Sponsored by Reading Progress in Teams.
In my first year of teaching, at a middle school, my team leader was a guy we’ll call George. George had been teaching for at least 20 years by the time I started. He was incredibly charismatic, high energy, and intimidating. The kids worshipped him in a way that said, You’re kind of mean but it’s awesome when you like us. For the most part, I liked working with him, even though we definitely had a different style of dealing with students. My style was not nearly as scary, and that meant my students drove me crazy a lot more often. I did not run what you’d call a “tight ship,” but I also wouldn’t say my classes were out of control. They just talked a lot and I hadn’t quite figured out how to manage that.
One thing George did that I’m pretty sure he thought was supportive and helpful, but actually was not, is that he would occasionally yell at my students. Collectively. Like he’d come into my classroom to deliver some paperwork or whatever, and he’d see behavior from my students that he didn’t like. I should note that they were technically our students because we worked in teams; these were kids George taught, too. He knew them. So they’d be low-key goofing around and before George walked out of the room he’d stop and say something like, “Hey!”
“Edwin!” he’d yell at one kid in particular. “What makes you think it’s okay to act like that?”
A shrug from Edwin.
“Do you not have work to do?”
Another shrug, then, “Yeah.”
George would cast his glare across the room, then he’d gesture toward me. “You guys have a pretty great teacher here, you know that?”
They all nodded.
“So the next time I come by here, I don’t want to see you acting like this, you understand?”
And so on. Shortly after, he’d leave, and the class would be quiet for a few minutes in a way that frankly, I wasn’t used to.
I realize George had my back, yes. But I really hated it when he did this, because it made me feel weak. Powerless. Like I couldn’t take care of myself. It made me feel ashamed.
And when that happened, I usually turned it back on my students. After George left, I would be the biggest jerk in the world for the rest of the class period, because my ego had been bruised and I had something to prove. They weren’t going to take advantage of me, no sir. I’d show them.
Maybe you’ve been in George’s shoes: There’s a new-ish teacher at your school and they aren’t quite getting the classroom management thing down, and you’re tempted to jump in and rescue them. But the goal should really be to help that teacher get better, not do it for them. George could have said something to me privately after class, shared some advice, or offered to have me observe another teacher whose style matched mine but who had better classroom management. If something was going on in my room that he just had to react to, maybe he could have just stood still and given someone “the stare” to let them know he was watching—sure, that’s still kind of along the same lines, but it would have allowed me to hold on to some dignity. As an experienced teacher you have so much wisdom to share; just remember that part of your job as a mentor is to help new teachers get stronger and better, and to do that, they need guidance and practice, not a rescue.
And if you are the new-ish teacher, the one who gets these disciplinary visits? Maybe find a way to share this episode with your colleagues. Take comfort in knowing that you’re not the only one. And try to be mindful of the impact this kind of thing can have on your relationship with your students; keep your ego in check. Ego is so dangerous in teaching.
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