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Challenging students

Discussion in 'Workplace dilemmas' started by Honeydew, Jan 26, 2019.

  1. Honeydew

    Honeydew New commenter

    Hello guys

    I was hoping you could offer some advice - you've been great in the past.

    Sorry for the long post.

    I have been teaching a long time. I started in my mid twenties (college and secondary) and at that time I was a different person. I was stronger mentally and physically. Now I'm in my late 40s and I am tired, miserable and fed up.

    In every single class there is always a core group of pupils or students who play up, mess around or are downright rude. They really do affect me (and over the years it has gotten worse) . I dread these classes. Friends, family and colleagues tell me that I need to remember and focus on the good kids. But if I'm honest with myself, these kids affect me a lot. I am a sensitive person and genuinely love helping people. Throughout my life I've put others first. I hate confrontations and so if I need to resolve issues I always talk things through or give in.

    But I am now in a college teaching students that fill me with drread. What upsets me is that the troublemakers have a way of making even the good kids misbehave. These are English resit students and so are forced to attend. Some of them are really belligerent and talk during quiet activities. When I show my annoyance they'll argue and stop for a while but then carry on. I don't shout or let them think I am affected by them (I repeat myself firmly and remind them of their end goal) and I think that helps a lot (years of teaching experience has taught me that they're trying to get a rise out of me). What makes me feel sad is the fact that most of them are 18 and I didn't expect Yr 9 behaviour from them. I have tried to make excuses for them and tried to see the good in them but some of them have drained all my goodwill. They seem to thrive on conflict and being mean.

    After the lessons I feel low - and this feeling stays with me and my poor family can see I am distracted. My family life is great and I have great friends and fantastic colleagues. It's only work/challenging students that make me miserable.

    I was wondering if there was a way of making myself not care what these students say or do? I know I am responsible for my own happiness and I can control what affects me. So what can I do on a practical level?

    My brain seems hardwired to worry about the naughty kids. How do I develop a thick skin? I am wiling to try anything - a mantra, hypnosis, anything! What about meditation? What has helped you?

    I would be grateful for any advice. I love the good kids. I love the moody ones too because they get on with the work but are never nasty to me.. I want to stay in this college but I am seriously thinking of leaving because of the kids who are challenging. I don't like the sick feeling I get before the lesson. I do wonder why I give them that importance. But I suppose its because I worry about them playing up during lesson observations and influencing the other kids.

    I am at a stage in my life where I just want to be happy. I want to give the best of me to my family. I don't want to feel anxious all the time - life is too short. Don't get me wrong - I know life has its challenges but this anxiety is constant and crippling and I am worried it'll affect my mental health.

    Thank you for reading this. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
  2. GirlGremlin

    GirlGremlin Occasional commenter

    I could have written This!!! You have hit the nail on the head precisely about what I most dislike about teacher. I don't have any advice, but will be following to see what others advise. You are not alone...
  3. grumpydogwoman

    grumpydogwoman Star commenter

    You won't achieve nirvana but you can maybe modify and get some improvement.

    Level with the, if you haven't already. I know, I know! You thought you'd be finished with this at YR11. Some of you missed out on the qual by a couple of marks. You're bored. But college is going to keep putting you in for this until you're old and grey. I don't even really want to do this. But you do need it and I'm trying to make it bearable. If you don't want to cooperate with me or do it for yourselves? Well, how about doing it for the ones in the group who do just want to get the qual and forget it ever after?

    I think BBC Bitesize has some good resources. Video stuff.
  4. Honeydew

    Honeydew New commenter

    Thanks for replying.

    Grenlimgirl - my heart goes out to you. Hopefully we'll get some good advice on here. I have been looking at some self help books on Amazon and will post here if I find something useful.

    Grumpydogwoman - I have said all the things you've mentioned., but to no avail. I always speak to them one to one as I know they thrive on attention. They respond OK at the time (some even look remorseful). But then it's back to being mean the next week. I am trying to kill them with kindness - I always greet them all cheerfully and say bye to them at the end.

    I know it's me that needs to change. But how?
    phlogiston likes this.
  5. Jamvic

    Jamvic Senior commenter

    Genuine question. Do these students legally have to keep re-sitting the maths & english gcse exams until they finally pass? What happens if they never pass? What happens if they just say ‘not doing it’.
  6. lovejoy_antiques

    lovejoy_antiques Occasional commenter

    Totally sympathize. I hate the rudeness, the hostility, the belligerence, the pack mentality. I hate the "I'll get you done for that brigade". I hate the ones that talk over you. I hate the ones that see baiting you as their sport for the afternoon.

    I hate driving in to work hoping to navigate my way through the day with as little confrontation as possible. But knowing that whatever you do, however polite you are, what ever strategies you use you've got sh*t coming your way. Pure anxiety.

    I hate the parents who believe their child's nonsense when their beligerant offspring claim you pick on them/ don't teach them anything, or can't control the class (like their kid ever wants that any way).

    I hate management who's goal is appeasment of unpleasant parents. I have management who want to put everything down as a personality clash or worse still blame you.

