so they improve. I have been to four homes in six years, and I would say every home visit yielded positive results.

If you truly hate it, though, I would say to quit. If you are young and not called to teach, figure it out and leave. Life’s too short to be unhappy.

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36 Ms. Hayes November 24, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Love this idea!

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37 paul g moss November 25, 2013 at 4:16 pm

A good idea but doesn’t need to be dressed in deceit. The student would also react to your positive intention of trying to understand their homelife, despite some superficial embarrassment. Children who are at-risk especially benefit from such action because they need all the allies they can muster, as troubled homelife is often the catalyst for their disengaged or antisocial behaviour. Creative discipline is ultimately more effective because it actually honours the student’s situation/life/experiences/troubles/spirit, and doesn’t simply try to bandaid them.

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38 Elisabeth November 24, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Great post! This is wonderful advice for all teachers. Those classes are unforgettable. The best part is believing in them and seeing the changes throughout the semester. I also like the idea of getting a massage once a month. The only statement that may not be true for everyone is when she says that next year they will be gone and you never have to worry about them again. In my school I teach 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th grade English. Those wild 8th graders became my wild 9th graders the following year. Fortunately that isn’t always the case. One year I had wild 9th graders turn into wonderful 10th graders the following year. Love reading this post and its replies.

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39 Tammy November 24, 2013 at 9:31 pm

“Seek first to understand rather than to be understood.”
1. I try to categorize either truly malicious behavior or immaturity/learning disability/obvious lack of guidance at home. 99% of the time it’s the latter.
2. Learn as much as you can about learning problems. Lots of kids act out because they are frustrated.
3. Be kind. Your kindness may be all they get. Some of these kids have really bad home lives, from disinterested parents all the way down to abusive parents.
4. Those kids are someone’s babies. Once upon a time they were brand new to the world, with limitless possibilities.
5. Find their gift. I promise they all have one. Do they know what to do with it?
6. Find out their learning style, and give them different ways to learn.
7. If they seem hopeless, offer them hope.

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40 Katie November 29, 2013 at 4:06 pm

I agree with your approach of compassion for difficult students. It can be the hardest part of teaching the “class from hell” but we have a very powerful role that can often truly change our student’s lives. Kindness, boundaries, and love can go a very long way.

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41 Teresa November 24, 2013 at 10:22 pm

I totally agree with giving the students a fresh start each year and refuse to talk to other teachers about students. When I get a class like that, I work very hard at treating each child like the individual he or she is. I pray very hard every day before entering my classroom, and it truly helps me get through the day.

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42 JD November 25, 2013 at 7:17 pm

So…. I don’t want to be negative, but I want to be sure that I understand everyone’s opinions here.. So is it possible that this is just a really bad dynamic, a tough group of kids, and that no expert in classroom management could handle them any better than I do? and that I just need to hang on? Cuz that’s where I’m at…. I have indeed been eating lunch alone in the classroom, because my partner teachers are horribly negative (about everything) and I’m questioning my career track ….. I’ve tried positive reinforcement, negative consequences…. bribes, threats, invited parents to class, had the principal visit…. I’m almost to the point of throwing an assignment out and “supervising” the rest of the period. I know it’s not fair to the students, but when the teacher can’t get a single sentence out without being interrupted, what is there left to do? Any advice?

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43 Laura January 15, 2016 at 7:25 pm

I’ve used this technique in the past with success– identify the ringleaders in your class and find something good about each of them. Announce this “special trait” that they each have to the class. For ie., if anyone needs help spelling ask so and so. The experience I had was once the ringleader(s) felt needed the bad behaviors (from everyone) decreased/subsided.

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44 Angela Watson January 30, 2016 at 6:59 pm

Love this! Thanks for sharing.

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45 pgphillips November 25, 2013 at 8:36 pm

Well, I have 26yrs experience and this is the 2nd time I have had such a class. In certain situations, you as the teacher just lose. When you have a situation where the admin doesn’t back the teachers, the kids are jh age and know this, they can get by with almost anything and do. They aren’t afraid of In School Susp, D Halls are a joke, and please, give them a suspension because they get a couple of days off. Parents don’t care and only harass the teachers for picking on their kids. Bitter, you bet I am. I have worked hard for years. This class makes me physically ill and ruins my day every day.
I know all the teaching tactics. NOthing works when kids have no respect for anything or anyone.
Good luck with your classes. I just see more of this in the future. Praise be I am almost done. I used to love teaching. Not any more.

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46 Josie November 27, 2013 at 3:24 am

I understand how you feel. Thank you, pgphillips, for the many years of service. I am tired of teaching, as well. This will probably be my last year.

