A new teacher, hanging by a thread

Dan Adiletta is a first-year teacher at Explore College Preparatory Middle School in East Oakland.

So there I am, fighting for control of a classroom against students sloshing knee-deep in disrespect towards each other and towards me, and all the while my observing school coach is clacking dourly on her computer. I know what my lesson and my classroom management is lacking; I need to include greater academic rigor and better routines and instructions to minimize disruptive behavior.

Tomorrow will be better, I say, I’ll work my tail off to make tomorrow better.

I come home late because of a flurry of mandatory meetings and student requests. I was at school an hour and a half early to prep. My lunch break was 20 minutes. I taught five back-to-back classes that were all a grueling struggle. I sit on my couch, my shirt untucked and left eye twitching, with my head in my hands feeling miserably guilty for failing the students whose education is in peril. I only have three or four hours to eat dinner, grade papers and prepare a better lesson for the next day before I pass out. It’s not a particularly stressful day, it’s just Tuesday.

I can’t work any harder (I’ve been making a stand for a while now), so I need to start working smarter. I’m using this memorial to our veterans and to the end of World War I, hooray for Armistice Day, to ask a fantastic online community for feedback (Sorry Cranky Teacher, your sage advice to relax can’t work if I’m dreading the next day. I need to take it head-on).

The feedback I’ve been getting from my administration consists of them asking me how I thought my lesson went and what I need to do. And my school’s professional development is focused entirely around developing learning targets, (LTs are great, but they don’t address the glaring holes in my performance). I’m not yet in BTSA because I don’t have two hours a night for extraneous paperwork. Stress has eliminated my ability to self-analyze. I record myself but I can’t stomach reliving my classes right after work. I need someone to frankly tell me, “Your performance is ______. You need this and this. You’re doing well here.”

These are the ideas I have so far:

– Recruiting students to grade papers before and after school
– Increasing my usage of team points in class. Perhaps students will be more focused if their group is immediately rewarded for compliance
– Lining the class up until the late bell rings. All my classes start chaotically because I’m required to monitor the hallways and throw myself between the occasional fights. I can’t be in the classroom to initialize appropriate behavior. So while I’m forced to wait out in the hall, perhaps my students should be as well
– Trying to adjust the school’s class rotation so perhaps once a week I can team-teach with the science teacher, another first-year teacher with whom I enjoy working
– Sending letters home to request parental volunteers to function as teaching assistants
– Suggesting a total rethink of the seventh-grade curriculum. I’d love to center the class around a single, continuous game using the electronic student response system I have. This exciting facade would be a mechanism for not only teaching the seventh-grade World History content, but also ethics, appropriate academic expectations, and methods to develop greater self-awareness

Ideas I still need:

– I have to find a way to develop lessons faster so I can spend my time reviewing them to clarify instructions, increase the pace and accountability,  and include extra material to help scaffold
– I have to find a better system of consequences. I have a policy that five disruptions warrants a referral to the office. But with most of the class earning three or four disruptions, it’s a non-stop fight. Detentions are a joke. They last half an hour, and assigning detention to a student is a hassle. I gave my own detentions but only one out of ten would show despite the consequence of a referral. Contacting parents is awesome and I try to do so but more often than not I can’t find a working phone number or the parent will simply hang up on me. I can include more carrots to encourage appropriate behavior, but don’t I also need a stick?

I refuse to be anything but great at this job and I’m outraged that I’m not there yet. I thank you in advance for any thoughts you might have. And please keep an eye out for a BBQ invitation this summer. My wife and I can host a crowd quite pleasantly when we’re not over-stressed.


