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Old 12-04-2012, 10:07 AM
Newb Newb is offline
Join Date: Dec 2012
Posts: 45
High School Teacher
Am I just not cut out for this?

After having my 1st block meltdown on me again (it's gotten to be something that happens twice a week), despite trying different approaches to try and stop it, I'm here to ask for advice. I'd appreciate any help you could give me.

I'm a 1st year 9th grade English teacher. I have 4 classes: 2 of them are Inclusion English, 1 is General English (made up of the non-SPED kids who scored very low but were left out of the inclusion class), and a small "English Lab" that's just made up of the only 4 random kids in the school they didn't fit into the larger freshman Math labs.

At first, it was a challenge just to figure out where my kids were at, academically, then find materials for it (I didn't get textbooks 8 weeks into the year). In the inclusion classes, they refuse to do anything but talk and goof off, and about 20% of those can barely read and write at all (2 can't).

That led to a lot of false starts, and I've had a ton of discipline problems: 2 separate pairs of kids got restraining orders against each other in unrelated incidents because of family drama, 2 have already been sent to alternative school, and almost all of them have really horrible family situations involving abuse, drugs, etc. School is a very low priority in this community and the kids are used to not working, so that's been a struggle as well.

My classroom management is godawful. My kids don't respect me. During first block, they get out of their seats and wander around the room, talk, and zone out when I'm trying to teach. I correct them and call for attention, only to have some of them get up and write on the board about how much I suck and how they hate my class.

When I enforce any consequences (like even giving them a warning or moving them), the other students will rally to that one student's defense with "You can't do that! They're not the only one talking! It's not fair!" Then they ignore the command en masse and rebel as a group, refusing to do anything but argue, which causes the class to spiral further out of control. They'll threaten to have their parents come and scream at me. One student even told me today she'd have me fired and walked out of the room before dismissal.

On the advice of some stuff I read on Michael Linsin's classroom management blog, I've tried just slowing stuff down and focusing on firm commitment to procedure, redoing things if they're not done correctly until the students do them properly, and on not on attacking anyone or arguing with students. This just drives them nuts and causes even more problems, as they say I'm being disrespectful of them and not being fair. It's a mess.

At least 2-3 times a week, I'm dealing with kids screaming at me for not being fair if I tell them to stop an inappropriate or disruptive behavior kids storming out of the room to call their parents and complain about the horrible teacher they've got, the assistant principal (who never taught a single class) tells me how I suck and I need to get better but only gives vague advice, etc.

One of our asst principals, who also never taught a single class (was hired in as a coach) tells me my problem is that I need to write kids up more, but not send every kid to the office. He says I'm too boring and that I "just don't have a personality that kids will to listen to and respect." I need to build relationships with them, but be strict and enforce rules on everybody equally--but when I enforce a rule, this is what happens! What am I supposed to do to fix this!?!?!

What can I do!?!?!?!
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Old 12-04-2012, 02:58 PM
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luludc luludc is offline
Join Date: Sep 2008
Posts: 28
Hi! I'm sorry you're having such a hard first year. I teach little kids, but I did spend six years teaching in a community similar to the one you're in (albeit in elementary school). I'll try to give the best advice I can think of, and hopefully others with high school experience will chime in.

First of all, write up all behavior infractions that warrant an office referral. Keep copies of all your documentation. Call home often! Most parents are not going to get mad and scream at you. A few might, but most will listen. Keep the conversations objective and focused on the problem behavior. Not "Johnny is out of control" but "Johnny was told to do a, b, and c. Instead he did x, y, and z. He was referred to the office (or whatever)." Some parents will listen, some will get mad, and some will get tired of the phone calls and tell their kids to get their act together. Keep a phone log of all contacts home. If the phone numbers don't work, document that you tried calling. Ask your admin or registrar if a letter can be mailed home requesting current phone numbers.

When kids argue with you, do not engage. As tempting as it may be, do not argue back. Refuse to engage in the power struggle. When they threaten to have their parents come up and scream at you,ignore that. Like I said, having worked in that type of community, most parents respect a teacher who is firm and consistent. While some may take the kid's side, if you are calm and objective in dealing with the parents, most of them will be reasonable.

I wish I had better advice that was specific to high schoolers, but others will. Hang in there! Be consistent, confident, and firm!
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Old 12-04-2012, 05:02 PM
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czacza czacza is online now
Join Date: Sep 2001
Posts: 22,015
New Jersey
Grade 3
No advice other than what lulu offered...just .
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Old 12-04-2012, 05:35 PM
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Em_Catz Em_Catz is offline
Join Date: Oct 2010
Posts: 1,162
East Coast
Primary Elementary Teacher
Here's another and to Lulu. Also, the first year (or in my case the first three years) is really rough. I remember I used to talk to other teachers and I'd get all kinds of advice, but the teacher who stuck out and advice's meant the most to me was the one who shared her frustration and struggles as a teacher and admitted there were times all throughout her 26 year career she thought about throwing in the towel.

