Teaching a Difficult Class

Teaching a difficult class that is really rowdy (especially younger aged students) can make any teachers day stressful. Sometimes you go to work dreading that one class of kids that don’t respect you, don’t listen to you, and cause soreness in your throat at the end of the day. 

Angry Girl Frown May 13, 20102Trust me, I know. I used to have a class just like it.

As teachers, we will often be picking up where other teachers have left off – other teachers that may have totally different teaching and discipline styles than our own.

It’s also important to remember that in order to be a good teacher we have to mold and shape ourselves to the needs of each class and student, that’s part of the job.

Moaning and complaining to coworkers about how bad that specific class is, however relieving it may be, won’t help in the long run. The only thing we can do is set building blocks that will ensure success in the future.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Knowledge doesn’t become ingrained overnight. Teaching is a profession that does not pride itself on instant gratification; however, when you do see those signs of information sinking in and improvement of students’ language, that’s one of the most satisfying moments of any job.

The following is my experience with one such “trouble” class and two major points that helped me create a better environment. Hopefully, through these pointers other teachers can find ways to be patient, bond, accept students for the personalities, and learn how best to work with them.

Identify the Class Personality

This sounds like a weird statement because how can a class have a personality, isn’t it just the students who have personalities we need to deal with? Of course that’s true, but each of those personalities combines to create the overall environment in the classroom.

Some classrooms will even be heavily segregated (between boys, girls, jocks, gamers, etc.) while others will be quite cohesive.

My classroom was quite a rowdy one. The students were all younger with abundant levels of energy and their past teacher was not the finest role model or example of responsibility.

To put things simply, things were tough in the beginning. Students had trouble listening, they would talk over me, constantly bother other students, amongst a variety of other sub-par classroom traits.

When I first started I tried to rely on raising my voice and yelling at kids to stay in their seats. If a student was constantly causing other students to lose focus, they would find themselves standing up at their desk. These tactics worked for a while until I started to realized the personality of the class.

These kids didn’t need to be yelled at and forced to sit down and do their work for the entire two-hour class. This was a class of upbeat, energetic, imaginative kids. They needed ways to express that in a healthy and creative way in the classroom without causing too much ruckus.

So, I started extending the time we use to talk to all the students before class.

Before we go over the days of the week, month, day, etc. we talk about how each kid is doing. I ask questions like what did they do on the weekend, and how their school is going. This class really likes to give off-the-wall responses and as long as the answers are not vulgar or offensive, I’ll do my best to run with it.

If some kids feel the need to stand up in their seat and express what they need to do with their bodies, I’ll let them do so, within reason, of course.

When students started to realize I respected what they were saying and let them completely follow their thoughts through, they also began respecting me as a teacher.

Some teachers believe that letting students do what they want means you’re being walked all over; however, when you can set clear boundaries between what is allowed in the classroom, you’re actually giving students a healthy environment to express themselves in their own unique way.

Create Routines

I always promote routines in the classroom. Read almost any article I’ve written about teaching and you’ll find something about making classroom routines.

Finding a routine for this class was tough. I tried a few different tricks that just didn’t seem to kick off. I finally landed on one that seemed to work, but I hadn’t found a way to perfect it yet.

So, whenever we went over the days of the week and the month, I had the students borrow one of my three whiteboard markers and write the day or month on the board themselves.

This was the start of something miraculous, but unrefined and messy. The students started taking up a massive amount of space on the board. So much so that I had to erase their words when it actually came time to teach, which led to moans and groans and exclamations of, “Woe is me!” It was quite over the top.

I started thinking what else I could do to change this process. Then I drew a designated box where they could write the days and months. Well, this class wasn’t the type to be contained in a small box on the whiteboard.

Soon the entire box became a black, blue, and red mash of color that more resembled a terrible kitchen concoction than the days of the week.

After a few more failed attempts I decided to explain clearly to the students the space in the middle of the board is very important. If we could write the days and months on the left side of the board we could be as creative as we liked.

This really allowed the students’ creativity to shine through. They started making shapes out of the letters and placing them in different small places in the corners of the board.

This kind of routine activity allows the students to get up out of their desks and do a bit of artwork before class officially begins.

The most important part about all of these facets is that teachers need to realize these changes won’t happen immediately. Do I still have days that are rough? Yes. Do students talk over me at times? Yes. Will I raise my voice during class when needed? Sure. Will I break my routine activity? No. Will kids try to push the boundaries? Of course, that’s what they do.

If we can focus on making our classroom better one day at a time, with full confidence in what you’re doing is right, then you will see absolutely see results in the future.

Have you had to overcome issues in a problem class? What methods did you change or introduce? Let us know in the comments section below. 

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About 

Vadim Rubin is an ethnic Belarussian learning to speak Mandarin Chinese. He is a coach, teacher, linguist, athlete, and an aspiring world traveler. As an avid volleyball player and coach, he spends a majority of his time on the court with sweaty volleyball junkies. Off the court he enjoys to travel, write, and teach world languages. He is now back in Taiwan teaching English, traveling, and discovering what life has to offer.

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