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47 Sherry Davis November 24, 2015 at 3:57 pm

I took this year off after 19 years in the classroom because attempting to teach in these circumstances finally took a serious toll on my health. I’m fairly certain that I won’t be returning to the classroom. I, too, was given the difficult students because I could handle them, and administrators don’t want the task. Just because I could, didn’t mean that I should have always gotten them. I loved teaching, but only when I got to teach. That joy is dismissed when you feel like the majority of your time and energy is spent on recurring discipline issues involving the same students over and over again. I felt that wasn’t fair to the students who did want to learn, and who did want to listen and apply what I was teaching. So, I made the very difficult decision to not teach and take care of my health instead. Not all schools have serious discipline issues on a consistent basis. Maybe you need to try another district, especially if you’ve had 2 or more years in a row.

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48 Chesa November 26, 2013 at 7:15 am

Tip #5 is very encouraging. I love teaching but I seem to hate each passing day because of my “class from hell” Everyday, this class bothers me. By the time I arrive, they will start to run around the classroom and talk and talk until the whole time allotted for our Math subject ends. Sometimes, the whole period is wasted on me scolding the kids. I have 40 students i this class and almost half of them are running around the room and talking. I really don’t know what to do anymore. I hope you can help me. Thanks!

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49 Johnny November 26, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Hello Angela

I LOVE your book on classroom management and your website. I believe many schools of education and school districts should have new and prospective teachers study them.

I am a first year second grade teacher in an inner city district in which I spent some of my childhood years in. I started teaching March of this year. My first class was from the outer surface of hell and now my second class, from month of September, is from the pits of hell.

I do feel bitter at times but what bothers me the most is how critical second grade is. I don’t want to be the reason why my students may fall further behind in Literacy and behavioral development. I have at least two students classified for special needs who receive pull out
support from the special education teacher. The problem is I feel she is not servicing well or at least support me with some advice on what to do when they’re in my class.
I also have a boy who is soon being evaluated for a learning disability and an unclassified student who has the worst behavior in the classroom.

Therefore I have four male students disrupting the flow of instruction and the whole class talks incessantly and fails to listen to the simplest instructions. I often ask myself what are
my students learning and question my role in this profession.

I sometimes do not see the difference between the little children and teenagers at my school

I have a class

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50 Johnny November 26, 2013 at 8:49 pm

I have a class that is wearing me down and I am in desperate need of a solution. I already have a second teacher assistant who also experieences difficulty with the students like my former teacher assistant who was switched to a first grade classroom. I pray a lot and sometimes wonder if the LORD is putting me to the test in my spiritual journey.

I ask all my fellow educators on this blot to help me be a better teacher for these young feisty children.

And Angela, you have open the right blog at the right time.

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51 Josie November 27, 2013 at 3:20 am

I teach second grade as well. First of all, my heart goes out to you. It can be very, very rough. I’ve taught for 16 years and each year has had its ups and downs. I want my students quiet and focused. I try to provide lots of positive reinforcement (earning free time, weekly drawing for small prizes, etc.) but it doesn’t work all the time. Sometimes I must do negative reinforcement (recess taken, calls home, counseling, etc.) Yes, it’s exhausting. You can’t change the kids. You can’t change their families. What you can do is change how you deal with all of it. And yes, you might be teaching in a really rough place where very few could ever be able to perform major results. You could request help from your principal and see if there might be some training available. Perhaps you could ask to observe other teachers at your school (you’d need to get a sub, of course), and see how they handle misbehavior . Also, do you have any beginning teacher support? Let them know you are having it rough and need help right away.
This year I a few difficult ones and I try to keep them very busy. I offer them incentives to correct papers. We do a timed math facts sheet each day, so I tell them that if they correct a stack of papers I’ll reward them with something. It doesn’t need to be big. You’d have to work every angle on this and see how it works for you, but the main goal I have is to keep them engaged so they can’t keep the others from learning. I know all children should be learning, but that is sometimes not a reality.

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52 Tracy November 27, 2013 at 5:57 am

Thank you for that piece of advice. I have literally been submitting my resume to companies for the past month, trying to get out of teaching because of the year I am having. It’s not just the kids–we are transitioning to Common Core Standards, and the work is much more time-consuming and demanding. The parents are mad, the kids are stressed, and the planning time is doubled. I’ll give it one….more…..year…….

