The Class from Hell
I just shared a post about the class from hell on my publisher’s blog. As I wrote about them there:
I’ve never forgotten the 9th graders from Lyceum 33 in Astana. It was the worst class I’ve ever have. One student came to class early, stuck his head out the window, and started to smoke! While I was standing there. Another student simply refused to hand me back his test. I said I’d give him a 0 if he didn’t give it back to me and he said, “F*** your 0, who cares?” and walked out of class. I knew it wasn’t all my fault, because I saw kids fighting in the halls. One 14-year-old told me he knew how to drive. He stole his father’s car all the time and drove around with his buddies, getting drunk in the car.
These were the biggest incidents, but every day was a struggle. If I told them to get out their book, there were audible sighs and rolling of eyes. If I asked if anyone had questions about the task, I’d get students asking what basketball team I liked and if it was true that all Americans were fat. We all have students who pack up their bags 5 minutes before class ends, but I had kids packing up their bags and walking out. And the cellphones, oh, the cellphones…..They texted each other in class!
This sounds pretty clearly like a story of student failure, right?
And yet, I firmly believe student failure is also teacher failure. There’s always something we can do.
Sit Down and Shut Up?
The other teachers weren’t getting eaten alive. When I studied what they were doing versus what I was doing, I noticed a lot of behavior that I didn’t like. In this culture, teachers were unassailable authority figures who yelled, screamed, and insulted the students. They never admitted to any wrong doing, and many classes involved students sitting quietly, copying from the board or a textbook, or taking notes of a lecture–ok for college, but in high school, not so much. Especially as they had specifically hired me to teach English speaking! Clearly, the sit down and shut up approach was not going to work.
Keep Them Engaged
Finally, I realized that there was one thing my fellow teachers were doing in class that I did want to emulate. They were keeping the students busy. Now I didn’t want to give my students meaningless busy work. However, by reflecting on my routine and finding the places where students weren’t doing anything, I managed to take a lot of dead time out of my lesson. When the students didn’t have time to be bad, they were actually pretty good.
For me, and I’d imagine for most teachers, the times when students can be most idle are:
- Taking attendance
- Writing objectives
- When you’re giving directions
- When they finish early. And that goes for activities as well as quizzes and tests.
- When handing back work
By tweaking my routines, preparing an early-finisher/Do-now file, and doing a lot of housekeeping activities on a blog or webpage instead of in class, I was able to kill a lot of dead-time. Suddenly my class from hell turned into the mildly disruptive class of pretty typical teenagers. Or as one of the bigger, more resistant kids put it to me once:
“I like to make teachers annoyed. It’s a fun game. But at least you try to teach us things. I appreciate that. Please don’t take it personally that I get on your nerves!”
How about you? How do you keep your class moving and dead time to a minimum?