Maybe if I share my "teacher testimony" the way she did it will help encourage you.

Even though I taught elementary school, I was "that" teacher. The one who couldn't control her class. The one whose kids couldn't walk quietly down the hall in a straight line to save their lives. The one whose kids took 20 - 25 minutes to use the bathroom because they were so busy running down the hall, jumping on stalls, throwing water, fighting each other, talking and playing around. The teacher who NEVER did reading groups or centers because whenever I was not literally staring at the children, they would go crazy

By crazy I mean stuff like:

1. I had 3 or 4 boys that used to sneak into the coat closest and steal other kids snacks.

2. I had another boy and girl who had a signal...whenever I was distracted they would sneak into the coat closet and make out and hump on each other...and they were only 6!

3. I also had a boy that liked to urinate in the coat closet. He'd spray everyone's coats, then sneak back to his seat.

4. Another boy had SEVERE lactose intolerance, so he'd sneak into our snack bucket and get regular milk instead of the lactaid the cafeteria sent for him because he liked grossing everyone out by passing excess gas. A few times he crapped his pants and started crying because he was embarassed, then the next day, he'd sneak regular milk out the cafeteria again).

I was also the bane of my hallways existance because the P was CONSTANTLY checking up on me since he knew my class was out of control, which meant the other teachers were always on guard because when he'd check up on me, he'd check up on them as well.

Honestly, it got to the point where I would just give out worksheets and sit at my desk visualizing myself in a warm, sunny place away from children.

I KNEW I just wasn't cut out for teaching. Then, somewhere around Year Four, it began to click. I think the combination of my experience, a week long non-credit course I took in reaching kids with ADHD, talking to other teachers and reading/researching on my own all began to come together.

Am I the best teacher in the world now, nearly six years into my career? Heck no. But I've gotten my class management under control to the point that I'm not "that teacher" anymore. In fact, when subs come, I always get left nice notes about how great my class is and what strong routines I have in place.

It'll happen for you too. It just takes the one thing we never seem to have enough of...time
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Old 12-04-2012, 06:58 PM
creativemonster creativemonster is online now
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 217
It's difficult to see the successes. They are there. Are they having moments...no matter how few or far between...and it might only be some of them at a time...but moments when they are inquisitive, or writing, or reading, or maybe just discovering that they have opinions and they are learning how to back up their opinions, or any other moments or glimpses of learning? These are the moments to celebrate. Those flashes of deeper thought and understanding is why you are there. So many adults have given up on those kids and there you are, day in and day out struggling along. They see it, they really do. And practice being kind to yourself. Make sure you get enough sleep and enough exercise and know that first year teachers are usually not so great. So what - there are moments of greatness.

It's hard. Keep breathing. Be yourself. What works for one teacher might not work for another. Take the advice that sounds right for you. ignore the rest. Good luck. Keep us posted on how it's going.
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Old 12-04-2012, 07:19 PM
Newb Newb is offline
Join Date: Dec 2012
Posts: 45
High School Teacher

One thing I should add... the principal who was hired in as a coach and has never taught a class is now threatening to fire me mid-year if I score below a 3 out of 5 on my 1st observation in 2 days. He reminded me today that I'm easily replaceable and if I can't "get this handled" he'll find someone who can. Then he forbid me from writing up anymore kids because he said I'm just using it as a way of dodging my responsibilities. So when I give them consequences that they already ignore--heck, a few of them have ran off without even going to the office when I sent them--I'm supposed to find something they won't ignore when I have no power to enforce it.

They don't care about grades. They don't care about timeouts. They don't care about pushups, or jumping jacks, or writing sentences, or whatever else I've put in front of them. They won't stay after class when I tell them to stay. They won't even stay *in* class when I tell them to stay. They don't care if I contact their parents, because they know their parents won't get the call, email, or letter. They know they can take over the class simply by being drama queens or clowns and all I can do is write an office referral. It's gotten to the point where those who just sit there lazily sleeping are seeming more and more like "the good kids" while the bad ones are looking cooler and more popular to the majority of good, decent (but lazy) kids I have.
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Old 12-04-2012, 07:20 PM
Newb Newb is offline
Join Date: Dec 2012
Posts: 45
High School Teacher
I should add that most teachers with decades of experience struggle to score a 3 on our state evaluation rubric. It goes to 5, but the state says that 5s should never happen and 4s should be extremely rare. Yet if I don't make it here, I'm fired. I don't know what to do!
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Old 12-04-2012, 07:21 PM
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pwhatley pwhatley is offline
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 5,282
3rd Grade Teacher
Are any of the students even slightly interested? Do you have an interesting curriculum? In addition to what others have said, I would venture to say that, should any student show the slightest interest, calmly work with that student - not to his/her exclusion, but maybe, just maybe, some others will get drawn in. You say your are teaching 9th grade English to low students. I don't know your curriculum, but are you teaching grammar, literature, spelling, reading, or all of the above? What are the districts expectations of the skills these kids will have when they leave your class? I would concentrate on those skills and making them as engaging as possible. I know it's hard. My first year nearly killed me. Hang in there, come to AtoZ for advice, resources, and commiserations, and don't forget to take care of yourself.

