420. Challenging Classes

Some years, I had classes that were quite difficult for me to teach. I remember one year that was particularly difficult. There were children with all kinds of learning and behavior problems. There wasn’t even a honeymoon period – those days, weeks, or months in the fall when children put their best feet forward; the first day of school wiped me out.
The teacher next door to me was doing fine. We were both teaching second grade, and for the first time, I thought that if my own child were in second grade, I would not want my child to have Mr. Blue. The guy had no idea how to manage a class. One minute in his classroom made that clear. And night after sleepless night, I tried to figure out new ways to make the class manageable.
Other teachers were very supportive. They told me I had an impossible class, and I was doing the best I could. While I appreciated their support, I did
not want to believe either point. I kept trying to plan lessons, devise strategies, and invent policies that would work. Of course, consistency is important, but what sense would it make to consistently do something that didn’t work?
Plenty of well-meaning people gave me advice about how to cope with this class. But as you may know, it’s easier to accept help if you don’t need it as much. When people suggested approaches that might help, I nodded my head and tried to look appreciative. Sometimes I tried their ideas. But I was also developing a conviction that nothing was going to work. In that frame of mind, no good idea stood much of a chance.
Some parents seemed to appreciate what I was doing, and know what a difficult group I had. Others didn’t. But a teacher has a responsibility to make the best of whatever situation is handed her/him. And I’ll never know whether I did make the best of that situation.
There was other difficult stuff going on in my life the year I had that class – a divorce, the challenge of living alone for the first time in my life, having to leave a school where I’d come to feel at home (a school my younger daughter attended). I have no doubt that some portion of the difficulty I was having had nothing to do with the combination of children in my class.
The following year, I had one of the best classes I’d ever had. I’d developed a reputation for having a chaotic style, so the parents of children who “needed structure” made sure their children were not in my class. All I had were children who didn’t “need structure,” and so anyone who looked at my class got the impression that I was a teacher who provided structure. And that year, the teacher next door had a difficult class, and got the reputation for having a chaotic style.
When teachers and administrators set up classes, they try to do so fairly. Usually, it works. But sometimes, when it doesn’t work, what results is a class that can be quite challenging.

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