Today I was removed from the class I have been teaching since August ostensibly because they need help with the end of year projects. The real reason is because I simply can’t control them.
This year was the first time I’d ever taught full-time in a school. I’ve worked for months at a time in the UK, but never from summer to summer. I’d never developed a relationship that had to sustain discipline and order for an entire year. So, I didn’t give it much thought this year. So I failed.
As it is, I tried to be the friendly-funny teacher it’s easy to be in a seasonal school. No, not just that – I was myself in class, and in real life I am friendly, kind of funny and more than kind of disorganised. When I began to have discipline problems, I resorted to threats and anger. This is not the way to go. Not even a little bit.
Don’t get me wrong: my failure didn’t turn 28 angels into 28 monsters. It doesn’t work like that, either. It was a difficult class, which I was assigned since, and I quote “we figured a man could handle it”. Putting aside the implied sexism, they were wrong. Other teachers have problems with that class, but I have the most. They don’t respect me, they don’t like me and they don’t want to do my work. Those students who are eager to improve their English are stupider due to my relationship with the class monkeys and their accomplices.
I do feel guilty about this. I really do. I’ve spent the months since my failure became apparent trying to fix it. The truth is, as I said before, once you lose that relationship, it’s almost impossible to get back.
So, what would I have done differently? Well, I would have spent an early class building a class contract with the students. I grade and return within x days, all weekend work taken on Tuesday in return for not standing/leaving class, no cell phones, finishing work etc. I would have set a routine for the beginning and end of every class. I wouldn’t have asked them not to behave like monkeys.
So, what have I learned? Well, I’ve learned that teaching teenagers is hard. Duh, right? It’s a real juggling act to be someone they respect/like but will also work for. It’s something I need to work on.
I prefer teaching adults. I’ve learned that. Adults have their own motivation (or the government who pays their unemployment cheques) and work as much or as little as they are able. It’s easier to develop a relationship, and when there are issues of discipline, the rest of the class are your allies, not your enemies.
Do I still want to teach teenagers? Good question. Honestly, I don’t know. The other 11-18 year olds I’ve taught haven’t been as bad as that one particular class. But, again, those were classes I taught for shorter periods of time. I’m hoping to get another, similar role in Mexico City next year. I think I’ll spend that time making my decision. Right now, I’m feeling like a failure and I’ve been struggling with my depression lately. I may not be a good teacher, but I’m smart enough to know that it’s not a good time to make a big life decision.