  • oaklandmom

    Class Management is the ball game in middle school. I am a middle school teacher and I finally feel like I’ve gotten a handle on it – I’d guess my population is about the same as yours.
    Here are some things that work for me:
    -Start with a do now – even if you are in the hallway students have something productive to do while they are in your classroom. Give extravagant amounts of praise, points or whatever to get your students doing the do-now. Have it be meaningful but not needing instruction – I teach language arts and start with daily oral language or a quick write.
    -Seating charts are your friends.
    -I had a principal say never to use sarcasm with kids. I STRONGLY suggest you ignore this advice if that is your natural mode *it is mine*
    -Free your inner a**hole. Really. You don’t have to be one all the time but at least some of the time. It works.
    -Don’t depend on anyone outside of your classroom to do your management. Detention only works before lunch and at the end of the day in your classroom unless you can get security guards to round up the kids.
    -other sticks for me are me pulling the text book out, and teaching grammar, because I can’t stand the chaos.
    -Three or four warnings is too many – On the third, they are out.
    -Sometimes abdicate and teach out of the textbook. Not every lesson needs to be collaborative. Give yourself a break!
    -Always, Always, Always, assign groups and allow no negotiation.

    One of the hardest things I had to learn was that I needed to be in charge of my classroom in a way that I didn’t like – I don’t like being authoritarian, but I had to be.
    E-mail me, and I’ll send you my classroom management plan. Middle school can be fabulous to teach, but it is HARD work. Thank you for doing it.

  • seenitbefore

    OUSD is a broken system and a losing battle. Teaching is a joy in many other places. Good school systems support their teachers and hold students accountable for their behavior and academic success.

  • Jonathon

    Dan thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. Many of the struggles that you have cited ultimately caused me to leave the classroom. It is inspiring to see your dedication and persistence to find a way to become a truly effective teacher for Oakland students. My only advice is always be positive. Try as much as you can to focus on the positive things that your students are doing. Praise the students that follow directions profusely. Still reprimand students for not meeting expectations, but make sure that you are focusing on the positive more than the negative. I know how difficult it can be, but it will make your classroom a better place for your students.

  • O-Town teacher

    Hang in there, Dan. The first year or two of teachng is pretty tough.

    A couple of things: “The First Days of School” by Harry Wong teaches you how to establish procedures in your class that will make your overall classroom management more effective.

    And I was a BTSA coach for several years. It is NOT two hours worth of “extraneous paperwork” per night. Or even per week. I usually met with my mentees (or Participating Teachers, but I’ll just go with mentees) once a week or once every other week with a phone conference on the non-meeting week. We usually met at their school. Most meetings were less than an hour. Goals were focused. There was no paperwork for the teacher to complete on her/his own for the most part. We did most of it together at our meetings. I’m not saying it’s a perfect system, but it’s not what you have described.

    Finally, I’ve been in the district for many, many years. And in most of the evaluations I have had, I have been asked to self-evaluate. I have *rarely* spontaneously received the kind of feedback you are requesting, so I suggest you tell your principal or evaluator exactly what you need.

    Good luck.

  • J.R.

    On behalf of forward thinking parents, I just want to thank you for being a dedicated teacher, we really need and appreciate you!

  • Anon79

    Having a learning activity such as a do-now at the start of class should help- but I also think you may want to revisit expectations and ask students what they want to get out of the class, what their goals are both inside and outside of class, and what you all think you need to do to reach those goals together.

    Then if you have to spend a full day or even a full week practicing how to come into class and be productive the entire time I think you’ll be better off for the rest of the year. Use these upcoming breaks as a chance to start fresh.

    Finally, you could try reaching out to a few of your students who may be misbehaving more often and really get to know what’s going on in their lives and what motivates them-

    Good luck-

  • harlemmoon04

    This is an incredibly frank and honest assessment. There is so much to be gleaned from this young man’s travails.
    I truly do hope that he receives the support that he so desperately needs and wants.
    This is clearly a dedicated teacher crying out for help. I hope someone in a position to assist is listening.

  • Nextset

    These posts are interesting and I hope they continue. I will be surprised if they do.

    Something that struck me – that part about “parents” hanging up on the teacher if he tries to call them about their kids being disruptive or having problems.

