Handling the stress
November 7, 2012 4:01 PM   Subscribe

Is teaching for me? How do I handle this stress

So I asked this question over a month ago. Things have obviously not gotten much better. I swear I will not offer monthly updates on AskMe, but I am looking for more general advice. How do I handle this situation?

I am not very good at any aspects of teaching. Where to begin?

Lesson Planning - I have a severe problem with procrastination, and if I put off work, the work builds up very quickly and becomes overwhelming. For example, I have 4 lessons unplanned for tomorrow, and will likely have to make it up as I go along. This has been a recurring theme since September. I am just not hard working at all, and I've always been a bit lazy in my life (high school, university, masters degree). I had a similar situation in my masters degree, where the stress and pressure I put on myself (and that was put on me) became so overwhelming I had to take time off. I numb myself with internet, which is probably the root of the procrastination

Assessment It is almost 8 weeks into the year, and I have not marked a single book in the majority of my classes. Granted, in some of my classes, the students don't even have 2 pages of work to their name, but even in my higher ability classes, I have not done any marking. Again, it seems overwhelming to me, and the fact that I was in a new system made me feel overwhelmed and just throw my hands up.

Behaviour The behaviour has not gotten better at all. Today, I held a class after the bell had gone until they were all seated and quiet. I was standing by the door and a student tried to pass. I told him to sit down, he paced back and forth while muttering profanities, then walked by me and out the door anyway. I wasn't going to physically stop him, since I can realistically see the possibility that he would assault me. From a 12 year old. This is not an uncommon occurence, for me or other teachers at the school. I still have similar problems I had in my last post.

The school - maybe I am not the problem, maybe it's the school? The school has a very poor reputation for behaviour, and I've seen 4 people in my department alone cry after bad lessons. I am learning school policies on the go, in many cases, and it seems it's just assumed that I know things. The other staff is extremely helpful when I have questions or need moral support, but I think many of them are caught up in their own problems, or just forget what it's like to be a new teacher.

I often see the work that others do and get extremely envious. I think to myself "Why couldn't I do that or produce that?" and get down on myself, which gives me a reason not to start, because I won't produce something that good anyway so whats the point? I know this perfectionist attitude is not healthy, but I come back to it a lot. My girlfriend is also a teacher, in a private school with good behaviour, and she works extremely hard, working very long hours to get the work done. I look at how hard she works, and it makes me feel inadequate and then I get angry at her for making me feel this way. I said some not very nice things to her tonight and I feel terrible for it and I suppose that's why I'm asking for advice, because if this stupid stressful job starts to ruin one of the few good things I have...

I have been reading many support threads online, and am going through "Feeling Good" by David Burns, but I always come back to these negative thoughts that I'm useless...and there is external confirmation for these thoughts (see above).

I know this is rambly, but how can I start to improve this? I am actually applying for a new job this month which would start next September, but I don't want to quit this job (even though I wouldn't be alone: 2 or 3 are leaving the department at Christmas), as I feel I should tough it out and do the best I can. Can this be salvaged? Can I regain my sanity?
posted by marcusesses to Work & Money (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I am sorry to say this, because I respect teaching hugely, and god knows we need people to stick it out and do a good job, but I know a lot of teachers (many of my friends and about half my family) in a variety of schools and environments, and without exception they would not choose teaching as a career if they had the choice again. This includes my mother, a fantastic teacher with 40 years experience in urban elementary schools, and my brother's partner, who's been teaching in a suburban (still underfunded and overcrowded) high school for about 6 years.

So if you feel this is too stressful and you don't want to do it, you are far from alone. There are things you can do to teach better and feel better, but it is not an inherent problem or failing with you. If you are determined to stick it out I'm sure others will have great advice.
posted by crabintheocean at 4:17 PM on November 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

I might agree with the above actually as a teacher. You can probably leave and find something that suits you better.

But right now that's what you are doing (as a job) and you might be stuck in a negative spiral. Partially the students don't respect you because you are not really doing your job. Not planning, not grading, not really being engaged with it. You need to step up your game if you want to improve your situation. Not yell at your girlfriend because she is making you feel badly by working harder than you.

The students can read you and they know you aren't into it. Winging it doesn't really work in teaching. I can do it now because I have 10 years experience, but I actually always prepare before I walk in a room otherwise you are wasting their time and yours.

