Candy Nerds were put in a CD tray by one student. They talked. They misbehaved. Some kids tried to look at porn. At one point during the year, someone tied a crowbar and crushed cans under my car. (I guess he hoped I couldn't come to school the next day.) Wow! What a terrible class. This was my first year of teaching and wow, was I wrong about the class. I no longer have these problems — here's what I learned that helped me turn around bad classroom behavior.
[callout]Cathy Rubin asks, “What was your most challenging classroom and how did you turn it around?” in this month's Global Search for Education. [/callout]
The boys didn't want to type. One boy was so disrespectful that we had a behavior contract he had to follow before I'd let him come back into class. It was turmoil. It was hell. But somewhere amidst the struggle, I glimpsed paradise.
1. Seek Advice from Seasoned Teachers.
First, I asked advice of the best teachers I knew: my Mom, my sister, my curriculum director. They helped me do things to solve the biggest problems first.
[callout]Find experienced teachers. Seek their advice. [/callout]
2. Read Books.
On the weekends, I read books. I learned about proximity, behavior management, and classroom management.
[callout]The answers to almost any problem can be found in the pages of a book. Reading helps you with leading. [/callout]
3. Talk to the Kids.
Everything changed the day I asked the students what would help them want to learn the keyboard.
“Only a steak dinner,” the boys said smugly.
So, I went to the principal and cut a deal. When they finished learning the keyboard, they could bring steaks. We could grill during their lunch period. (The Great Steak Out is still an annual tradition 14 years later.) The positive excitement was so powerful, there wasn't time to misbehave.
[callout]Figure out what motivates your students. What are their interests? Enlist help from your administration. Motivate with positives and not just negatives. [/callout]
4. Change What You Can.
It was my first year of teaching. They were my worst. But it wasn't them – I'm convinced it was me. I didn't know what I didn't know. I started learning.
I changed the seating chart. I looked at my classroom procedures. I worked to bring things into the classroom that kids loved. I leveled up my teaching. I handled discipline problems privately (particularly if the student seemed to crave “an audience.”)
[callout]Change yourself. Take back your classroom. Control what you can. [/callout]
5. Study the Craft of Teaching.
Fourteen years later, I haven't had a discipline referral to the front office in over a year (maybe two.) My students are a dream.
Sure, student should “know” how to act. Some do. Some don't. They're kids. I'm a professional. In all those years, the kids haven't changed. I have. They still are someone else's “bad class.” But not mine. I don't have a bad class. I don't have a bad child. We're learning. But most of all, I'm more of a craftsman than I was that first year. That first year I had some head knowledge, but I knew very little about what really worked.
[callout]As long as someone is getting great results, I can learn what they do — and so can you. [/callout]
But What About When Teaching Is Hard?
Teaching is still hard. Last year was the hardest year ever – but it wasn't the kids. It was other things. But there's also something wonderful that happens amidst the struggle:
- When a child learns to love himself.
- When she better copes with hardship.
- When she learns something new.
Before you get to great things, first you have to get past the worst. And for me, my first year was the worst. But I never quit on the kids. I never quit on myself.
This noble profession of teaching is worth the struggle.
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