    If that is anything but an isolated problem, that child should be transferred at once to an alternative school. You don’t keep disruptive children of trashy parents/families in a decent/normal school. These transfers should be made openly. The other families should be aware that they are happening.

    You cannot run a real “school” when you tolerate this behavior by the kid and the “parent”. If you do you are just spitting into the wind. It must be made clear that the school – at least the decent schools – are for children & families that have a commitment to the educational program. Whenever you learn they don’t, that child must be gone to a different place where no commitment is required. That would be a special school for special students – Special Ed if you will.

    OUSD doesn’t want to do this. Maybe it’s not politically correct. So they create non-schools and bring in idealistic teachers who really believe they are teaching. Good luck teaching for long in a school without commitment. And one rotten apple spoils the barrel.

  • MrsNguyen2006

    I recall from my Ed. Law class that teachers are not required to physically step-in to stop a fight.

  • MrsNguyen2006

    If a student does not show up for detention it is considered defiance. Your referral should include the word defiance and document your attempts to rectify the situation. As a teacher you have a right to suspend a student from class for two days if he or she is defiant and disruptive to the learning environment. Empower yourself and assert your authority.

  • Oakland Teacher

    Special Ed is in NO way for students whose family has a commitment problem. Special Education is for students who meet one of the 13 very specific qualifying conditions as defined by federal law. Special education families frequently are some of the most supportive and involved in their students schooling that you will ever see.

    Nextset, you really need to get a grip on yourself over what you write in your eagerness to bash parents. I would think you would have figured out by now that even though some/many of our students are a huge challenge and can make our day miserable, we are not giving up on them.

    Dan, I can’t give you any simple answers, so won’t. But I heartily agree with the poster who said to try to focus on the students who are learning and doing what they should be, as much as you possibly can. And know that most of us had experiences similar to yours our first few years of teaching. For those of us still around, we survived, and it got much easier.

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/ Sharon

    It might be helpful for you to read the chapter “Status” in “Impro: Improvisation and the Theater” by Keith Johnstone, the bible of improvisational theater. My two daughters immediately recognized that their observations of nearly 80 teachers over the past 15 years were confirmed by the dynamics described in the book.

    Here are some excerpts:

    “…every inflection [in one’s voice] and movement implies a status… In reality status transactions continue all the time.”

    “We’ve all observed different kinds of teachers, so if I describe three types of status players commonly found in the teaching profession you may find that you already know exactly what I mean.

    I remember one teacher, whom we liked but who couldn’t keep discipline…

    Another teacher, who was generally disliked, never punished and yet exerted a ruthless discipline…

    A third teacher, who was much loved, never punished but kept excellent discipline, while remaining very human…

    I thought about these teachers a lot, but I couldn’t understand the forces operating on us. I would now say that the incompetent teacher was a low-status player: he twitched, he made many unnecessary movements, he went red at the slightest annoyance, and he always seemed like an intruder in the classroom. The one who filled us with terror was a compulsive high-status player. The third was a status expert, raising and lowering his status with great skill. The pleasure attached to misbehaving comes partly from the status changes you make in your teacher. All those jokes on teacher are to make him drop in status. The third teacher could cope easily with any situation by changing his status first.”

    You might not be passing your students’ high status litmus test. I think new teachers would benefit by getting specific training and practice for how to best display status in front of a classroom. I also think new teachers need to be taught about how status is earned in the world of street culture. Read “Code of the Street” by Anderson to learn about that.

  • Donna

    I’m not a teacher, just a parent whose high school age daughter has made observations about classroom functioning over the years.

    Students can smell insecurity and will take every advantage of it, so this year will be your hardest. Cultivate that low *take charge* voice so you won’t have to yell. Remember that the kids are also picking up that you care about their education. They can tell that you are not an indifferent, burnt out teacher, even if they don’t show it.

    Change seats every marking period or every month. Split up disruptive students. Split up talkers.

