The first-year science teacher on my team is having a really difficult time, just as I was this time last year. I stopped by her classroom after-school today to try and offer some suggestions and support. Sadly, for every idea I gave her about behavior management, she provided two reasons as to why that idea would not work. She mentioned mumbling the words “I hate this school” under her breath in front of the kids and also requesting a transfer to a difference school.
After reflecting on the discussion some, I realized how much teaching is like a “create your own adventure” or “choose your own ending” comic book. You can stay after-school for an hour with your worst three kids in detention, or you can spend that same amount of time preparing your 30 best kids for a high-school entrance exam. You can call 5 parents in a half-hour and explain how their children chew on gummy bears in class and then throw them to stick to the ceiling (true story), or you can call 20 parents and rave about their child’s respectful behavior and hard work. The choice is yours– focus on the positive or focus on the negative.
Having said that, I recognize that it is impossible to focus on the positive all the time. In reality, there are challenges everyday that must be dealt with day after day. Furthermore, focusing on the positive may actually not improve your classroom management– there is no magic trick– but I can say for a fact that it will help you maintain your sanity and motivation. If you spend all your energy on the kids that rip up the worksheet you made or break the scissors you bought with your own money, you will not last through the year. You won’t want to do anything for the kids because you’ll feel they don’t deserve it. You’ll want to quit, to give up, to say it’s not worth it. Instead, my advice to any teacher struggling with behavior right now is to step back and find the kids (even if it’s just one) in each class that do exactly what they are supposed to do every single day and are always respectful. I guarantee there’s at least one. Make those kids be the ones you work for.