When I was student teaching, I was mysteriously given my very own section to teach, with absolutely no supervision. (I say “mysteriously” because “the ‘real’ teachers just didn’t want to do it, and no one wanted to pay for a sub/real teacher” sounds mean, although it is true.) I was in a tiny room, with a giant pillar down the middle that meant I could only see half the students at a time. The desks were also so crowded together that I couldn’t get to the students at the back of the room. Delightfully, no one would give me a key to the room, so every time I was supposed to teach it I had to spend half an hour running around the building looking desperately for a janitor.
The tenth graders could tell immediately I had no idea what I was doing. I teach 10th grade now, and I love them, but at the time it was like being responsible for a room full of wild dogs, while covered in juicy raw steaks. I was awful. I didn’t know how to write a lesson plan, I was never given any kind of syllabus, I couldn’t remember their names.
The real nadir, however, was the day I was teaching (“teaching,” really) and suddenly smelled something. Smoke? I looked around. The kids were giggling. I went into the hallway to see if anyone else was freaking out, or if there was a fire drill going on and I’d missed it. The kids giggled harder. Eventually I figured out why I smelled smoke; three of the little hooligans at the back of the room had lit cigarettes they were hiding under the desk. The room smelled like matches because they’d used them.
I couldn’t get to the back of the room to take them away. They were totally uninterested in me yelling at them. The other kids found the whole thing hilarious. I yelled a little bit, but they just shrugged. The bell rang and they sauntered out, totally confident that I — a brand new student teacher — wouldn’t do anything about it. And they were right; there was no one for me to tell about it, and the other teachers I complained to just told me I needed “better classroom management.” The other teachers, by the way, were total dicks.
Three years later I rule my classroom with an iron fist, but it was a long, hard learning experience to get here. I write things like this down in case anyone reading this is a brand new teacher, dealing with students and having trouble with classroom management. “Get better classroom management” really just means “Be totally confident in everything you do or say in the classroom — even if you have to fake that confidence. Practice saying ‘knock it off’ without yelling, but make sure you sound mean. Don’t confront kids in front of their peers. Arrange the classroom to your own benefit, and don’t let anyone rearrange it. Don’t ever appease teenagers.”
Also, I promise, things get better.