Teenagers can be notoriously fickle creatures when it comes to creating a lasting bond and getting the best out of them – both for your class and for their learning. One minute you’re everyone’s best friend, and the next, you’re being grumbled about under your favourite student’s breath. What went wrong? To be able to fix it, you must first be honest with yourself and figure out how you muffed it. Rest assured: most problems can be solved, or at least greatly improved – but first you may need to face some hard truths about how you got here in the first place.
Poor Preparation: You started out the year with a clean slate, and probably put your best foot forward – you were prepped and planned out till the first break, you had stacks of warm photocopying cooling on the shelves, you had sticky notes and colourful highlighters at the ready – you were impressive.
And then life got really busy, really fast. You lost a bit of the shine, as well as a stack of papers, and can’t find a pencil. The photocopier got jammed at 8.54 so you had to make do with hurried notes on the board. You came back late to class from chocolate-biscuit morning in the staffroom three times last week. You forgot to add a marking sheet into the booklet and then marked students on an aspect they weren’t expecting. You gave time-wasting work when you weren’t prepared and then they had to work twice as hard to get a late task done in time for reporting. You weren’t very prepared or organised for classes, and had to run back to your office regularly. If this sounds like you, you’d frustrate a saint eventually! You’re going to have to get it together, and fast!
It doesn’t matter what is going on in your personal or school life – if you have a class of kids waiting for you to teach them, then you need to show up, step up, light up, and teach them. That’s your job. If you’ve been letting the quality preparation and teaching slip because ‘stuff’ is going on, then it is going to affect your relationships with the students, and their enjoyment and engagement with your class. Get your priorities straight, read over your teacher Mission Statement, make time for being organised, and get back to kicking butt.
Uneven Classroom Management: Every teacher has bad days where the mood, the dynamics, the weather – whatever – get the best of them, and we are all guilty of snapping at a student without due cause, letting our face or tone convey a negative thought or emotion, or being outright unprofessional. Sometimes a bad day can lead into a bad week, where we take things personally, or bring our non-teaching lives into the classroom with us, and allow our emotions to take the reins. This never ends well if our aim is to be kind, fair and consistent.
Anger, frustration, hurt and sadness are the enemy of even-handed teaching. You need to find a way to slough those off at the door and walk into the classroom without them – because for some of those kids, you are the bright spot of their day, and they need you to show up. They need a kind word. They need some encouragement. And they don’t need to be unnecessarily smacked down because they asked you one too many questions at a bad moment and you let loose on them instead of using your discipline management strategies.
If this is your undoing, you need to stick a BIG copy of your mission statement inside the door of your office (or laminate it and stick it at the top of your computer screen), and make a habit of taking a moment to read it and focus when you come into your room each day. Reading information on good classroom systems, reading up on behaviour management, asking colleagues how to deal with particular students – all of these will help also.
‘Picking on’ Students: Many students in your career-lifetime will pull out and have a go at the old, ‘You’re picking on me!” line. Now and then, one of them may just be right, and you’ll have to be very honest with yourself on this one. There are many reasons why a relationship with a student can go a little sour, and one is that you just plain don’t click. They are negative about everything you present (you don’t need to feel special, they may be wired that way). They are always pushing too far the boundaries (this comes back to your classroom management). They have an annoying voice (you probably do, too, when you’re droning on and on). They are sly about trying to break rules (be clear on what boundaries can be pushed a little and which can’t). Or they just have verbal diahorrea (give them 3 ‘blurts’ per class after which they have to ‘pay’ you by doing an extra task, cleaning the room or helping others).
If you really are guilty of focussing more closely on one student and allowing others to get away with the same behaviour, you MUST regain your consistency. Apologise to the student, discuss the reasons why you may have been focussed on them due to their behaviours, and ask for a fresh slate. Keep a written record so that everything is above board. Then be doubly conscious of ensuring fairness and consistency for all – even – especially – the ‘good’ kids. There is nothing more gratifying to a ‘difficult’ student than seeing a ‘good’ student get told off for one of the same things they are constantly being told off for 🙂 Fair is fair!
Negative Focus: There is an Australian Poem called ‘Said Hanrahan’ and it’s about an Aussie bloke who can always find something to moan about. Good weather? – bad weather is on the way – no doubt! Some of us are wired to view the world in a less positive way than others. I am a melancholly personality, and I get endlessly frustrated by the pie-in-the-sky attitude of my hopelessly optimistic husband. He could look at the bright side of a toilet bowl. I like to think of myself as a realist, and I don’t feel the need to pretend things are better than they are for the sake of fooling myself. It’s not that I don’t see all the good in the world – it’s just that I don’t see the world as all rainbows and unicorns. Taking this attitude into the classroom with me is a little dangerous. Students (kids in general!) need to hear an average of 6 good and positive things to make up for or negate every 1 negative thing they hear – and for some students, it can be hard to catch them doing something good! For some kids, your comment may be the only positive thing they hear all day, and you can’t disappoint. Look through a positive frame at your kids, your classroom, and your job, and you can’t go too wrong in building trust and engagement with the students.
Try to be upbeat. Try to put on that positive teacher persona as you enter the room. This is where your discipline system comes into play – if you are simply following the system and being fair about it – then it shouldn’t come across to the student as a negative or unfair punishment but simply as the logical and fitting consequence for their choices and actions. You can dish out discipline with a smile and a, ‘bad luck’ – you can make a better choice next time! Smile. Encourage. Frame every negative feedback comment between 2 positives. Notice haircuts and comment positively. Do whatever you can to be a bright spot in your students’ day and not a moping Hanrahan.
Lack of Mentorship: Many young teachers come bowling into teaching with grand plans and great expectations, many of which are lost among the daily minutia and busyness of teaching life. Too many of us were guilty of pooh-poohing the methods of the older (stuck in the mud to us young ones) teachers, and chose to go it alone (or with other newbies) without spending time listening and observing the wisdom of more experienced teachers. If you are unsure where exactly you went wrong, there is a pretty good chance that someone more experienced in your department who has worked with you for a while has an opinion on how you can improve. Be brave. Ask them (not on the spot!) to come up with 3 things you can focus on to be more professional and effective as a teacher. You never know, they may just be the things that ‘make’ your career for you.
If there is nobody you can ask, then you’ll have to look around and find yourself a surrogate mentor or two. Decide who you think the best 3 teachers in the school are (ask the students who makes them work hard but is still likeable!) and ask if you can observe their classes a couple of times this term. Take a few notes of what systems they have in place, how they interact and build relationships with the students, and how they manage their workload. There is so much to learn from one another – and we can always take away something positive from watching another teacher in action.
If you can see yourself in one or more of those example, don’t be discouraged. Good teachers aren’t born, they are shaped and moulded by strong aims, good intentions, solid learning, and hard work. Nobody can expect to get everything right all at once, and many experienced teachers still grapple with these issues. Choose one area which you feel with have the most impact, and start there.
Whatever you do – choose a positive step forward – and celebrate every improvement you make. You deserve every good thing!
Having some positive messages in your classroom can help you to make it a welcoming and positive place to be! Head over and grab these great Classroom Affirmation Posters for an instant pick-me-up on your classroom walls 🙂 Just $4.00 for 40 great posters!