Student teaching frustration

11093465225_95df3e80fa_mTeaching is my second career. I used to work for an environmental agency, but I’m having second thoughts about this switch. I took over for my cooperating teacher at the beginning of this marking period. I have a very diverse group of kids. Some are willing to cooperate, others very willing to test or disrespect me. I do not have a strong personality like my male co-op has. I’ve come to dread getting up and going into school. Is this typical during student teaching? I could use any input or advice you may have. –R. from California

Dealing with challenging students is not the exclusive domain of student teachers! Even after more than 25 years, I had students who were cooperative and those who “tested” me. My biggest aha as a beginning teacher came when I realized not to take it personally when students acted out or were disrespectful. It was eye-opening when I saw them try the same behaviors with experienced teachers. 

Without knowing your co-op and the students, it’s hard to say if they’re responding to you differently because of your gender. When you say you don’t have a strong personality, I suspect you mean that you’re not as loud or as physically imposing as your cooperating teacher. I’m female, short, and soft-spoken. At first, I had some students who only responded when I went on a wild-woman rampage (I think they found it very entertaining). So I had a talk with them about how I was taught to be polite to everyone and that was how I expected them to treat me and each other. It took a while for some students to adapt to that expectation. (At least you have the advantage of life experiences–I was 21 when I was student teaching and not much older than the students!)

You’re also the new kid on the block, and some students will want to find out which buttons to push. In my first year, I really struggled with one class in particular. I dreaded that class and was ready to quit in October! But my principal worked with me to develop some classroom management routines and procedures that set up expectations for student behavior and success. 

The cardinal rule in classroom management is “the best defense is a good offense.”

Most students find science activities interesting, but many incidents happen during down times in the classroom–those few minutes at the beginning and end of the class and when transitioning between activities during class. Establishing routines for these times lets the students know what kinds of behaviors are expected and acceptable. These routines may take some time and modeling until they become automatic, but it’s worth it. (See the links below for specific ideas).

You’re taking over the class after students have had time with your co-op and his style and routines. Like many adults, students don’t always respond well to change (at least at first). The best advice I had from my student teaching supervisor was the “fair, firm, flexible, and friendly” mantra:

  • Fair–Listen to students, treat students equitably, communicate your high expectations, provide the guidance and learning activities to meet them, and celebrate when they do. 
  • Firm–Some decisions are yours to make as the adult professional. Majority rule is not always appropriate for the classroom. Be honest with the students about your reasons. (e.g., I realize that goggles can be uncomfortable and look dorky. But I’m concerned about your safety and following the rules will help to keep you safe. I wear them myself.)
  • Flexible–Be ready to change your mind if necessary or modify a routine that isn’t working. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Some issues are worth a followup but many are not. Snow days, pep rallies, fire drills–these all affect learning time, but we have to go with the flow as the saying goes. 
  • Friendly–Students don’t need an adult friend. They do need an adult with a sense of humor who will guide them, treat them with respect, model appropriate behavior, share her passion for science, and listen to them. Offering a friendly hello at the door, saying “please” and “thank you,” and making positive comments during class will pay off eventually. (Some veterans say that you shouldn’t smile for the first semester. I could never be that way.) 

Teaching can be a rewarding career, so I hope you hang on. If you have specific issues, our colleagues on the NSTA e-mail lists and discussion forums are gold mines of suggestions and support. 

Here are some suggestions on routines from previous blogs:






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