    For group/team work, mix high, medium, and low functioning students together. The high functioners may hate it, so you may have to pull them aside, acknowledge their distress and anger, and explain to them that groups like this are all too often the norm in the workplace, so part of exercise is to get everyone to pull their weight and stay on task. (Yes, I had this conversation the other day.)

    For group/team assignments, especially discussions, explain in excruciating detail what you want and your expectations. Over explain. Maybe several times.

    Daughter says that the quality of discussions and class participation is facilitated if the teacher really knows the kids and their interests, so uses that knowledge as a hook to draw them into the discussion. Also, call on more than just the students who raise their hands.

    Rewards probably work better than punishment. The very smallest size apples or tiny mandarin oranges seem to be kid friendly, the smaller the better. Or maybe you could dole out grapes one at a time? My daughter’s old private school kept out a box/bowl of fruit for the students — and it would disappear in a blink. It was a revelation to learn that it is not only candy and junk food that kids like.

    Middle school is hard. Hormones are kicking in, and there tends to be a lot of girl drama. It makes it even harder for them to concentrate with all that going on.

    Hang in there. And best wishes. You have chosen a *calling* and not just a career.

  • http://yahoo.com teacherspet

    I’ll echo others’ comments that classroom management is key in middle school. In addition to creating structures in your classroom, it’s absolutely key to get parents on board. I have collected “emergency” contact information cards from students on the first day of school, telling them it’s absolutely necessary to give accurate information in case of an emergency. I have then called each parent in the first week to speak briefly. For those numbers that do not work, home visits send the message that everything a student does — positive and negative — will come back to the parents. Word gets around real quickly as middle school students are prone to share stories about the teacher who came to their houses. This method is not for everyone, but has always helped me. It requires more time and effort in the short run, but pays off over the long term.

  • Harold

    “OUSD is a broken system and a losing battle. Teaching is a joy in many other places. Good school systems support their teachers and hold students accountable for their behavior and academic success.”

    I teach in the OUSD and i wouldn’t leave to teach anywhere else. I am at Oakland Tech, and my students are great to work with. I have former students all over the country, at great universities, like: Harvard, Brown, Columbia, Stanford, MIT, etc.

    Maybe our society; maybe our state, can’t provide all the resources it used to for education – and because of that fact, things are harder and more challenging.

  • Young Teacher

    You’ve probably received all of the advice that I, as a third-year teacher, can give. The only thing I have to add is this: please don’t be outraged, at yourself or anyone, that you are not yet a great teacher. Are you outraged at your students when they don’t instantly master the year’s curriculum on the first day? I hope to be a great teacher one day, and I work really hard to move toward that goal, but I think it’s an insult to all great teachers to suggest that we can master the profession in our first few years.

  • http://www.ibhistorytopics.com CRS

    Wow. You’ve received some great advice so far, i love the “status” idea. My 2 cents as a ten year inner city HS teacher…
    1 – Its hard to switch gears at this point in the year. You can, but you’ve already established your relationship with the students and the class to an extent this year. It can change, but you need to start planning how to establish yourself differently next year.
    2 – Keep the kids out of the room if you aren’t there. This really will help you to start off each period on a better foot. If you can develop any level of trust with a class then you may start letting them in but otherwise if you’re in the hall, so are they.
    3 – Edward Deci wrote an excellent short book on “Why people do what they do” which explores and dispells our common take on the carrot and stick approach. I don’t use (or very rarely ) any form of carrot or stick. This book was a real winner for me.

    I started off in a very tough assignment teaching science (not my gig) to zero-toleranced students in storefront schools. I was ready to leave because the students were so marginalized by the district it was tragic. I still teach in the city and I would never leave for the ‘burbs. I just love my current assignment but some places can be toxic. You’ve obviously got a passion that we can’t afford to lose. I hope you stay (and succeed).

  • Nextset

    Oakland Teacher – I hear you on Special Ed. I have co-workers with a Special Ed kid. I have relatives who taught Special Ed for years (very young kids).