This is a bit harsh but really, either quit and find a new job or just embrace it and work harder. It will still be stressful and you may still be miserable but at least you will be doing the right thing by the students for the time that you are standing in front of them. You don't have to wow them with the best lesson ever but you have to be responsible and respectful. You need to prepare lessons that cover what they need to learn. There don't have to be fireworks just be responsible and consistent.
posted by bquarters at 4:32 PM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am not very good at any aspects of teaching. Where to begin?

It sounds like teaching is just not for you, and that's ok.
But if you really want to finish the year, and if you care about your students, you'll need to stop using procrastination as an excuse. It's not as if you don't actually know what to do; you choose not to do the minimum tasks of being a teacher.

I have been a teacher for almost 30 years, and I know how stressful the job can be. Sometimes I have to force myself to make lesson plans, grade tests, etc., but I do because that is my job and I want to be good at it.

If you really don't want to teach, do yourself and your students a favor and find another job that you love.
posted by Linnee at 4:34 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I left early in my training because it was too stressful and I was largely doing it for 'the job' and not because I loved it. Funnily, I am now in an area related to education, but am not within the education system itself. There are a lot of problems with education systems all around the world.

If you were into it, you'd be into it. There's nothing wrong with doing something and realising you're not into it.

But I think if you're going to continue (and survive) you have to absolutely love it, or at least some element of it. That doesn't seem to be the case.
posted by heyjude at 4:39 PM on November 7, 2012

Umnn, sounds like you may not have the option to quit, since you're not planning lessons, nor marking assignments, nor controlling your classroom, you're giving them lots of reasons to fire you.

Hillary Rettig has some great articles (and a book) on dealing with procrastination.

What subject do you teach?
posted by anon4now at 4:45 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

It doesn't sound like you're into it, and that is totally okay, but right now you are not doing your job and you're not doing right by the students in your charge. Regardless of where you end up professionally, if you plan to stay in this position you have got to kick your butt right now to get on the things you're having trouble with because you are gambling with kids' educations. That's not cool.

I have a pretty low opinion of people who use procrastination as an excuse so forgive me if this is blunt, but: force yourself. Again -- you are gambling with kids' lives here. I'm not kidding. If you can't show them the respect they deserve as your students, no wonder they're not behaving in your classes. They can tell you don't give a crap about them or their work or their educational careers. That's legit awful even if your heart is somewhere in the ballpark of being in the right place. Lesson planning is about setting an objective, determining what your students need from you in order to accomplish that objective, and then executing a series of tasks that will support that objective and your students. I'm a California credentialed teacher but the lesson planning template I use is great so if you'd like it, I'm happy to send it to you and I'll explain how to use it so you always have a plan before diving into any content area.

Start building assessments into your lesson plans. You should be looking for two different things: a formative assessment assesses what prior knowledge students have and whether or not they understand the objective they've been tasked with, and a summative assessment takes a peek at what they've learned after the lesson. A formative assessment could be something like a mini quiz, whereas a summative assessment could be an exam or project or presentation. Sometimes formative assessments are just observations on your part. If students are supposed to be using specific formulas and processes to accomplish a math problem, for example, walk around and look to see if groups are using those formulas. Then, to make it interesting for your higher kids, ask them to find another way to solve the problem. This helps extend their learning and potentially prevents off-task behavior from bright but unchallenged kids.

Behavior is your fault, not that of the kids. Period. If you're not setting good boundaries, if you're not reinforcing those expectations, you're failing them. If there is a school wide behavior problem, then there is a school-wide failure on the part of the teachers, and the only thing you can do about that is stop blaming the kids and start figuring out ways to affect change in your own classroom. I made some suggestions for this in another thread that had to do with little kids, but the ideas still apply even if you're working with middle schoolers. Pick 5 things that are absolutely essential to keeping your class in a good space and figure out how you're going to enforce them. If a student leaves, you need to figure out what your principal wants you to do. You can't just let a kid walk out the door.

If you're not willing to truly do what you need to do to do right by your students, you probably ought to let your supervisor know and leave. That's okay. It happens. It's not okay for you to stay and not take ownership of the things that are clearly in your control. I wouldn't lay into you if I didn't feel like that was what's going on it.