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53 Johnny November 29, 2013 at 8:48 pm

Thank You Tracy,

My students have very short attention spans and I think I’m going to incorporate music for us to sing together each morning to get us pumped up for learning. I also need to rethink the sorts of learning activities that I provide them. A good number of them are still not adjusted to independent work and needs support for their learning. Some are far behind in terms of literacy skills and so it is tricky for me. However, I will need to get in contact with my literacy coach this weekend and create some sort of a game plan that will help my students move forward with better self-control and more independence of their learning.

If you have any other suggestion feel free to share with me.

Thank you, once again.

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54 Janet December 4, 2013 at 11:45 pm

So many great comments here, but as a recently retired math teacher from a high school with a 70% poverty rate and many intentional non-learners, I’d like to share a few tips that helped me:

1. Be careful about writing up too many students. Administrators don’t like to deal with difficult students either; too many discipline notices can raise a red flag, especially if you have not called parents, assigned detention, and talked to their current teachers in other subjects. (Yes, it’s not fair, especially for a new teacher. This is one of the reasons we lose 50 percent of new teachers within the first five years.)

2. Use rewards liberally–they work. I spent quite a bit of money on Jolly Ranchers, but it was worth it to keep the peace and motivate kids to work. For example, I distributed a Jolly Rancher to every student who had their notebook out at the start of class. (Miniature Snickers work well, too.) Later, I would reward students who could work out a problem on the board. As I checked students’ work, I gave candy to those who had obviously tried. Eventually, the bad kids will get hungry. (You can also use other rewards, such as bonus points and privileges. Preview this reward system at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Reward-System-for-High-School-or-Middle-School-Students-079889400-1384406161

3. With-hold privileges such as bathroom, etc., unless said student can show you his or her work.

4. Set a timer for 30 or 45 minutes. If there is no misbehavior during this time, give the students a five minute break. (Warn students that their behavior during the break will determine if there will be additional breaks in the future. For my absolute worst classes, I gave two five-minute breaks–one at the middle of class and one at the end.)

5. Learn to like them. This was a tough one for me…my students weren’t very likeable. When I told my mom (also a teacher) about the hell I was going through, she was sympathetic but she also said, “You don’t like them. They can probably sense that.” She was right. I made a concerted effort to be friendlier and more approachable, laugh more, tell a few jokes, and listen to individual student’s stories. I didn’t win over every student, but my class was much better.

6. Sometimes the guidance department can be helpful…talk to someone you trust about your worst offenders. (There’s probably a history. And, sometimes, a caring guidance counselor will transfer a student out of your class. It pays to be nice to guidance counselors…they have the power to take kids out of your class!)

6. Polish your resume’. You may be stuck in this school for now, but next year you can transfer to a better place. (You may still have unruly students, but the principal may be more supportive, or the kids may be nicer.)

Hope this helped. And play hard during your off time!!

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55 Janet December 4, 2013 at 11:49 pm

Oops, listed number six twice!

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56 Leigh February 18, 2015 at 12:20 am

Great advice – thank you- especially “learn to like them” – a few of them I am really struggling to like because they have meltdowns or tantrums when they get frustrated or disappointed.

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57 MrsRK December 6, 2013 at 11:51 pm

Thank you for this post! This is my first year as a teacher and I had a minor melt down yesterday after my students left. I am teaching 7th grade math in a low income inner city charter after the first teacher quit in early Nov. Not only am I dealing with a “class from he!!” but I am flying blind. The privios teacher left without notice and didn’t leave previous lesson plans or unit plans, so I have no idea of what needs covered and what has already been covered. I am dealing with lack of communication on every front from admin to SPED to parents and even my team. Somedays I feel like the students are just pushing to see how long it takes to run off another teacher. I know people are trying to be encouraging and boost me up when they say “I would never have stepped in like you did” but it just makes me doubt myself like I made a huge mistake. But I try to keep telling myself I am more stubborn than they are and I will stick it out, if anything just so I can say that I am made of sterner stuff.

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58 Heather December 14, 2013 at 5:03 pm

I am an experienced teacher with ‘that class’. I am also a mom. I try to picture each of my students as my own child. What kind of environment would I want them to spend most of their day in? How would I want another adult to talk to them? This turned things around for me. I choose to see the best in each student and hold great expectations for each one. We are slowly but surely seeing progress. I’m still a pretty tough teacher, but they are beginning to trust me and want to please me!

Also, let people observe you! It’s very scary, but if I was doing something wrong, I wanted to know. Plus, it shows your colleagues, administration and parents that you are invested in this group’s improvement.

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59 Amanda December 14, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Great advice! I have just finished a year with the kindy class from hell. I learnt to love these children and tried to look past the challenging behaviors (often not their fault, a result of appalling diet, home circumstances or additional needs). I feel a real sense of achievement and know that next year can’t possibly be worse! Onwards and upwards!