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.
― Dr. Seuss
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Old 12-04-2012, 08:03 PM
Newb Newb is offline
Join Date: Dec 2012
Posts: 45
High School Teacher
I've tried to have an interesting curriculum. It's been a struggle, though.

I had plans in place to be on weekly routines and do units built around different genres, like most English teachers, only to find that the district doesn't want us building units that way anymore and the activities I selected for the routines were just frustrating the kids and causing them to shut down. So I dropped that about 2 weeks in and went to The Odyssey, mainly because it was the only thing I had access to that I knew I really wanted to teach.

We did the Odyssey early on and I thought that was interesting and the activities we were doing were fun, but most kids just complained it was boring and our class set was too advanced for their skill level, so I got a "simplified" version they could take home and read. Maybe 1/3 of them liked it. The rest complained vocally.

Then I took them to the library to pick out books for SSR activities, but half of them refused to even check one out and of the ones who did, some of them were cookbooks or didn't fit with the activities I had planned. That was a disaster.

Then the school literacy coach came in and said I shouldn't spend much time teaching them grammar or spelling, as my focus needs to be on the common core stuff they'll be doing next year (all focused on reading/writing). She also instructed me to go specifically by the curriculum in the new textbook, which I didn't get until 2 months into the course, and that I MUST cover the book's "Essential Core of Study" just as it was written to ensure I get all the Common Core stuff in. I've been doing that for the past 2 months. Our book has some good stuff in it, but trying to do things the textbook way has turned the class into a bore, and the supplementary stuff I've tied in has fallen flat, as well.

On the advice of the SPED teacher in my inclusion classes, who teaches them 1 day a week in there, I've stopped giving them group work. He says they just waste too much time in groups. Plus I have some kids who flat out refuse to work in groups because of social issues. It's very hard to just put them into groups in the first place because some blow up if I don't let them work with friends, while others will just bully anyone who's not in their clique.

For a test over the elements of story structure and irony, I had them watch "Spider-Man" and answer some questions with a short essay on the back. I thought that would be fun. A bunch of kids complained about that because they'd already seen it and the work they handed in was very sub-par, even by their standards. Very few even finished the 1 page handout.

After all that, I don't know what I can successfully do to liven this up for them. When I try, the kids either say it's too hard and shut down or they spend most of their time goofing off. When I bring stuff in that's not in the book, admin doesn't like it because they feel it's inferior to what's in the text. When I offer rewards like pizza parties, free time, etc., admin doesn't like it because they think it's a waste of time. When I ask the kids themselves what they're interested in or would like to do, all they come back with is "don't give much work and let us play in groups."

Next semester, I'm going to try to hit them with "Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson, "Night" by Elie Wiesel, "Romeo and Juliet," Lit Circles, Poetry, a research paper, and a bunch of shorter grammar and writing activities along the way, then 2 weeks of Course Prep and 3 weeks of movies and stuff (in alignment with standards) after the tests. I hope I can liven this stuff up somehow and make it better, but I already envision the kids tuning out because it's too hard or depressing or whatever...

I'm at my wit's end. My AP seems certain it's mostly a personality defect on my part that's "turning these kids off."
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Old 12-04-2012, 08:08 PM
Loomistrout Loomistrout is offline
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 988
Rocklin, CA
Originally Posted by Newb View Post
... ... the principal who was hired in as a coach and has never taught a class is now threatening to fire me mid-year if I score below a 3 out of 5 on my 1st observation in 2 days. He reminded me today that I'm easily replaceable and if I can't "get this handled" he'll find someone who can. Then he forbid me from writing up anymore kids because he said I'm just using it as a way of dodging my responsibilities. ...
Some would argue if a principal initiates intervention with real training, on-going coaching, collegial sharing, chances to observe ... in short, tries to help staff improve versus sitting back and mandating improvement and a teacher still shows little sign of improving a case for dismissal could be made. It is all too common to teach kids one way then drop everything we know about learning and skill acquisition and teach adults completely different.
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