MeMail me if you need strategies. I won't lay into you anymore than I already have. I'll definitely help. You can do this if you really, truly want to.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:52 PM on November 7, 2012 [8 favorites]

Former teacher here.

I don't think what you are experiencing indicates that teaching is not for you. The first 5 years of teaching typically are brutal. It's a steep learning curve, and a ton of work. The best you can hope for is survival.

You've already identified one of the challenges - you procrastinate, and the work builds up into an unmanageable mountain. So all you have to do is work on that procrastination... and in the meantime try to survive.

Teaching is a difficult job, but, then again, lots of jobs worth having are difficult. If you decide to quit teaching, you are still going to be faced with the same challenge of being productive in a fast-paced environment.

What teachers often don't realize is that *every* other profession or semi-technical occupation is tough on a day to day basis.

Quitting teaching will not solve your problems.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:00 PM on November 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I knew my first week of student teaching that it wasn't a good career choice for me. If you do decide to stick with it for the year, or for any amount of time, the one thing that helped me most was writing down one good thing that happened every day, no matter how insignificant that one thing was.

Maybe my ESL student learned to count to 10 in English. Maybe a kid who caused me trouble didn't mouth off all day. Maybe a parent told me how much their kid loved my class.

No matter how big or small, just write down one thing. Every single day. It won't fix any of the problems, but it helped tremendously with my outlook and getting me through a miserable period where I was doing something I didn't want to do.
posted by JannaK at 5:10 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think there are many jobs where procrastination will be rewarded. That issue needs to be tackled whatever you do.
I agree that planning and marking students work will probably help with the discipline issues.
I think it is ridiculous to say that all discipline issues are the result of you and are your fault. You have a role in this though and for your sake and theirs you should speak with people within your school to get assistance with this. Working within the schools discipline parameters is really the best way to go.
posted by jojobobo at 5:24 PM on November 7, 2012

Teaching is hard and being a first year teacher is really hard. First of all, be patient with yourself because when you feel swamped with seemingly unattainable demands it can be easy to start to feel paralyzed and you just need to get your sea legs. Lots of people have been in the place that you are in now.

I am saying this as a second year teacher. I had a tough first year despite working in a great school and a great system but I can say it does get easier and a lot of what makes it easier is having the confidence of having gone through it.

Your priorities need to be

1. Making a working model for lesson planning and assessment where the goal is to get it done, not to get it done perfectly. A lot of the brilliant moments in teaching are a result of feeling calm and relaxed with your class because you've had a good night's sleep and are prepared and comfortable enough in your classroom to feel creative and dynamic. But you really need to assess your kids and have a general skeleton of a lesson plan. You can wing it on the details, but not on the over-arching scheme of your class.

You will need to get over comparing yourself to other teachers. Look for a calming and productive outlet outside of school that will get you in a good mental place. It shouldn't include excessive hours on the internet, etc. Also, generally teachers work HARD. You should nurture this trait in yourself because it's never too late to start.

2. Teach the students clear routines for what they need to do when they get to your classroom. Usually you want to set this up at the outset, but it is really not too late and it's going to make a huge difference in behavior and management. Do a google search for "classroom routines to teach" and there will be a lot of guides that can help you get set up.

Good luck!
posted by mermily at 5:35 PM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you need a mentor, maybe from your school, but maybe somewhere else. Honestly, it could even be another new teacher, but you need someone that would sit with you while you lesson plan. Then you can bounce ideas off each other, and just keep trudging along. Teaching can be lonely work even though you are so often surrounded by people. I think you need to find a partner to work with.
posted by aetg at 6:12 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

The saying is, if you don't have a plan for your students, they'll have a plan for you. Behavior problems are often complicated, but they absolutely will not get better if you don't have a lesson plan. Can you set it up with your department chair so that you submit lesson plans to him/her ahead of time for feedback, so there's a lower-pressure deadline for yourself?

The first year is awful for most people. For most people, though, it really does get better.
posted by sleepingcbw at 7:29 PM on November 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hey, sorry you're having a tough time right now!

Have you considered working at a non-traditional school? I.e. a private or charter school? I work at a public charter school, and we do independent study. While the teachers there plan workshops and such, they are weekly rather than daily. This means lesson planning happens a lot less frequently.