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60 Angela February 22, 2014 at 7:47 am

I’d add one more piece of advice: find the positives (no matter how small). I had a class from hell last year, and everyone kept telling me how important it was to document the poor behaviors of individual students, so I had notebooks full of them, and it was pretty depressing to see it all laid out on paper. I decided to keep a separate notebook listing any small success. It helped me gain perspective and see that I had a lot of good students and that not everything I did was a failure (even when it may have felt that way).

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61 Leigh February 18, 2015 at 12:22 am

Love that advice – thank you.

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62 Elicia February 22, 2014 at 7:30 pm

OK, so it’s February, and I just went back and re-read this entire thread and decided to take some time to reflect on both my teaching practice and value of an on-line community, or as Angela points out, a Professional Learning Network.

1) After this original post and reading the immediate replies, I went back to school and asked my administrator for help in such a way that she couldn’t ignore it. Because my school is so…new/charter/experimental/understaffed/under-administrated, I didn’t get resolution, but my concerns have been appropriately documented, and I did manage to get an aide in my room for about 3 hours a week.

I don’t think I would have been brave enough to ask for help without the encouragement of this community.

2) I have learned to mostly love the kids even if I don’t like the work environment. I taped the “Kids who need love the most ask for it in the most unloving ways” quote in my desk, where no one but me can see it. It helps.

3) As part of my PD plan, I decided to keep a journal about what was working, similar to Angela’s idea of keeping record of my success, not just the pages and pages of ABC (antecedent-behavior-consequence) records and daily behavior plans that I am drowning under.

4) I was grading papers today- a drawing/connection activity using vocabulary like culture, heritage, and values, and I came across “Mrs. C values hard work” as an example. It’s not much, but I’m going to hold on to it all week, because small successes turn into big ones.

5) I decided that one part of my life, riding my bike to work, was missing because of the distance and bike parking and having to wear nice clothes to work. That had to change. I asked my husband to help me rearrange my classroom and get rid of my grotesquely oversized desk, made a place to park my bike, put my clothes, and I recommitted to riding most days. I feel more like myself and therefore more like the teacher I want to be. That self-care advice that everyone tells new teachers can’t be said loudly enough.

So, while I still feel like quitting, I’m less convinced that teaching isn’t right for me and more convinced that with supportive, available administration and sustainable school structure, I could really enjoy this job.

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63 Temple March 23, 2014 at 3:15 pm

I think most teachers have a class from hell and it is usually in the first years of teaching. Kids often don’t respond the way you expect because you don’t know what to expect. Also, I think you sometimes have to work with their natural inclinations rather than fight them. For example, if you have a chatty class change the structure so they can work in cooperative groups. Kagan Learning has a lot of good ideas and it really helped me ‘set myself up for success’ with cooperative learning ( no, I don’t work for their company. I’m a fourth grade teacher at a barrio school in So Cal). Their training is pricey but for me it was worth it. Build fun breaks into your day. I like gonoodle.com. Really try to stay on top of everything- grade their work quickly and be super prepared each day. If they sense you are on top of things they will respect you more. Also, it is not normal for all students to do all their work all the time. Expect stragglers. Put their names on the board as a reminder and find time at school for them to finish their work- recess, after school, while the rest of your class does something fun. Notify parents every time this happens. Occasionally you get a child with oppositional defiance disorder and that is truly tough. Do your research when that happens. Ordinary methods usually don’t work. Collaborative problem solving often helps with these types of kids but it is a slow process. The bottom line is have realistic expectations. They are not you . Earn their respect by working hard, staying on top of things, and staying calm. Try to have a little fun with them everyday. Good luck!

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64 CC-Instructor May 1, 2014 at 4:24 pm

In reading through this, I think it is very important to admit that we are getting the residue of a society that has let these kids down and it is SYSTEMIC. Go to Finland and observe their schools…and you see NONE of this. What I worry about is that we will decide that students that
yell at us, throw things at us, interrupt us during class, and are just plain monsters is “normal” and
we just have to “try and get through it”. As a few posts have said, THIS IS AND SHOULD NOT BE NORMAL IN OUR COUNTRY. This is a question of producing kids with even the tiniest modicum of social skills and they do not have it. Then they get dumped on us. Then we beat ourselves up over it that we cannot undo 20 +- years of NO parenting, bad parenting, or no parents at all!! We are supposed to be able to undo ALL of this in our classes. Yea. Right.