    I do believe that some of our drug babies, conduct disordered and psych case kids are being consigned to Special Ed. I know I have dealt with numerous Sex offenders (child rapists and child molestors) who were Special Ed all through K-12. Likewise some/most/all of the State Hospital cases I’ve read had school histories of Special Ed Placement.

    And they had no problem qualifying for that placement either.

    Some people are born unlucky. Some are brain damaged, some are just bad genetics. They didn’t ask to be born this way – it just happened to them. Normal public Schools are not (supposed to be) State Hospitals and the School teachers are not (supposed to be) Psych Technicians. When you have brain damaged and disabled kids they often can’t be safely handled in Normal Public Schools. The sooner the schools get it, identify, label and process out the Psych Cases who are defiant and disruptive the sooner the Public Schools can live up to the name.

  • cranky teacher

    Wow, that great post brought out a lot of great support and advice. Love it.

    Just to clarify, Dan — I wasn’t saying to just kick back! But new teacher hours are INTENSE; adrenelin all day, so many many many encounters all day. You describe that feeling very well of coming home just SPENT. So, I was urging you to do serious SELF-CARE — for your students sake, as well as your own.

    Here’s what I see: Great people like you LEAVING hella fast, despite the BEST of intentions. Biggest reason? Massive frustration with themselves, the students, the situation. They think they are the exception, but suddenly … they go: Kids, travel, teaching at a better school, back to grad school.

    It is a fine line between idealism and arrogance, commitment and self-destruction. So take and apply all the advice you can absorb, but know that Rome wasn’t built in a day, etc.

    For example: It sounds like you are trying to create all your curriculum from scratch, on the fly, in your first year. Maybe if you could stop time and spend a few weeks on it, sure. It doesn’t work that way, though.

    First year teaching at a middle school in Oakland? Your job is to SURVIVE, to live to fight another day. Get enough sleep, keep a sense of humor, bond with your peers, savor small victories.

    Also, know that if you stay in the same school next year you will already have a lot more authority than you do now. You have that “new teacher smell” which is like blood in the water for middle schoolers anywhere, not just Oakland.

    I can still remember my mom always talking about the young science teacher her 7th-grade class of middle class Marin kids drove into a nervous breakdown…

  • Dan Adiletta

    Thank you all for your comments. The clear showing of support was tremendously helpful to me and I believe some of my colleagues who have read the post as well. That in itself was something I really needed.

    And yes, I rely on my Do Nows, seating charts, and many of the other now classic techniques. I’ve read some of the recommended books, but others I’ll be picking up soon. There are some great tips here and I’ll continue to consider and implement them.

    Today I was abrasive and impatient with the slightest misconduct. While I was eager to deal with discipline issues within my classroom, after three attempts I would simply remove the student. I spent the day with my hackles raised and the whip cracking. Only two out of five of my classes achieved a normal day’s work. However, I think it was a worthwhile investment. It was trying and tiring but oddly satisfying at times.

    The joy of teaching that I first drew me to this “calling” is still present, but it’s a dim glow. I do have one class populated by powerhouses of learning. They’re a sight to see. Also, students can use five of my classroom currency (A-Pay) to purchase an after-school tutoring. I’m at the end of one such session, with several students having paid for a video game tutor. It’s a riot to see how furiously they’ll take notes when I’m talking about strategy.

    I’ll keep at it and remember these problems and tips for when I have the ability to address the all-too-needed increase in teacher support. Thanks again for all your posts.

  • Caroline

    My husband is newly a substitute teacher in San Francisco public schools, a career change after the impending collapse of the newspaper industry (sorry, Katy) displaced him from his 33-year job as a San Francisco Chronicle reporter.