Additionally, students are only in the classroom a few hours as opposed to 6+ hours. It's more of a time for tutoring and turning in work than having to sit and be quiet during a lecture.

My point is, there may be other ways you can teach, if that's really your passion.
posted by too bad you're not me at 8:00 PM on November 7, 2012

The first year of teaching is hell on earth, for everyone. My teacher training program actually warned us about this - told us "don't get married, avoid breaking up, avoid failling in love, avoid starting a new exercise program - avoid anything that you do not have to take on during the first year." It's complex and bewildering.In the first year, you really can't find yourself as a teacher. You do the best you can.

I think it's hard to predict, as a student, exactly how much work teaching is going to be - especially the first year when you have no lessons "in the can," which in future years you will. And it's also hard to communicate to the rest of the world how hard teaching is. They don't see it, they just see the long vacations and "short" hours. So it can be isolating.

You will learn. You can learn. I agree that you need a mentor. Or at a minimum, a group of peers who you can have some "reflective practice" discussion.

I would not have survived without the book Teaching Children to Care. It's by a teacher who jumped into her first year very optomistic, and totally failed. She nearly lost it. She figured out how to develop classroom practices that kept the students focused, learning, and positive. It's a constant battle but it gets a LOT easier.

The laziness/procrastination thing is concerning - that, you just can't carry on with. You're going to have to do your work. You might want to get checked out for ADD or depression or any other issues that can cause lack of concentration.

The question is: if all this were easier, a lot easier, would you still want to teach? Do you still feel excited about kids learning? About introducing new ideas? About breakthroughs that they have? Can that interest you for a long time to come? Do you want to be part of a school?

If you do want to teach, then the only way out is through. You have to step up and help yourself get better. You have to think over what you've done, evaluate where it went right and wrong, and make changes based on that. You have to double down and spend more evenings in work. IF it helps to have a vigorous workout first, or something else fun that gets you out of your head, do that, but then sit down and get the work done. Once you start sliding it's all miserable.

If you don't like even thinking about teaching, even if you can imagine you're all caught up, only then would I say you might not like teaching. It's not a profession you do, you kind of live it.
posted by Miko at 8:05 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am a teacher in an urban school district in the US. Most of our students come from families that are very poor, and some of them have academic and behavioral challenges.

Here are some brief responses to your questions:

You simply need to do it. I'm sure you've heard it before, but making things up on the fly is not a good long-term solution. I have done my fair share of "faking it", but I also know that when you have planned ahead, your lessons will be smoother, you will know the material better, and you will be better prepared to meet your students academic (and behavioral) needs.

Assessments can be informal, and can be as simple as a plus/check/minus in your grade book. Even a participation grade is a good place to start. Once you get in the habit of recording data on your students informally and quickly, it will become easier.

BEHAVIOR [sorry]
Avoid escalating situations. Think about it from your students' perspective: they need to have an opportunity to save face at every step of the way, and they will often take the easiest route. This is a really good book for rethinking classroom discipline. Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) is a popular school-wide program here in the states. You might look into it and consider seeing if there are similar programs your school could get involved with.

It might be the school that is the problem, but that doesn't excuse you. Find the awesome teachers at your school - the teachers who are respected by kids and staff, and who may do things their own way. Buy them a beer and pick their brains.

Look, it sounds like you might not be cut out to be a public school teacher. Teaching is a very difficult job, and it requires an immense amount of time and energy, and an unending love for the kids. Do you love your students? Do you love teaching?
posted by rossination at 8:05 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I taught school for a year and coped with several of these issues. Everyone told me it gets easier over time.

But you know what? It doesn't have to. I had worked in another field that, for me, was no trouble at all, and I left after that year knowing I had other options that would yield more than twice the pay for less than half the stress. Sorry, teachers--I am so glad you're doing what you do, but in my case, that's not even slightly an exaggeration.

It's likely you can develop similar options. But for now, you need to ...

1) Apologize to your girlfriend.
2) Recognize you have a 12-13 hour per day job, not an 8 hour per day job.
3) Emulate your girlfriend.
4) If possible, ask your girlfriend for detailed help with day to day issues. You're extremely lucky to have a resource like her around.

