It’s my water bottle. Quiet.

No it isn’t.

Be quiet and do your test or leave.


He left, very noisily bouncing his basketball on his way out. The RSP coach left her assigned student, writing Mr. Balla up for referral to a vice principal.

Because he never shows up, I didn’t even know what name to tell her to put on the referral. Naturally.

This class is usually trouble, as the RSP coach is well aware. She’s been here before. Patronizingly, she leans and whispers hoarsely into my ear.

I know they’re bad and how you’re just a student teacher, so maybe I might have an idea that will help you. All the ringleaders are next to the window, so maybe a seating chart? I don’t know if you’ve thought of it.

Yes, I have. Given a warning, they behave themselves just enough so I don’t have pretext to mess with the seating chart. I would have told her that, but she went on to repeat herself for a good minute or two, in the same patronizing whisper. She tells me nothing I don’t already know, nothing I haven’t already thought of.

I’ve already asked myself: Is there something I’m doing wrong, something so seemingly small or insignificant that I don’t even remember it, or to mention it here in the blog? I don’t suppose the reader would know the answer to that question.

This is the same class where even one would-be gangster who shows up regularly will very casually bump into me while walking by, where two girls who love talking back will waddle in five minutes past the lunch bell, noisily slurping their Icee.

I can’t very well lay down the law — my master teacher never minded these habits at all, and the students know he’s really the teacher of record. I’ll be the mean teacher and lose the efficacy I already have.

They can sense that he knows what he’s doing and I don’t. Every week, someone in fifth period tells me:

You’re not a real teacher.

With less than a month of instruction left, it’s too late to fix this class. I just can’t shake the feeling that it would have been so much easier if I had started off the year with them, rather than coming in halfway.


  1. Sigh.
    Sorry you are going through such a difficult time, man.
    My guess? It has to do with not starting off the year (as you note). That is the time when discipline and classroom management takes place. It is almost unfair to plunk someone down in a room and expect management to happen.
    You’re prob sick to death to hearing it — but your experience there will help you in your own classroom.
    Hang in there!

    PS — Resist the urge to shout back: Yeah! And you’re not a real student! Resist the urge. (But say it in your head, if it helps)

  2. >it’s too late to fix this class.

    But it’s never too late to figure out how to fix a class that has started down the wrong path. It’s easy to blame this on not being the official authority figure for the class. The thing is, as a teacher here in these United States, you don’t get that for free. You can be the official teacher, and you still won’t get respect. You need to earn it.

    Where the students sit may not affect their behavior much. You being the person who decides where they sit matters a huge amount. As does you being the person who allows them to get up to throw away trash, or sharpen their pencil, or to say anything.

    As much trouble as I may get into for comparing classroom discipline to dog training, NILIF is a good way to establish a comfortable atmosphere that learning can happen in.

    You need to figure out what behavior you want or need out of the kids, and find a way to teach it to them. Otherwise you’ll forever be trying to figure out why you get no respect.

  3. Kevin: I do hear this all the time. It’s also some consolation that my master teacher admits to always having problems with this class.

    Mr. K: From my reading on NILIF that lasted no more than a minute, it seems like it’s largely an “ignore bad behavior” strategy. I can do that, though to the frustration of the rest of the class.

    What I have trouble with this class is in the promoting good behavior. What rewards work? What motivates apathetic students who could care less about learning or quizzes or homework or school or anything? With them, praise falls flat.

  4. “”it seems like it’s largely an “ignore bad behavior” “”

    Not at all. It’s “if they want something, they need to earn it, and they can only do it on your terms.”

    A big part of that is figuring out what they want, and providing them (reasonable) ways of earning it. Even if it’s not directly related, it gets them used to you deciding what happens in class, rather than them.

    This isn’t easy to figure out, btw. There’s a reason that classroom management sparks such huge discussions when it comes up among teachers.

  5. That doesn’t help me with students who don’t want anything I can provide. What do I say to or do with this student:

    I want to drop out. I hate school.

    My master teacher makes the threat that they’ll be “chalupa folders” if they drop out. It doesn’t motivate all of the kids who need motivating.

    Oh, and the comparison to dog training was pretty apt, considering two or three of those sophomores.

  6. I too student taught second semester. I don’t know if it was wise or not, but my cooperating teachers and I agreed that to make the classes “mine” I should take over as many classes as possible as soon as possible. So I started teaching two sections on my first day (it helped that I had observed there first semester and had taught a couple of lessons).

    I was very lucky to have two great cooperating teachers. When students tried to pull the “She’s not the real teacher” my coops said, “Maybe not, but I support her decisions.”. I can’t imagine not having that support.

    That said, I don’t think it’s too late to try to change what’s happening in class. I don’t want my students to give up, so I can’t. My 8th period class is driving me a bit crazy and I’m still working on how to change what I’m doing so they’ll change what they’re doing.

  7. What do I say to or do

    Well, you’ve figured out what they hate.

    What do they like? You’re not going to get everyone, of course, but as you start to get some of them, a lot of others will jump on for the ride.

    There’s a lot more to this than your choice of water bottle.

  8. Jackie: My master teacher gives me this support — both of them, mostly — but even the one in charge of this class has trouble with those sophomores.

    They listen to him more than me, but it doesn’t help when he’s out of the room. That’s a huge frustration.

    Mr. K: I’ve captured the ringleaders, more or less. I’m more worried about the comatose. What’s the right thing to do with those 5 percent of students who really, really don’t care?

    Should I let them sleep and flunk in the corner? Should I wake them every so often to pay attention? Should I ride them until either they drop out or find Jesus, though the detriment of the other students?

  9. It must be spring, because my kids are causing hellish weeks too. Unlike you, I don’t even have the energy to blog about it.

    I’m not sure the RSP coach (at least as you’ve conveyed the story) was being patronizing – at least not intentionally. I think she may have just realized something that might help, didn’t know how much classroom management knowhow you had, and decided to suggest it. Then again, I tend to give too many benefits of doubt, so who knows?

    Coming in mid-term sucketh.

    Are you dead set against trying a seating chart? It _might_ do some good…??? I’ve changed up my assigned seating several times already, and it always seems to help. Then again, you seem to have a much tougher crowd than I do.

  10. What surprises me most about your comment is that you mention spring. I didn’t know they had that in the wintr’y wasteland of Idaho. Huh.

    As for the energy, I should note that I’m steam-powered. As in: My energy comes from venting. I’m sure Boise hears most of it, sapping your reserves.

    Patronizing, maybe not, but I was in a bad mood so it might as well have been. One of my Meg-Murray-esque faults: I tend to be condescending when I’m in a bad mood.

    This seating chart has all the bad kids on one side of the room, so at least I don’t have to do much walking. The only real issue with instating one is that I don’t have the pretext to do so, having introduced it as a punishment. That’s a flub to begin with.

  11. Ancient Bearded One

    What’s RSP? Pardon the abject ignorance.

  12. This is RSP. Generally, they’re students between special ed and mainstream.

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