    He was lucky to quickly fall into being a regular sub at a particular elementary school, Buena Vista Elementary, a Spanish immersion K-5. Because he doesn’t sub every day, he’s able to drop in and observe (for no pay) the veteran teachers for whom he subs, and he does do that sometimes. He says that has taught him an immense amount and it really helps with his classroom management skills. I hope you have the chance to do that at times — it’s a lot harder when you have your own class, obviously.

    It’s ironic that this has all given my husband deep respect for veteran teachers and the benefits of their experience, even as his former co-workers in the news biz are bashing teachers right and left, calling for tying their pay to students’ test scores, and more (yes, I am furious about this). Of course, more of them are likely to follow in his footsteps, which will certainly change their attitudes.

    Anyway, Dan, I hope you have the chance to learn from some strong mentors too. Good luck!

  • New Teacher

    I am a third year teacher, and I just wanted to say that I know these feelings all too well, and have experience them many times in the past two years! I think the most useful piece of advice I have gotten is “praise publicly, punish privately.” It IS possible to have a backbone, and yet still remain positive with the students. I try to challenge myself to take a deep breath and acknowledge the students who ARE doing the right thing before I start to dole out the consequences. Also, maintaining very CLEAR expectations at all times (body, voice, materials–I review my expectations for each before any transition).

    I certainly don’t have all the answers, and I still struggle everyday, but I want to let you know that things WILL get easier. Every mistake that you make will provide a learning experience down the road, as long as you are reflective, which you clearly are. Good luck and hang in there!

  • Oaktown HS teacher

    One of the biggest issues we have here in Oakland is that we are not supported do develop really rigorous and challenging courses focused on critical thinking. If we were, we would be able to create some great projects where kids could do authentic work — build a geodesic dome, analyze soil quality, calculate individual energy consumption, cook! Instead we are constantly under the threat of our Star test scores.

    Students love to do productive work that is meaningful. Check out Dan Pink’s talk on motivation

    Students respond to authentic work organized by authentic leaders. My advice to you is
    – be yourself,
    – know your power but avoid power struggles as much as you can,
    – choose a few rules that you are relentless about (I assign teams and do not let students negotiate, and I do not allow any use of electronics in my classroom. I am also relentless about hate language but this is not a rule per se, I simply don’t stand for it.)
    – get angry at a system that would try to get youth to sit down and “behave” for 6 hours.

    A few other things I have learned:
    Praising someone next to a disruptive student has more impact than scolding the disruptive student. The trick is to find something authentic and specific to praise the neighboring student. For example “I really like how you showed your thinking in this … ”

    Surprisingly enough, students love stamps! They love them and want them even if they are not worth credit.

    No student wants to look bad. I sometimes give a struggling and uncooperative student a brief preview of what is happening tomorrow. Then I call on them the next day. This will sometimes get an uncooperative student a chance to be cooperative and look smart.

    I have also found that taking a student aside to have a private conversation and asking them what they need is more powerful than telling them how they should behave. For me it goes something like “What do you need? I can tell that something is going on. I’m not sure what it is, but I will do what I can to help you out. What do you need? How can I help?”

    I remember my mentor teacher saying that students know right behavior. Its true. We need cooperation more than consequences. How do we get students to freely cooperate? Students want to be seen and heard. They also want support and love. So I try to get to know them as well as possible, ask them questions, share stories, and allow them to have bad days now and then. And I try to give each student a fresh start each day.

    Remember, a quiet orderly classroom does not mean an engaging and rigorous class.

  • oaklandmom

    Y’know, I’d be happy to observe some time. A colleague (such as your science colleague) would be good too. I really really strongly suggest not having anyone in a position to evaluate you come in and do it. You may have a wonderful principal but frankly, it can be hard for them to step back. I was strongly undermined by a particularly nasty and vindictive principal in OUSD who made it impossible for a number of first year teachers who worked for her to continue in the district. She’s been promoted to NEXO but I expect she’s still around. Check with the union before you agree to any extra observations – you need a chance to get better, and bad evaluations will totally not let you do that.