It's not that you inherently suck at this. Your girlfriend was probably not any better when she first started. The key issue is that you're simply not putting in the time the job realistically demands of beginners, and if you're asking here, I'm guessing you're not asking other pros for concrete advice about lesson plans, classroom management, etc. because you don't want to show weakness. But you clearly need help formulating lesson plans and acquiring classroom management skills sufficient to get you through the year.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:09 PM on November 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Oops, Teaching Children to Care

Also, I should add that I only taught for 3 years in the classroom. I left teaching not because I couldn't do it, because I was comfortable enough by the time I finished up and you can achieve that too, but because I wanted to think about topics other than teaching technique and student progress. I could see that the kinds of thinking related to the teaching life would not be intellectually satisfying for me, that I needed a different kind of stimulus to stay engaged. I know some teachers who can find that satisfaction in the classroom; I eventually found it in organizational management and program design and museum interpretation and public history research and things like that.

So if you just don't like spending your time thinking about kids and teaching them, that's probably the biggest signal it's not for you. The frustration at not doing a good enough job is surmountable, but the nagging, consistent feeling "I'm just not interested enough in this" is a red flag, at least was for me.
posted by Miko at 8:23 PM on November 7, 2012

I love teaching but I have to say that lesson planning is integral to the job. Not planning, when you are about to enter a whole classroom full of kids, is essentially the same as not showing up for work. There may be reasons why you have fallen behind, but it sounds like you already know you are not able to handle planning ahead. Sounds like you need a different kind of job. Or to completely change the nature of how you work (which is a taaaalll order).

No judgment, you realize this is a problem and that's good. But fix it or get out because it's only going to get worse for you and for them.

If you're going to stick around, figure out ways to completely change your planning process. As many above have said, you need a mentor. Also, steal as much lesson planning material as you can from others and from the internet. This should save you some time. But you still have to work it over. Also try and focus on activities that require less planning. Often when you plan ahead, you actually have a lot less work, as you can design much of a multiday activity in a proportionally smaller amount of time than planning a day at a time.

Good luck. It's hard no matter what you do, but it can be extremely rewarding.
posted by pynchonesque at 9:41 PM on November 7, 2012

Response by poster: anon4now: I teach science in a high school, so 12-17 year olds.

Monsieur Caution: My girlfriend and I actually both started in September. She's stressed a lot of the time too, but it's pressure she puts on herself, since she's received compliments on her teaching.

To answer some of the general sentiment: I think I love teaching. I mean, it's something I've wanted to do for 10 years, and before I started teaching, I would find myself thinking about ideas I had for the classroom and things like that. I worked as a T.A in university and as an individual tutor for a couple years, and I did receive compliments on that (although I was sometimes not prepared for those situations, but it was not as acute as it is now).

Maybe some of you are right and I'm just not cut out for it? When things get tough, I tend to shrink away from pressure, like when there is massive misbehaviour, or when I need to do planning. I did the same during my masters. So maybe I'm not cut out for jobs like this. I don't know what I would be successful at though....
posted by marcusesses at 10:12 PM on November 7, 2012

I am a former teacher and currently work with first-year teachers.

Teaching is very, very hard (I disagree that all other jobs are as hard - yes, some jobs are equally stressful, but most of the people I know in jobs outside teaching don't experience nearly the amount of stress teachers do) , and like others have said, the learning curve is STEEP. What I often see with first-year teachers is the mindset that "if I just learn this strategy or that strategy, things will improve in my classroom." And that is rarely the case. I know it's not helpful to say so, but it makes me think that having a conversation about this on ask metafilter is not going to make much of a change, because we can recommend lots of stuff, and it could help, but mostly it'll just be new strategies. What you really need is someone who can come into your classroom, help diagnose the issues, have you try certain things at certain times, have you observe them teaching, help find patterns in behavior and culture, etc etc. So I highly recommend you look for a mentor or coach who can help you in person to not just learn new strategies but to learn some new mindsets that will help you and your students in the long run. Is there anyone like that at your school who you could reach out to?

