I spent 8 years in the classroom, so I am in no way an expert on… well… anything. But, I taught in a pretty tough environment. I think perception of classroom management differs greatly depending on where you teach. Many teachers work in schools with a large population of high functioning students, tons of parent involvement and little negative outside influences. Those teachers have a totally different set of challenges than teachers who teach in a school like mine.
Of the 8 years I spent in the classroom, 6 were in middle school. Every year I had at least one student who was pregnant or already a parent. At least one student who was classified as homeless. I had students from jail, one who was a registered sex offender and many students who were gang members. The neighborhood around our school was an open air drug market that was full of crime and prostitution.
I spent my first year in this school learning A LOT. I made the huge mistake of trying to be “friends” with my students. I remember telling them on the first day that I didn’t care what they did last year, yesterday or 10 minutes before coming into my classroom. They were here for a fresh start. Little did I know, that would come back to haunt me. I was honestly, terrified of some of my students. I had fights in my room that involved chairs, and students, being thrown. It’s hard to command respect from people you fear.
My students mouthed off to my special education assistant one day (who was close to retirement) and I gave up. I was so frustrated with their lack of respect that I broke down in tears and walked away. I walked back into my classroom, grabbed my things, and told my principal I was going home sick. Looking back, I have no idea how, as a non-tenured teacher, I didn’t get fired! I hated my job that year. Every single second of it. Looking back now, it was my own fault.
The next school year, I was pregnant throughout most of the school year with my first child. I gained a TON of weight and ended up swelling like crazy and having elevated blood pressure. To avoid my doctor forcing me out of work, I did nothing but sit on a stool for the last few weeks before my daughter was born. My classroom management pretty much didn’t exist because I was miserable. I went out on maternity leave in March and returned mid-May. My long term sub was a “friend” to my students and my classroom was in disarray when I returned. I was not able to get things back on track and the remaining few weeks of the school year had me on survival mode.
Year 3 in middle school was a HUGE year for me. It’s the year I finally figured it out. I didn’t try to make my students like me. I didn’t try to make my students fear me or hate me. I was determined to make my students respect me. I had very clear classroom expectations and procedures for every little thing. My students knew what to do if they were absent. They knew I 100% didn’t lend out pencils. Ever. They knew I didn’t take late homework/makeup work/projects. I didn’t bend for anyone. BUT… I respected my students. If they were having a bad day, or I heard they were troublesome earlier in the day, I’d find a way to touch base with them before class or during the warm up. If I knew a student was dealing with something at home, or had a sporting event coming up, I would talk to them about it. My students knew I cared about them – but they also knew my rules for them. My classroom was suddenly a much more manageable place than years before.
From that year on, I maintained my philosophy that in order to have a truly successful classroom, my students were going to have to respect me. Not be afraid of me, not hate me, and not want to be my friend. Each year, the types of students I had didn’t change. I had many students come through my room who were problematic in other classrooms, but they were well behaved and focused, for the most part, for me. I certainly DID have my problem students, don’t get me wrong. Whether they just hated math, or me, or my rules, they were a challenge to have in class. But, I didn’t let those students bring down my attitude or the rest of my class.
Even though we are the teachers and we are the adults, we need to RESPECT our students. They are people too and they deserve the same respect that we command from them.
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