Teaching

Struggling with a class? Words of wisdom from my readers

Struggling with a class? Words of wisdom from my readers

Have you ever had “that” class, where your best efforts don’t pan out no matter what? My readers have some encouragement for you. (Wikipedia / laihiuyeung ryanne)

If you haven’t heard, I’ve had a rough time with one of my classes.

A quick recap: big class, big personalities, shushing, punishing, yelling and cutting off from technology. That’s the 12-word summary of my post from last week.

After I published that post, two great things happened. One was that I had a couple of good days with those guys. Like I promised I would, I got back to basics. I greeted them at the door. I focused on eye contact and encouraging. And I didn’t withhold my best from them because I was frustrated.

The second thing was the amazing outpouring of encouragement I got from my readers and fellow educators online. As I write this post, the comment count on that post (including my replies) stands at 29. Posts on my blog never get so many comments, so this did a LOT to boost me up! If you commented on that post or even just read it and sympathized, thank you!

There are really some golden nuggets of wisdom in those comments, and it would be a shame if they were overlooked, so I’m going to share some of them. If you’re struggling or have ever struggled with a group of kids in the classroom, these words of encouragement are for you!

1. Mark wrote that after a technology-rich activity in class, he will ask his students if they enjoy that kind of learning and why. “They always say, yes they do, and explain that they learn more in these ways. I then have an opportunity to speak about the silly things (they might write or do with that technology) and show how it distracts from the learning process and that there is no point in doing this again if it happens again. They soon catch on.”

2. After struggling with a class, Jill Conner has asked for anonymous student suggestions for changes to what they do in class. “I was shocked with the results,” she said. “I had a few suggestions, but most of them admitted that the fault was theirs. Some even apologized. After that things were smoother. Not perfect, but it seemed it brought about an understanding between us.”

3. Chaz suggested that I check out Nonviolent Communication, a communication process that focuses on self-empathy, empathy and honest self-expression. According to an article on Wikipedia, it is based on the idea that all human beings have the capacity for compassion and only resort to violence or behavior that harms others when they don’t recognize more effective strategies for meeting needs. This seems like a good way to connect with students. He also included a link to a site about using NVC in the classroom.

4. Frank gave a long list of great suggestions, but the one that stuck with me most was this: “When you feel yourself getting to a point where you are going to make a bad teaching desicion…make a joke out of it and laugh a little. Must be done with great care…For example: A student once did something pretty bad in my class and topped it off with a swear word (this class was going downhill and I was in a similar position). Everyone looked for my reaction – I looked at him square in the eyes and said “Just because you’re my nephew doesn’t give you the right to do these things”…I took a candybar out of my desk, gave it to him and told him I wasn’t going to tell my brother – his dad. The student was African American and I am white. I kept up this lie all year…the kid had a great time in my class and the students knew better than to mess with someone who was clearly out of his mind….Lessson: go crazy in a good way… by the way he is in his 20s and still refers to me as his uncle on Facebook.”

5. Christine created better teacher-student relationships with 5 to 10 minute mini-conferences. “The only purpose of these was to form a bond between me and the student,” she wrote, “which makes them want to perform. While I eventually lost about half of the adult high school class, many of those who persisted and learned did so because of the relationships we built. I did some other things with curriculum, but the conferences were clearly what made the difference.”

6. Kari Catanzaro reminded me that rough days in class aren’t any one person’s fault. “While I completely understand that you don’t want to blame your students, you also shouldn’t beat yourself up when the students make poor choices; we are all in this together, this adventure called learning, and we have to work together- both teacher and students have the responsibility for making a class activity succeed or flop.”

7. David LaBoone and Joy Kirr use phone calls and e-mails home to parents, and not for poor student behavior. Joy wrote, “I’ve sent at least two a weekend, and those kids come in smiling bigger now, too.”

8. Jennifer, a teacher at my school, e-mailed me and put her best advice into a short list: “Stay strong, remember your core, be flexible and pray!!!

Do you have any advice for teachers like me that are struggling with an overwhelming class? Share your ideas in a comment below!

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