If you think you love teaching, please stick it out! The first year of teaching is a roller-coaster of emotions, so it's very possible that you'll feel completely different about teaching in 2 months. (And then spiral back into "I am awful at this" a few months later.) Just staying through the rest of the year (and then evaluating after the year is done) is so great, because you're providing some stability for your students, who may very well see terrible teacher retention and be losing out on many opportunities to develop awesome relationships with adults in their lives.
posted by violetish at 10:29 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

My girlfriend and I actually both started in September ... she's received compliments on her teaching ... I'm just not cut out for ... pressure ... or ... planning

I taught gifted & talented students, and probably their most common and pernicious problem was this: so much had come so easily for them and they were so used to being praised for things that were effortless that they dreaded and shrank away from challenges that involved actual work and practice, because it wasn't just hard--it hurt their egos to have to try, and it destroyed them to fail. They would take their very first attempts at anything, astutely observe that they were poor compared to work that had been labored over, and just quit.

It was just amazing to see that over and over. I had to be wary of praising what they easily did well, and I had to go over the top in encouraging them from the very beginning as they took on things that they really needed to work on.

It still sounds a lot--to me--like your girlfriend is enjoying the natural fruits of hard work, rather than being complimented for natural talent. You can do this too.

I'm certainly not saying you should do it for more than a year. Teachers are not paid well. The stress is way out of proportion to the rewards. And in many cases, particularly among teachers who invested too heavily in training for the job to the detriment of their other options, the 'intangible' rewards are meaningful but probably overvalued as a matter of resolving cognitive dissonance (i.e. the sub-conscious puzzle "Why am I doing this for so little in return?" leads to the obstacle of having no other obvious options and finds its rationalized answer in imaginary or emotional rewards that are actually available in most jobs, if you simply construe the outcomes of your work broadly enough to eventually encompass some good for the world).

But finishing the year does have numerous benefits: the job can go on your resume; it will go down in your own mind as an achievement rather than a failure; no one will question whether you're the sort that follows through on a commitment; you remain employed while you figure out your next step; and you seem to have a life lesson to learn here, which is that you can succeed in the working world mainly by putting in the time--in this case, formulating lesson plans, grading work, and reading up on teaching and influencing people. Yes, it sounds like you want an 8 hour/day job with less stress at some point soon, but that's just not the job you have this year, and it will be fine if you can let your ego subside in this, view your time more realistically (carving out perhaps Saturdays and one other night a week for whatever you like), and aim at just doing the work.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:30 PM on November 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I too was overwhelmed when I taught and I had some hacks that really helped. The big trick is Classroom Management. You have to master this, before you can teach!

1. Have a DO NOW posted on the board for kids to do immediately when they sit down. I had English class, so I could put anything up there and it would fly. Yours can be science related. It's a simple question, and they write a paragraph or so on it. It's up every day, and it's worth 25 points. You don't have to look at it even, they just have to do it, you just have to write down the points.

2. We had block scheduling, so I had 2 hours to fill. I would write down everything we were covering in class, broken down in minutes. It looked like this:

7:50 to 8:00: Do Now
8:00 to 8:15: Discussion of current events
8:15 to 8:45: Newspapers-Cause and Effect
8:45 to 9:15: Reading of Cause and Effect-Class Discussion
9:15 to 9:45: Six Traits of Writing-Organization-Mind Mapping Demonstration
9:45 to 9:50: Tidy up and get ready for the bell

This way I knew what I was doing, the kids knew and it helped a lot.

3. Use the cirriculum guide as your basis for lesson plans: We used the Six Traits of Writing and the Sunshine State Standards. Between the two, I knew what needed to be covered throughout the term. I further broke down my week into predictable things. Every Monday we'd read a story in class, do the questions, have a discussion. Every Tuesday we read the newspaper, did a lesson around the assignment (cause and effect, metaphor, simile, personification, whatever.) Every Wednesday we'd work on writing mechanics. You get the idea. Predictability is your friend, both for the kids and for YOU. Your damn lesson plans write themselves.

4. Utilize lots of different media. I had round tables that sat 4 kids in my room. In the middle were crayons, markers, and blank paper. I'd come up with Do Now's that they could draw, or they'd have to draw a scene from the story, or whatever. Some kids like to write songs or poems.

5. Make the students responsible for their work. If a student missed an assignment, they had 3 days after they returned to class to complete it. The weekly lessons were in a bin by the door, along with a list of things they could do for extra credit. I was NOT going to spend time re-teaching the lesson to one kid, while the other 35 became wild animals.