    That's a lot of hate... Right there, just about everything I hate about teaching. Well that and dirt time, brain gym and learning styles.

    Solutions: cigarettes, alcohol and whatever else you can get your hands on!

    Seriously though having been on supply going to different schools, different towns there are nicer places out there. 1 a***hole in a group is a lot easier to deal with than 7 or 8! There are some pleasant schools out there still. Try and shop around, this country is short of teachers.
    vgh, XTrapnel, geordiepetal and 10 others like this.
  7. Honeydew

    Honeydew New commenter

    Hi Lovejoy_antiques

    Thanks for sympathising and the advice xx.

    I managed to secure this job after months of job-hunting. I do love the workplace - it's just a handful of students who are making me miserable..

    If only I could stop letting them affect me.
  8. grumpydogwoman

    grumpydogwoman Star commenter

    I wouldn't do it one to one though. I'd address everyone. Kindly. Just in the spirit of honesty. You didn't choose it. Think of it like a driving test. Nobody is keen on it. But who doesn't want to pass their test? You sit there and listen and do it and then you don't have to do it again. I'm not asking you to behave like you were angels.

    5 minutes.

    In some places you could just let them drift out but I'm guessing your college is going to measure you on their pass rate.

    I don't think there is a magic bullet. I got out of it by telling my agency I wouldn't do Maths/English at Post 16. So they moved me.
  9. cheesypop

    cheesypop Senior commenter

    I am in my early 40s. After 18 years in mainstream I now work in SEN/behaviour units. I have a 14 year old daughter. Sometimes all that gets me through the day is ‘these kids are here and not in her class or in a class with kids like her, disrupting her education’.
    I suppose what I’m saying is, find a reason. The fact that your salary is being used to pay for a fab holiday. The fact that you have a pension and job security. The fact that they will leave soon and you are better off than them. I don’t know. It doesn’t have to be a good, wholesome reason. It just has to be a ‘get you through the day’ reason.
    You’ve got a great family. You are luckier than some. You are probably luckier than the kids. Rise above it. They are *****. You are not.
    (Insert appropriate word into what will invevitably be **** out).
  10. grumpydogwoman

    grumpydogwoman Star commenter

    I used to do that @cheesypop

    I thought I was keeping them off the streets. Saving the neighbours from vandalism and jeering and littering. Save the bus drivers from them hopping on and off buses and swearing. That kinda thing.
  11. cheesypop

    cheesypop Senior commenter

    It’s whatever gets you through the day @grumpydogwoman
    I’m not saying it’s taking the high road. Sometimes you need to take any road. Because sometimes... and it’s not what they put in the teaching adverts... its just a job. It’s you or them. And I pick me. I can teach. Can they learn? Their choice.
  12. grumpydogwoman

    grumpydogwoman Star commenter

    Ah, the joy of learning! Yeah, right.

    But how much have I stood up and tried to resist the tide? Not really. Not a lot.

    I believe in vocational education. I believe in functional skills. I believe people can have a good working life and a good home-life without being good at Maths and English. I believe we should work towards a society where people are valued for more than being able to deploy an adverb or calculate 85% of £10.50 without the aid of a calculator.

    What have I done about my strongly-held beliefs? Nothing. We have the current system. I'm sad on behalf of my grandchildren. I'm sad for my adult children. I'm sad for a lad I know who is being pushed through GCSE when he's better suited to Functional Skills.

    So we've got a sad, sad situation. Look on the bright side. As long as they're not rioting. That's the best I can do.
  13. sbkrobson

    sbkrobson Star commenter

    Very good!
    agathamorse and Purdster like this.
  14. mothergoose2013

    mothergoose2013 Occasional commenter

    Yoga and meditation do it for me, both help me find that space where nothing external really matters, helps me find a natural detachment and makes me realise it, over and over again. Tai Chi is fab for this too.
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2019
  15. mothergoose2013

    mothergoose2013 Occasional commenter

    PS: it may seem equally 'woo woo' but hypnotherapy got me to a place where I could switch off enough to benefit from the above. Mostly because I learned how to make time for me and began to religiously put myself first.
  16. install

    install Star commenter

    Do all you can.to get support in that group in the form.of another adult on your side. Ask someone you trust to.come in and help /support/ offer advice even for 20 mins.

    You sound lonely in your workplace too - and you need to feel.part of a team.:cool:
  17. afterdark

    afterdark Senior commenter

    I found motivating students difficult. Decades of media hostility towards the teaching profession has taken its toll in the UK. How many times I have heard the "I don't need to learn this because I'm going to <insert unrealistic goal here>.." Neve have I ever seen any of these students on TV playing football or heard them singing on the radio.

    The collective problem of student motivation is complex and seldom down to one cause for all students. Many of these immature students believe their own b.s.