I personally am now getting terrible kids in beginning community college courses. I have decided
to retire from teaching. Until society starts acknowledging that we are doing a shtty job raising our kids, I am refuse to let this tear me up anymore and ruin my life.

No one deserves to be treated with disrespect and I will NOT make excuses for these little monsters anymore. You want ’em? Go ahead, take ’em. I’m done.

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65 Patricia August 14, 2014 at 1:41 am

Well after reading all the above comments and comisserating with all of you I feel I need to offer what has worked for me. I am a 2nd grade teacher and have been teaching for 24 years. I think I know what I’m doing. But when I got a class from hell last year, I ran through all of my tricks of the trade and still came up on the loosing end of the classroom. I went to my Literacy Coach and asked her to observe me and be frank. I knew I needed to revamp my management style, learn some new engagement strategies, and not be too proud to ask for help. With her help I concentrated on 3 simple changes until I mastered them(lol, who am I fooling, I’m only just figuring it out). I focused on 1. Making my directions simple and explicit 2. Take the time, even midyear, or even all day long to repeat procedures until they are performed according to your expectations. Repeat, Repeat, and Repeat again. Don’t accept ‘good enough’. And 3. Praise, Praise, Praise.

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66 Angela Watson October 3, 2014 at 12:56 am

GREAT advice, Patricia. I love that you focused on what YOU could do differently instead of blaming the kids. That is the mark of a master teacher. I’m proud of you.

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67 Leigh February 18, 2015 at 12:11 am

I’ve been teaching for 15 years and this is my third class from hell. I have 19 boys and 10 girls. Three of them have serious psychological issues- autism, ADHD, ODD. I feel very discouraged right now. In addition, our school was closed and moved to another city for three months because of construction issues (asbestos). Teachers in portables have returned to our original site but the main building is still shutdown so primary teachers are scattered across 4 schools in our district. With all of the change and disruption my class just hasn’t gelled and I feel exhausted and burned out. Thank you for the reminder that it is just one year and you can bear anything for one year. I listened to the audiobook The Levity Effect and am trying to maintain my sense of humor. A lot of it is about trying to set a positive tone. I appreciate the comment about each day being a new day. I also needed to hear that.

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68 Angela Watson February 27, 2015 at 4:33 pm

Thanks for sharing that, Leigh. I’m sorry you’re having such a tough time. Have you read my book Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching? I think that might give you some more strategies to try. Hang in there! You can do ANYTHING until June!

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69 Teach April 14, 2015 at 11:47 pm

Thanks, I’m an experienced teacher, but never experienced this before. Good to know we all get one of these years…

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70 Erin V April 27, 2015 at 9:56 pm

My fellow 2nd grade teachers and I have been watching this upcoming class for the last 2 years and we all know 2015-2016 will be rough! I’m talking multiple major behavior and academic issues in each and every section (there’s only so much spreading out that can be done).
Our school has been known to encourage beginning of the year home visits by teachers but I’ve gotten away from the practice over the last couple of years (becoming a mom has quite honestly changed my priorities a bit).
I’m planning on making myself available though, this next year for home visits. I think getting off on the right foot with both the parents and students will help them and me! Knowing and appreciating where your most troublesome students are coming from can do amazing things!!

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71 Angela Watson April 29, 2015 at 8:20 am

Erin, I love that you’re being so pro-active about ways you can head off behavioral issues. I wouldn’t worry one bit about what you’ve seen and heard about this group of students. They will grow, change, and mature over the summer. They’ll be split into different groups in the fall (and the personalities of kids in the class have a huge impact on how students behave.) And, they’re going to have different teachers with different classroom norms and behavior policies. Believe the best about these kids and keep thinking pro-actively. 2015-2016 could be your best year yet!

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72 Theresa July 14, 2015 at 1:32 am

Think I’d rather the class from hell than the administration from hell… ;D

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73 Angela Watson July 17, 2015 at 2:13 pm

Very true! 😉

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74 Stacy Allen September 30, 2015 at 11:42 pm

Thank you for the reminder!!! 20 years teaching and this year so far has made me want to quit.

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75 Kayla December 16, 2015 at 8:52 am

I so needed this today. My class from hell – 8th graders – nearly had me in tears yesterday. But I took a few deep breaths, and before I knew it, I was in afterschool rehearsal with my 6th and 7th grade theatre students, loving my job again. I think the worst part about a class like this is how much it make you doubt your abilities as a teacher if you let it. It’s my first year, and I’m still getting over the impostor syndrome of it all, but I know I’m a good teacher and am learning every day. This class though… Let’s just say I’m looking forward to next semester. Hang in there, all! We got this.

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