  • Let’s Get Real

    I’m sorry I didn’t see your post until today, Dan, but it looks like you’ve received a ton of good advice, and I agree with much of it, especially the emphasis on classroom management.

    So I’ll just beg you to hang in there–we’ve all had our challenging years. Most of us not only survive them, but become much better at our craft as a result.

    Thank you for your hard work and your commitment to Oakland students.

  • Chauncey

    You know, I truly feel that society has gone mad with feel good and ploitical correctness! Whye does this guy have to tolerate fools and nonsense(including parents).

    man I have talked with school leaders who cater everything to ignirant controlling parents simply because of parental Involvement criteria. Why?!

    Or ith others , such as the ghetto schools my kids once went too (anonymous) where bullish kids got away with almost anything because referrals, dtentions ans suspensions meant nothing to them or their families- and of course- expulsion of minorities is racist!

    You are being offered band aids to cover a bullet to the vital organs wound. A paradigm shift is needed for education. Bureacrats and policy do gooders need to stay away- then we will see change.

  • Owen

    Dan indeed deserves our plaudits and our gratitude for his work. I wonder, though, if this online community would be so laudatory and appreciative if Dan were a Teach For America teacher? Perhaps he is; still, here I’m seeing accolades for his struggling to overcome really challenging circumstances, while the response to similar tales from TFA teachers is often along the lines of “It serves you right.”

    Indeed, though, Dan: hang in there, and thanks for your hard and important work.

  • cranky teacher

    Owen, I agree: Teach for America is not the problem, it is a symptom, and those who participate in that program should not be shunned or undermined.

  • OUSD Teacher


    I have been there. My first year, I lost ten pounds. I frequently locked my door after school and just sat and cried. I spent HOURS preparing engaging lessons only to have them ruined by disruptive students or my own inexperience. I’ve now been teaching 4 years and I feel that I well am on my way to becoming an excellent teacher. All I can say, is hang in there. The first two years are hell for everyone. It is an INSANE job, but the rewards are great if you can persevere.

    One point of advice: get your principal to grant you a sub so you can spend one day a week in an experienced teacher’s room (same grade level). Find out who is good in Oakland and go and observe them for an entire day. Take copious notes, then steal ideas from the best -it’s a time-honored teaching tradition.

  • Leslie Maniotes

    Hi Dan!
    Thanks for sharing your experience with us! Are there teachers that you see are having successes with these kids? What are they doing? How can you get to know them and earn their respect? I would look around you for supports from those who you admire…someone must be having successes- what are they doing….you’ll ahve ot get your own style, but having that conversation might help you to build a network of support that can sustain your efforts.

    Also when things get better consider collaborating…with others, librarian, tech teacher, other teachers to get the job you want done…so many times we feel like we gotta go it alone- but dont! Find those supports!

  • http://www.aarisa.webs.com Susan Stack

    Boy…. I’ve been exactly where you are. I’d like to tell you that doing this, this, and this will fix everything, but that would be a lie. Truth is…. I didn’t really begin to get better until I focused more on myself. What could I change about me that might make a difference? The kids are the kids…. the only control I had was over me. I took a good look at myself and began making small changes. First, I had to come to grips with being the authority in the room. I was young, still felt cool, still partied…. how could they not listen to me? Next, I had to become incredibally consistant. I would say the dumbest things….like, if you do that again you’ll never go to gym. Things I couldn’t enforce… I also had to learn to control my own frustrations and hide my buttons. (I once threw a chair across the room out of anger… shhhhh, don’t tell) Consistancy was huge, both for positive and negative consequences… I would say 5 warnings is 4 too many. I will call parents on the spot…. hand the phone to the kid and tell them to tell their parent what they just said. (Yes, I use my cell) I too have to monitor the halls…. I stand at the corner of my door where I can see the hall and what’s going on in my class at the same time. Have a journal topic everyday…. just a five minute thing that students do upon entering the class… something that touches on the topic of the previous day.. you can even just grade it on completion (5 pts) and use the answers as an informal evaluation of how well you got the point across. If detentions don’t work…. don’t use them. Find an incentive for your students…. my first couple of years, I hooked up with another new teacher and showed a flick every Friday that had to be earned with decent behavior. We took turns watching the kids who didn’t get to see the movie. Those kids were asked to write about their behavior and how they could improve it. I could go on forever…… I never thought I’d make it through that first year and here I am in my 21st year. Your focus needs to be on classroom management… content, at this point, somewhat secondary. Once management is in place, the content will flow. Please feel free to chat anytime…I so empathize with you.

