Being a Competent Teacher is Not Enough to Handle a Difficult Classroom

Being a Competent Teacher is Not Enough to Handle a Difficult Classroom
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Competency is NOT the Problem… Attitude Is

I am a teacher gone administrator (I deal with mostly discipline issues) and because of that I have the unique advantage of seeing multiple teachers in action. I am able to see what works and what doesn’t. It is a perspective I am still getting used to in my new role. It wasn’t long ago I was in the trenches teaching my own classes, so I can still relate to that experience. If it were up to me, every teacher would spend a few weeks in a position like mine just to see how vastly different student behavior can be from one class to another.

A Real-Life Scenario

I was recently involved in what the business world would call “corporate restructuring”, but in education world we simply call it moving people around. A veteran teacher from another school was moved into our school and her former employer highly recommended her. She was new to our school though and we will call her Crazy Jill. It was about 1-2 days into seeing her teach that we realized we were duped. Apparently, we use a different assessment scale when deciding who is highly recommended and who is not.

Fast forward 5 weeks. Crazy Jill’s class is ridiculously out of control and even with our best efforts, she can’t get a grasp on it. The students simply don’t respect her. For things to run smoothly, somebody from the office must sit in the class or the students immediately take back control. What’s a school to do? We can’t fire her… Teacher has immunity (Ahh…. But that’s a different article).

While looking for solutions, a call comes in. It’s from a former teacher who left at the beginning of the year to explore a unique opportunity. We were unhappy to lose him, but we understood his predicament. When opportunity calls, it’s wise to answer. Anyway, we will call him Savior Rick. Savior Rick happens to have phenomenal classroom management, knows his content, and is just a great all around teacher. He has sadly returned because of family issues that drew him back from his opportunity abroad. He must stay close to family and in the few months he was gone he also realized that teaching is his passion. He wants to know if we have an opening for him. Huh?… do - we - have - a - spot? That’s laughable at this point…it looks like a spot just opened up….

He happens to be certified in a different area than Crazy Jill, but we can make it work. There is some shuffling and soon the ineffective teacher has been bumped out of the class and is being rewarded with a “support staff” job for the rest of the year (ahhh… that too is a different article).

Two days into the return of Savior Rick, Crazy Jill is seen walking by her old classroom and the “aha” moment is realized as she sees the students behaving perfectly in Savior Rick’s class. She is visibly deflated, a look of defeat in her eyes. But it is obvious she now realizes that the students were not the problem. The problem was the way she led (or failed to lead) the classroom.

Even Experienced Teachers Need to Learn New Tricks

The problem was not the competency of the teacher. Crazy Jill knew her content. She was more than capable of learning to be better, but she wasn’t willing. I call this Crazy Jill Syndrome. She didn’t want to learn and grow. She truly believed that the students were the problem. All wisdom and advice that was poured into her was wasted. Oh, she nodded and thanked us for the recommendations, but change never occurred. She was too set in her ways. What worked years ago did not work anymore. Instead of seeking answers and growing to meet the demands of the new classroom, she put all blame on the students.

So the next time you are quick to point the finger and label your students as a bunch of little hellions, stop for a moment and take a long look at anything you might be doing (or not doing) that could be facilitating the behaviors you despise. Perhaps you need to change or tweak a few things in your classroom that down deep you know needs changing, but for whatever reason you have been putting off. Maybe what you are doing used to work. Maybe it’s just easier to not change. Maybe you don’t know exactly how to change.

Seek out some answers. Talk to your administrators. Find out who is hands down the best classroom manager at your school with your demographics and become their protégé. It may not be fun at first, but as you regain control you will get more out of your students academically, then you will find yourself enjoying the process. You may even become one of those crazy teachers who get up each day excited to come to work!