6. Make sure the kids get fast feedback on their work. Assignments are graded and returned over-night. One thing that helped me was knowing that I didn't have to re-write the kids papers. All I had to do was give a grade and short explaination. A-Excellent research and well developed. B-good points, need work on mechanics. C-Nice try, clean up errors and elaborate on topic. D-Needs Work.

7. Weekly progress reports. Another teacher and I split the cost of a grading program, and I would keep it up to date, doing grading while the kids worked on the assignments. At the end of the week, they'd get a progress report. No one could say they were shocked at their grade.

8. Call home! I can't stress this enough. If you're having behavioral problems, call home and discuss with the parents. You may or may not get any results, but they're on notice, their kid is a pain in the ass and may fail the class. Call home when a kid is doing well. You'll make a friend for life.

9. Document issues. When you have that meeting with the kid, parent and administrator, there's nothing better than having a current grade report (from ALL teachers if you can get it), a list of dates, times and issues from the student, a list of missing assignments and notes of the times you called home to discuss it. It's freaking satisfying when the parent has no one to blame but the kid and himself. Gorgeous really.

These are some ideas. There are tons more on the internet. Don't be afraid to steal ideas from other teachers. You don't need to reinvent the wheel.

You have got to get your shit together. I promise that if you get this stuff done, you will have SO MUCH BETTER classroom management and teaching results. It won't be perfect. I bailed out of teaching after two years. I was also in the worst school in Florida (perhaps the country). BUT, for the time I was there, I was a fabulous teacher.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:08 AM on November 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

The procrastination that you are describing sounds to me like a big red flag that you are getting depressed about a stressful situation. In addition to the many good comments above, I would recommend finding a therapist to talk to. A therapist can help you develop techniques to avoid procrastination, because "just do the work already" is not actually very helpful or all that easy when the work is something you are dreading because of all sorts of negative associations that have grown up around it. A therapist can also help you develop better habits for dealing with stress - finding a way to deal with the stress that doesn't involve taking it out on your girlfriend, and that also doesn't involve coming to see the kids you teach as enemies, is going to be really crucial for you, I think.

Of teachers and attempted-teachers I have known, it seems like there are some schools where new teachers are really poorly supported and not backed up by administration, and that in such schools, the kids kind of pick up on this vibe, and basically haze new teachers. Has this particular class gone through a run of short-term teachers recently? Do they feel that they are not a priority at the school to begin with, maybe related to having been tracked to a low-academic expectations stream? They may be testing you to see if you'll be the person who will finally stay and care about them? What else is going on in their lives? As commenters above have indicated, it certainly sounds like you could be dealing with the situation better on your end (and we can't really diagnose what's going on there without observing you teaching), but it's almost certainly not all you. I've certainly been in classes as a high school student where we all felt that the teacher was incompetent, or classes where we felt that the teacher didn't give a darn about us, and nobody was walking out the door, wandering around or talking while the teacher was trying to tell us things, etc. Everyone knew that there would have been serious consequences for us from the school administration if they had acted out that poorly, regardless of how we felt about the individual teacher. If you can't get that support from your school administration, can you enlist the help of other, more experienced teachers? You'll need to be able to admit to your colleagues that things aren't working out, and ask for help. This feels hard, but they probably already know, and will think better of you for being the sort of person who can recognize when they need help and is proactive in fixing the situation.
posted by eviemath at 8:44 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I did a two-year postgrad 9 (with 8 months of practicum) back in the late 80s to teach highschool, and actually did for year after I finished, and some subbing a little later. I was apparently an effective, well-liked teacher, but I kind of hated it, but not because I hated teaching -- I just didn't like pre-teens or teenagers.

Decades later and I still do some teaching (more running workshops and corporate education programs and such now), but transitioned very quickly after those early experiences into teaching adults.

My wife, who does more traditional classroom-style teaching than I do, teaches both adults and kids these days. She does not enjoy teaching the kids, much, mostly I think because she has not developed the classroom management skills she needs (which as others have suggested, is the most important skillset an effective teacher of kids can have), but she's actively working on developing them.

The trick is, with teaching, I think, is to decide if you really want to do it, and in what capacity, and then never stop working on developing your skills. And getting your chops? That takes a long, long time, even for naturally gifted teachers.

Just for what it's worth.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:28 PM on November 11, 2012

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