    Susan Stack
    Cleveland Metropolitan Schools

  • russechd

    You’ve got a lot of good advice here…
    Like others, I’d say pick few things you want to do really well this year, and then you can add to it next year. Give yourself a break. First Days of School is a great book, as mentioned. Steal from already developed lessons (SMART etc).

    However, what popped into my head as I was reading was, who is supposed to be supporting you? Every new teacher, if not paired with a Mentor, should at least be a part of some learning team (grade, subject etc). These teachers should be working with you to build lessons and collaborate on the work. Also, a good admin should see that you are struggling and be willing to do whatever it takes to make you into a solid, confident, contributing member of his/her team.

    Maybe you’re good at hiding that you need help. Make sure you ask (and keep asking).

    Lastly – it is probably far worse in your own head than what the reality is. The fact that you care so much puts you ahead of many. Take stock of what you are doing well. You reflect, you research, you experiment, you communicate and you give it your all. Are you building relationships with your students? That is the bedrock of everything else.

    Good luck, and remember the answer to the old adage …”How do you eat an elephant?” is “One bite at a time”!

  • http://englishteacherinfo.edublogs.org Jeff

    This sounds a lot like my student teaching year. I had a master teacher my first semester who was HORRIBLE. She did no planning, asked the exact same kinds of questions you received, and then wrote me 6 pages of handwritten notes about how horribly I taught my classes. I wanted input, but all I received was criticism.

    Anyway, one thing that I have learned is to NEVER send students to the office in order to punish them. When you do that you give up the power and give the responsibility to someone else.

    Here is what I would suggest, and it has worked wonders for me. If the students, as a whole, get too out of control, have them sit and do absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. You have to monitor them and make sure they are sitting upright in their chairs, no hands on desks, no pencils or pens out, no reading, no talking, nothing. Basically, terrorize them with an unbelievable level of control.

    It’s just a tool for an occasion though. What you really need is an overall system of control. you need them to know that you are the boss. It’s really about style. I like to keep a log book, with student rosters that lists each student and different things that they typically do. Nothing bothers them more than having specific records kept of their issues. You have a lot of leverage on them with documentation.

    I can always e-mail you a copy of what I use and then you can type in your own students’ names. You can contact me through my blog site.

  • http://kristinnoblin.wordpress.com Kristin

    A lot of the things I was thinking as I read your blog have already been said by the insightful people before me! I am in my sixth year teaching middle school, and one of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from my 9th grade English teacher who said, “Never assign anything without knowing when you are going to grade it. And always do your lesson plans before you grade.” Admittedly, some days (years) I follow this wisdom better than others.

    To that end, however, I would suggest that you collect as few papers as possible. Give completion grades, grade in class and have students tell you their scores, do not be afraid to not grade an assignment if it already accomplished it’s purpose (in-class work, etc.). When you do collect papers, do whatever you can to make sure they are already graded. Having students grade each other’s work saves you amazing amounts of time. During my first two years teaching, I spent too much time grading the lesser assignments, valuing class time over my time, when, as an English teacher, I had plenty of essays coming my way! In fact, I am at a new school with new curriculum this year, and I spent first quarter relearning this lesson.

    I would also reiterate that behavior is the first battle to be won in middle school. Be as predictable as possible when it comes to consequences. Setting Limits in the Classroom is an excellent book on classroom management.

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