Teacher and coach

The class from hell

A while back I was discussing one of my classes with Mr. A, another teacher at my high school, and asking his advice on some classroom management issues, and he began telling me about the worst class he’d ever had.

This was a few years ago, he said, and he’d been teaching about 5 years. He had just moved to a different school, and he started in the middle of the semester, teaching social studies to classes of 9th-and 10th-graders. Two of his three classes were going pretty well, but one was just horrible. The kids were unruly, they wouldn’t listen, they talked constantly, they skipped class; several students in the class had apparently already failed this same class at least once, and seemed to be perfectly content to fail it again.

He said he tried everything he could think of. He tried being calm and cool, he tried yelling and screaming, he tried sending kids to detention, he got help from the principal and assistant principals, he called parents; he even arranged with his mentor teacher for the two of them to team teach the class, so the class had two teachers instead of one. Nothing worked. If kids were sent to detention, they’d behave exactly the same when they returned. If kids were suspended (and some were suspended multiple times), they’d behave exactly the same when they returned. Parents were either unable or unwilling to help. At the end of the semester, he said five kids (out of 30) passed the class, and those five had to work really hard given the atmosphere they were working in.

Not only was his story fascinating in itself (and you better believe it made me re-evaluate the “problems” I thought I was having with my classes), but I was amazed at his ability to tell it so matter-of-factly. I said the whole situation must have been exhausting and depressing for him, and he said something like, “Yeah, but that’s just part of the job.  Sometimes, for whatever reasons, you get a class that’s just really difficult. You do what you can, and you try to get as much help from as many people as you can, but sometimes nothing works. You just do the best you can and keep going.”

The great thing about Mr. A’s story was that it gave me some perspective. Before I heard this story, I thought one of my classes was horrible. After I heard it, I realized my class was pretty ordinary. And while I hope I never get a class like Mr. A’s class from hell, if I do I hope I deal with it with as much grace and professionalism as he did.

Image by kevindooley on Flickr.

7 Responses to “The class from hell”

  1. browse says:

    Ooof! Yeah, I can see where a situation like that would make you second guess your career choices.
    I wonder what happened with the kids who failed Mr A’s class. Did they just go through it all again (a third time) the next year?

  2. One hopes that the kids who failed Mr A’s class were dispersed into enough different classrooms the next year that they didn’t create the same dynamic. One hopes. Shew.
    .-= Lisa Creech Bledsoe´s last blog .. =-.

  3. bledsoe says:

    Lots of people who did well in school, and perhaps even went on to college, are often surprised to learn that there are in fact quite a number of students who care very little about completing assignments, doing homework, passing classes, etc. They’re just kind of treading water. So yeah, most of those kids would just take the class again next year.

  4. Chad Miller says:

    Teaching is a funny “calling”. I used to call it a career or a job, but truly, it is something you must feel is part of who you are. It is sad that there are classes like this out there, but there are.

    With elementary kids, I think we (elementary teachers) get so caught up in their parent’s lack of caring for education. I have never really seen a misbehaving child whose parents were completely supportive, well except for one.

    I think the system should hold partial blame. I wish, in some way, we could require parents to volunteer in the school a couple hours a week. It would provide some natural times of connecting with kids, possibly helping give them some perspective on how their child is doing.

    Just a few thoughts…

    Take care my friend, I hope your school year goes well this year!

    Chad

  5. bledsoe says:

    Thanks Chad, I’m sure it will.

    I often feel conflicted about parents. Sometimes I feel angry at them when I think their kids misbehave because the parents aren’t doing their job, and other times I sympathise with them. Parenting’s a tough job, and some parents don’t always do so great at it, but they’re often doing the best they can. And lots of parents are struggling with conditions and situations that I don’t know anything about.

    Good luck with your class this year!

  6. Graeme says:

    Thanks for that. I’m a South African teacher looking for literature on successfully managing ‘classes from hell’. If anyone could send me any recommendations that would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Graeme

  7. bledsoe says:

    Hi Graeme, and good luck with your search. I’d love to hear more about your experiences teaching in South Africa.

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