Many of us have been there - the challenging class whose behaviour seems to dominate the semester.
A few years into my career I discovered the key to happiness at work. Since then, student behaviour doesn’t phase me the way it used to. I leave the school each day feeling good about my practice and looking forward to the next day.
I fell into the trap of constantly debriefing my students’ bad behaviour in the department office. Whether I or a colleague started it, the discussion usually began with, “You’ll never believe what just happened in my class!” On the surface, talking about student behaviour with more experienced teachers can be a good way to learn tips and tricks, but in hindsight, sometimes these discussions can move beyond the frame of ‘ongoing professional dialogue,’ particularly when it becomes a constant point of discussion in the department office. It’s an easy cycle to fall into.
The scenario goes like this: You share your challenging situation, a colleague shares his or her own challenging situation, a fellow teacher shares another horror story, and so on. The effect of this conversation is that we all constantly re-live negative situations. In a way, this cycle of negativity is just like swimming in a pool of garbage; it feels cruddy for everyone whether it ends with a productive solution or not.
So get out of the pool of garbage.
We have to recognize that every fellow teacher faces challenges throughout his or her day. The more we pile our own challenges onto our colleagues, the more stressful everyone’s day becomes.
My personal strategy involves leaving behaviour challenges in the classroom. It’s simple: at the end of a challenging class (or even a whole challenging day), I pause for a moment of reflection after all the students have left the room. I consciously vow to leave the negative situation in the room physically, and then I leave the room. That’s it.
Leaving behaviour challenges in the classroom allows me to focus on what comes next in the day and/or tackle new challenges with a fresh, positive mindset.
This doesn’t mean I don’t value advice from colleagues; in fact, the advice of a mentor is invaluable! A good way to start is by approaching a mentor one-on-one and asking if he or she has a minute to talk through a situation. The difference between this scenario and the open forum of the department office or staff room is that it can be more focused on the topic you need to discuss. It’s also far more respectful of the fact that not everyone wants to hear the airing of a fellow teacher’s challenges; your colleague has the opportunity to tell you it’s not a good time to talk, or they just have too much marking or planning to get done at the moment.
In any event, know the following…
There is an end to challenging classes: with the end of a semester comes a fresh start!
You will learn from your challenging class.
You will emerge from a challenging class as a stronger teacher.