Okay, so here's the story. I am teaching English, ninth and 11th grade for the first time at an all-boy's Yeshiva (Orthodox Jewish high school). If you weren't part of the Orthodox community, you would think that would be a cinch--well behaved Jewish boys, right? Well, actually, I was warned by people in the community that it would be tough, and they weren't lying. Here's a few reasons why. 1. Many, if not most, of the boys have been taught that English studies are a waste of time (a distraction from the real work of Torah or Bible study). Sometimes it's their parents; sometimes it's the rabbis who have taught them this, and they, the boys, take it seriously. Many of them believe the only reason English is taught at the school is so the school can receive federal funding (which may well be true). 2. By the time the boys come to me, it's the end of the day. My FIRST class is at 4 pm. They've been studying and praying since 7:30 a.m. My last section starts at 6:30 and ends at 7:15 pm (that's the one I threw out tonight). 3. Many/most of them see English as a joke, a time to let off steam at the end of the day, and they don't respect secular teachers but see them as people to play off. 4. Most of them have not had good preperation in English. 5. Many of them have pre-existing behavioral and emotional problems (this is not the most exclusive Yeshiva where I'm teaching). 6. The administration does not offer much in the way of discipline for problems in secular classes. Now, add to that this fact. The textbooks are pre-chosen; one mediocre literature anthology; one vocabularly workbook; and one grammar/composition book. I can't bring in ANY material from the outside without prior approval (which is very hard to get) because they are very strict about what these boys are exposed to. Oh, did I mention I'm not allowed to assign homework on this school either? All English work must be done in class. Just to make things a little more complicated. So, my last period class is larger than any of the others, eighteen students crowded into a space that really only comfortably fits a dozen. They are some of my least prepared and most behaviorally/emotionally challenged students. Today, I tried to get them to do a set of exercises on nouns, but there was so much talking and horsing around that, in the end, I just told them to leave because I was starting to really lose my temper. I've tried asking them what they're interested in but that's a problem because a. they say they're not interested in English at all and b. even if they are interested in some things I'm limited to the textbooks we have. I can't bring in novels, essays, movies, poems, articles that haven't been pre-approved, and the rabbis generally don't have time or the inclination to pre-approve secular material. I've tried using graduated class discipline--warning, seat reassignment, one-minute detention, ejection, but I can barely keep track of all the warnings etc they end up flying so fast. They seem to respond better to structure than choice, but it's such a constant battle just to maintain order. If I didn't need the money, I'd quit. As it is, I'm tempted to just let them do whatever they want while I collect my paycheck, since no one else seems to care, but, of course, I don't really want to do that. I love teaching; I love my subject; I even like some of these boys, but I simply don't know what to do with them. Does anyone have any suggestions? What would a master teacher do in a case like this? How would Theodor Sizer or John Dewey or Sidney Poitier handle it? I've taught before, but at the college level, and discipline is not my strongest suit. Please advise!