    Find what works, what are they interested in?
    If they all have phones and the college has wifi ? play kahoot quizzes and peardeck is good for those English definitions. [sadly I am not affiliated to either so money for me if you take these up]

    Produce a public table of their results to show or targets met to wake them up to have they are failing.
    If you are in a college with older students. Summarise the lesson at the start and hand out condensed notes. Then say anyone who wants to ask more questions can stay and the rest can go. If the nice ones to stay you might have cracked that thorny issue.
    Rewards can reach the students on a visceral level. Anything, toast, kitkats; I found Maoam chews were increadibly popular.

    At home stop watching the news, its depressing. Pay no heed to lying politicians on the TV.
    Watch comedies, eat well. Get some exercise, even if it is a walk in the sun. Catch some sunshine, that vitamin D helps.
  18. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter

    Hi Honeydew

    I could also have written your post - almost word for word. I am, however, a decade older than you and have worked as a supply teacher for almost 10 years. The general public would not believe what I have seen in these past 10 years in some schools regarding behaviour. Even the very best schools are now having more and more extreme challenging behaviour in their classes.

    The kind of depression you feel, so many know it: the anxiety of knowing you are going to go to work and face a constant battle with students and not knowing exactly what it is you are going to face that day in terms of confrontations etc.

    As you can see in the above posts , there are all types of suggestions above about what kind of strategies you can use to cope with it. I wouldn't recommend medication since that is only treating the symptoms.

    What I would say, however, is this. If there is anyway at all financially that you could leave and find another job even if it pays less you perhaps should consider that option. Life is way too short to be miserable teaching badly behaved students who have had chance, after chance after chance.

    We all know the back stories of t some of these students - some come from broken families, some with learning difficulties, some from deprived homes. However, these are people who are almost adults - almost 18 years old! They treat you like a slave because the school/college allows it. You don't have to think of reward schemes for people who are almost 18 years old. Their reward is getting their qualifications so they can work.

    They are not entitled to anything in this world, although they may think they are.

    Sit down and look over your finances with any other adults in your household who are affected and see if you could take a pay cut for a short time until you find something else that pays as well. You have done your dues - you have helped a lot of people and there is a season for everything. Perhaps it is your season to move on to something else.
  19. Sinnamon

    Sinnamon Established commenter

    Hi @Honeydew,

    It sounds as if you're already giving the kids the best of yourself. You've used every strategy in the handbook and given them full benefit of your years of experience.
    Problem is, these kids have got you over a barrel and they know it. They KNOW you've got to do a good job getting them through their exam and they enjoy watching you jump through hoops achieving that. It's awful, but it is human nature.
    I take it you've reported their behaviour to the appropriate senior staff in the college in addition to all the great strategies suggested by GDW, so....

    As you said yourself in your OP, you need to develop a thicker skin. And that's the key. Remember they'd be the same whoever was teaching them. That's probably why some of them are there doing resits.

    With more difficult students I personally found that always doing things by the book, and being too earnest, didn't work for them. A good dollop of off-track "non-teacherspeak" honesty went down well as often as occasion allowed. It catches them off-guard if they expect you to generally be by the book (which makes you too predictable and therefore an easy target). You have to know your class well, pick your words v carefully and use your judgement weĺl. It also depends on if you have (or can affect) the sort of 'devil may care' personality to pull it off. I found difficult kids responded to, and respected, my home truths - done in a humorous way when poss (or tongue in cheek to keep them guessing....). It was still hard work mind, but it allowed some moments of levity which spurred them on to keep their heads down for a few lessons.
    XTrapnel, renegade29, pepper5 and 4 others like this.
  20. sbkrobson

    sbkrobson Star commenter

    Threads such as this which despair at poor behaviour make me despair too, since the reflex response (mine included) is to suggest increasingly fine-tuned strategies. Plan some fun! Cut them some slack! Redo the seating plan! Give them rewards! Talk to them on their level! Look at them blankly! Explain their wrong by youth-flavoured analogy! Casually mention your own fidget spinner collection!

    But to have posted in despair means that this is a teacher who has already done those things. Probably all of them. We don't get to the point of despair of behaviour unless we work towards that despair. The frustration is not at the behaviour per se, but at the persistance in the face of our expertise, empathy, ingenuity, professionalism. If we apply all of these attributes to,say, paperwork, we end up with gleaming sorted files, and if we apply them to planning or marking or training, we end up honed and expert in our field.
    But apply to behaviour and...nothing. That is the point when we think "I wish I could just slap them". We do have those thoughts. Admit it, we all want to see them crumble and collapse in the face of an indomitable force, because the poor behaviour is an insidious assault on everything we have spent years developing. It's like finally buying and moving into your dream home and then finding a day or so later that the neighbours are too loud to bear.
    This is when poor behaviour has it's worst impact-the introversion of a teacher's aspiration, the futitlity of the hitherto effort. Why have I even bothered? What's wrong with me? I stand here serving nobody in this room.

    Get out. Don't grace them with your talents. Bide your time until the discovery of a school run by a Headteacher with behaviour at the front of their mind. Because that is a Headteacher who believes in the worth of your endeavour.

    Rare as hen's teeth, but there are some.

    (I wont detail how a school with other priorities spreads poor behaviour round like residual gravy on a plate. OP knows about this already)
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2019

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