My last year as a 5th grade teacher we were warned, in a friendly way ,of course, as these warnings tend to be. “Oh, you will have your hands full…” Oh, THAT group is coming up.” My team and I had seen these kids come up through the years, that is the beauty of elementary school. Yes, we had seen the tantrums, the fighting, the crazy behavior that made many label this group as the worst in (insert however many) years. But we also had seen the kindness, the energy, the fun that these kids projected and knew that while we may have our hands full, the year with them would be a year where we would always strive to look for the good, rather than the bad because although the bad was so easy to spot, it should not define a group of kids. Sure there were days where we could not believe what was going on but what I remember most about that year was how incredible the kids were. How much fun we had. How there were these incredible lows but also days that were some of the best of my teaching career. My team would agree with me on this. Yes we had THAT group but also loved THAT group.
Every year since then I have taken that same pledge; to always look for the good first. To always praise, to always point out how great of a group this group is. To change the group narrative in some small way. To always assume that this will be an incredible year no matter the reputation of a group. I think it is so easy to fall prey to the notion of the worst class ever. I think it is so easy to just want to get through a year as quickly as possible, I know there are days that seem never ending where we question everything we do. Yet when we do, we forget something very important; not every kid is going to have a bad day every day. Not every kid is going to have a bad class every class. Sometimes it may seem like this is the toughest day yet, but that too shall pass and just like we hope for a better day tomorrow, so do the very kids we teach.
When we let the actions of a few define an entire group, we are dismissing the individuals that make up that group. We are dismissing the kids that come to school hoping that today will be a good day. Hoping that this is the year they can finally escape the reputation that seems to follow them. As a parent I shudder at the thought of my own children’s class being labeled as the worst in however many years, because how do you ever change that? How do you stop a child from believing that they are horrible when that is what they hear whispered?
So today, much like every day, I will look for the good. I will praise the kids for all of the amazing things I see and yes, there may be ill decisions and tempers flaring, but those will be handled on an individual basis. I will not let the actions of a few tell the tale of the whole. And I will tell my kids, much like I do almost every day, that I have the best job in the world, that I cannot wait to come back tomorrow even if today was tough. Because it is true. We get to teach and teaching is only for those who can see the good in kids, no matter how much a child cannot see it themselves. We get to teach, which means that we d believe that this is the year a new narrative can be written. That this is not how a year will be.
No children should be told that they are a horrible group of kids. They are kids period. And we owe it to them to see beyond their reputation and re-invent their group identity. That is why we teach, that is why we have the best job in the world.
I am currently working on a new literacy book. While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher. The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge. So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.
9 thoughts on “The Worst Class in (X) Years”
Thank you so much for your thoughtful and kind post. It is such a good reminder for all teachers, because it is very hard to tune out the warnings that you hear from your colleagues. Your students are so very fortunate to have you as their teacher!
Having just survived one of “those” classes, I was very heartened last week when I had to interact with them because their teacher was out and no sub had arrived. I had picked up my class of 4th graders and reported that the 5th grade class was not picked up. This class moved as a unit from my 4th grade last year to 5th this year. I offered to bring them in, but not having room enough for both classes in my room sat them in the hallway outside my door to wait for the sub to arrive. I was so proud to see them sit down, take out work/reading materials, and quietly occupy themselves for at least 20 minutes. No sound, no chatter, totally and responsibly engaged. The sub came, they went off, and I beamed. So no matter the reputation, the angst, and the frustration they incite, “those” classes do eventually mature and take their places in the world. Thank you Pernille for this reminder that at anytime we can all be part of “those kids”.
I taught kindergarten for many years, Pernille…and always entered the school building with exactly your attitude…I always felt that the time children needed to be they are loved is when they are behaving in the most unlovable way. I had never heard it expressed so beautifully as you do: to see the good in kids, no matter how much they cannot see it themselves! WOW! And yes, every educator needs to have this as their mantra: Change the group narrative in some small way. Thank you so much for an inspiring post!
It took me a few years to realize I didn’t want anyone’s negative feelings about my incoming kids to color my thoughts. My rule now is that if you have positive things to tell me about them, I can’t wait to listen. Otherwise you have to wait at least two weeks into the school year. I want to get to know and love my kids before I take on anyone else’s negative feelings about them. At that point I can listen to other’s concerns and frustrations and possibly use that information to help me help the kids. But I have to love them first and that doesn’t usually take me long.
I always loved getting “those kids” – what one teacher described as a touch challenging primary boy, I saw leadership potential. He’s currently captain on a jr hockey team and getting ready to go to Michigan tech (a great hockey-player development school). Open mindsets matter!
A great reminder of something every teacher/educator should take to heart! I am guilty of occasionally labelling a class as less-than stellar, to my shame. I have also defended “that class” to other teachers, and of seeing the maturity level grow by leaps and bounds over a year or a summer. I do enjoy the less-than stellar classes more than the stellar ones to be completely honest. Their personalities and groupd dynamics come through much clearer and I gain a better understanding of them as individuals.
I found your post to be very interesting and well written. I am currently teaching in the “worst group of kids” year and also have heard time and time again about all the behavior issues this group has. I agree that we can’t contribute to the buy in that now and forever these children will “be bad!” I will be proactive to allow the students who wake up believing that today is going to be a great day, that it really can be. Thanks for your post!
I love this post! Last year, some of the teachers at my school figured out how to see their class roster for the following year. They were so excited to share this with me but I decided I didn’t want to know anything because I was afraid that they would all start giving my positive and negative feedback on the children I would be having. I was new to my school last year so I knew they would really want to let me know. I realized it was not going to matter because they were going to be mine, and my personality is I treat my students as if they were my own children. Also, every child or group learns and acts differently with each teacher. Finally, I learn to adapt with the group I have. Some groups are chatty, some are lazy, some are difficult, and some are the dream class that everyone wished they had. The point is, my personality is different from others and even though the “worst group” may have been the worst, may not be with me.