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.
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?