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Teaching Tips & Tricks, Uncategorized   |   Oct 21, 2011

Handling the stress of getting a new student unexpectedly

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Handling the stress of getting a new student unexpectedly

By Angela Watson

You’re in the middle of teaching your class and there’s a knock on your door. With no warning, you’ve gotten a brand new student. He has a nasty look on his face and refuses to smile or shake your hand when you greet him.

Haven’t we all been there?

When you get a new student in the middle of the year, your automatic thoughts may include ideas like these:

I should not be interrupted during lessons. I can’t possibly take any more students because this class is already overcrowded and too hard to handle. This student is clearly uncooperative and a troublemaker. He’s going to make my job harder. I can’t believe this is happening. This year just keeps getting worse and worse.

When you think those thoughts—even if you’re not aware they’re running through your head—you give rise to various emotions like irritation, anxiety, mild panic, exhaustion, and anger. The process of emotion following thought can happen in the blink of an eye, so quickly and automatically that you may not even be aware that your thoughts were the catalysts for your feelings. And yet it’s true: negative emotions largely arise out of negative thoughts.

getting-a-new-student-in-the-middle-of-the-year

If your thoughts about the student are different, your emotions will also be different. Your automatic thoughts might play out this way:

Wow, that was a surprise. Although I’m not prepared for another new student, I can see that this kid is very apprehensive and insecure about being here. I want to welcome him as warmly as possible to let him know he’s safe in our room and can drop the attitude. Though I’m not thrilled about having another student in this class of 32, I know he’s been placed in my room for a reason, and he might accomplish great things under my care. Rather than dwell on this new challenge and make myself feel overwhelmed, I’m just going to get the student settled and get right back to teaching my lesson.

Thought systems like this are likely to result in initial feelings of mild annoyance (but not anger) and after a few moments, feelings of confidence and purpose.

An external event cannot create feelings of indignation, frustration, or rage. Only your thoughts and beliefs about the situation create those feelings. That’s why some teachers get new students and barely seem to break their stride, while others mope and complain dejectedly about how they can’t deal with another kid and all the extra effort a new student requires.

This is a very important and empowering concept, because it means YOU have total control over how you feel. No person or situation can make you feel upset. The stress reaction that you experience stems directly from the thoughts and feelings you create.

If you’re stressed out or experiencing negative feelings, that’s an indication that your thoughts have been negative. The instant you start to feel unhappy, worried, or depressed, start thinking about what you’ve been thinking about. Your unhealthy feelings are actually beneficial if you look at them in this way; they give you insight into your unconscious beliefs and automatic thought system that you might otherwise fail to notice.

When I start to notice a bad mood or unpleasant emotions creeping in, I often use a bit of sarcasm to help myself make the connection between my thoughts and feelings:

I feel so irritable right now—everything is getting on my nerves. Why could that be? Oh, what a coincidence! I was JUST making a mental list of everything I did for that parent and replaying how all she did was ask for more favors. No wonder I don’t feel like being around people when I was so focused on the thought “no good deed goes unpunished!”

I don’t feel like doing ANYTHING right now. What could have caused that? Oh, duh! I was just thinking about how little sleep I’ve gotten the last few nights and how much I have to do. I made myself feel overwhelmed by harping on how much I need sleep instead of just focusing on what’s happening in this moment.

This tongue-in-cheek attitude gives me power over my negative feelings instead of vice versa. And unlike harsh self-criticism, this method weakens the influence of my feelings rather than weakening the way I feel about myself.

By learning to examine your thought system, you can identify which ideas and processes are constructive and which are not, and slowly begin to replace unhealthy mental habits with more effective ones. If you’re feeling guilty or ashamed about your negative emotions (or about the way you express them), you’ll find that these feelings lessen considerably when you know that your identity is not in your feelings. You will have the power to observe your emotions and recognize their source in your thoughts, rather than identify with them and use them to define and condemn who you are.

This post was an excerpt from my latest book, Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching. You can read sample chapters and more here.

Does your school allow students to enroll in the middle of the school day and send new kids to the classroom while you’re teaching? Do you have new students show up unexpectedly at your door? How do you deal with getting a new student in the middle of the year?

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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Discussion


  1. Yes, my school brings the student to class no matter when–sometimes it’s the middle of lunch! I try to put on a happy face because it’s definitely not the student’s fault. It doesn’t look professional to frown and sigh and act upset in front of the parent or your administration. This might be the only time all year long that you see that parent, too. If their child is difficult, you’ll need the parent to be on your side when you have to call them. So, the best way is to smile, welcome the child, shake hands with the parent, and deal with any “issues” (such as a lack of desks, chairs, books, supplies, or space in the classroom) later with your administrator. Make sure to find out the child’s lunch status (have they paid for or eaten lunch already?) and how the child goes home (bus #, car rider, walks home, etc.). I have welcomed a child in front of their parents, and as soon as possible, I’ve dealt with overcrowding issues later, out of the parent’s and child’s ear-shot. Imagine how you would like your own child initially treated by a teacher–with love, concern and compassion, and a welcoming smile. It’s not always easy, but a little self-control on the teacher’s part can reap benefits later.

    1. This is such great advice! You’re so right about setting a good first impression, and not taking the bad timing out on the student who had no control over the situation. I’m really glad you shared this info with everyone. 🙂

  2. Fortunately our district does not allow students to join the class the day they enroll — they enroll one day and join the class the following day. That (usually!) gives the teacher time to prepare for the new student. I just got a new student Friday. I was notified Thursday afternoon via an email from our secretary. So I had time Thursday after school to locate another desk and gather folders, notebooks and reading books that the new student would need.

    My very first year teaching my principal brought a new student in to “meet the class” when he registered who would be starting the following day. Most of the time I don’t meet or see the child until the day they are supposed to start. Yesterday when my new kiddo started I got to meet her and her parents in the morning before the other students came and provided her family with a short tour of our classroom and school. That was kind of nice because we rarely get to do that.

    I read “Awakened” this summer (which you know because I blogged about it!) and I have to admit my quest to be positive is really paying off. I am MUCH HAPPIER being a glass half full kind of gal.

    1. Hi, Sunny! What a great policy your district has! So much better for the teacher AND the students. Thanks also for sharing your feedback about Awakened–much appreciated! I love to hear that it is improving teachers’ lives. 🙂

  3. Oh man, this is my biggest complaint. I’d just like at least a minute’s notice so I can get the kids working independently while the new student and I meet-and-greet. My district allows same day entry and every principal I have had has heard my plea for at least a head’s up. It was not always granted, but at least I felt better proposing an idea to better the situation. Your two scenarios of how your attitude can control the outcome is powerful. Thanks for the reminder! I especially like your thoughts of what a child can accomplish under my care!! Now that will stop any bad thoughts 🙂

    1. Something as important as introducing a child to his/her new teacher and classroom shouldn’t just happen haphazardly. It really sets the tone for the rest of the year and needs to be carefully planned out. I wish more principals understood this!

  4. Yes, my school brings new students to the classroom the moment they enroll. I have no warning, so I have no time to get a desk brought into my classroom and set up with textbooks etc. it is always an awkward time because they just arrive with the counselor and parents, I have to keep my class quiet while I am meeting the family and the new student. I wish our school enrolled the child one day, gave the teacher time to get the desk and supplies ready, then the student would enter the classroom feeling welcomed.

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