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 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.