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Mindset & Motivation   |   Nov 21, 2013

What to do when you get the “class from hell”

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

What to do when you get the “class from hell”

By Angela Watson

It’s a difficult phenomenon to describe to non-educators, but classroom teachers will instantly know what I’m referring to–having a group of students that just don’t click with you and are extremely difficult to handle, usually with more than the average extreme and violent behavior issues tossed into the mix. These experiences seem to suck the joy out of the work you love and make you question why you ever entered the profession in the first place. Here are 5 pieces of advice if you’re facing that situation right now:

1) Stop commiserating with teachers who had your students last year.

If your students’ prior teachers have any helpful advice, you will have already heard it within the first week or two of school. The only thing you’re doing with them now is complaining and rehashing all the horrible things that the students have ever done. Let the past be the past: this will open you up to recognizing change in your students and perceiving them as capable of improvement.

2) Recognize that group dynamics and individual behaviors WILL change.

You’ll have new kids transfer into your class and others transfer out, shifting the dynamics of your class continually. The addition or subtraction of just one kid can make a huge difference in how the whole class behaves and how you feel about your work. Also, individual student behavior often changes a lot throughout the school year as students mature and as they experience shifts in their home and social lives. I can’t guarantee all the changes will be for the better, but take comfort in knowing that things will be different: current problems will go away and fresh challenges will arrive. Discouragement sets in when you envision yourself having to deal with exactly the same headaches for the entire school year–but that will never happen. Change IS coming.

3) Learn everything you can from your students: one “class from hell” year is worth three years of regular teaching experience!

After this year, you will know so much more than if you’d had a more typical teaching experience. You will have tried out so many different interventions and witnessed such a wide variety of issues that you’ll feel like a 30 year veteran by summertime. You’ll be experienced enough to deal with whatever issues are presented by next year’s class, and there’s a good chance that group will feel easy to handle in comparison.

4) Take big risks. Try new things. You have nothing to lose!

Many teachers don’t try different lesson ideas or behavior management systems because they’re worried about upsetting a delicate balance or ruining a good thing. You don’t have that problem. So, experiment with the reward system you were scared to try, test out a new room arrangement, or take a chance on redoing your daily schedule. This is the year for experimentation.

5) Refuse to make any decisions about your career based on one year’s class.

This is the single most important piece of advice I can offer you. When we get groups of students like the one you have (and we ALL have them at some point!), it’s very natural to think, “I can’t take this, I need to quit, I don’t want to teach anymore.” But here’s the truth: this will all be over in June. Keep telling yourself, “I can do anything for 7 more months.” Then you will get 6-9 weeks to recuperate and start fresh with a brand new class. This is only temporary–most people can’t say that about their jobs! You can do this! Do not be swayed from a career path you once loved based on a single group of students you’ll never have again.

I would love to read your stories. How have you coped with having a difficult class? What advice would you give other teachers facing that situation right now?

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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  1. Thanks for posting this. I am a new teacher. I am at a school where kids end up when they don’t have success at regular schools. I have the class from hell and that last piece of advice- #5- is hitting deep and hard.

    Experienced teachers- share what you know with an isolated new teacher who is not only dealing with the challenges of first year teaching, plus a school that neglected to invest in curriculum, but also intense behaviors, disrespect, and all the other issues that are normal in a public school. Help me (and others) stick with it and find some joy in our day-to-day lives.


      1. I had a group one year that did not like to work. Sometimes when we did worksheets I would mark some of the worksheets on the back with a sticker or a mark. Whoever got the marked sheet got a prize. Just remember to change up how you mark the backs.

      2. Wow, thanks for posting this. I had a “class from hell” two years ago and it nearly did me in. I had taught for 12 years prior to that and it was the first time I had questioned my abilities. On top of having every “behavior problem” from the 3 classes the year before all in one room (those who weren’t were moved into my class during the school year because I could “handle them”) I had one student whose 2 year old brother was accidentally killed when he tried to take a loaded gun away from him, which as you can imagine only added to the stress of the year for both me and the students. At the end of the school year a computer lab position opened up and I moved to that the following year and love it. Not sure if I would have been able to risk another year like the one I had.

        1. Moving to another position is always smart. Why stay somewhere and suffer? It is just not worth it. I am hoping my school does not have enough special ed students which means a teacher will have to go somewhere else. I am going into my third year of hell. I have an administrator type person who is a perfectionist. I try to constantly tell myself and new comers that my school is great and the people are team players… I am glad you are happy. I want to get happy.

    1. Elicia, I love what you said about reaching out to to other teachers. This can be a very isolating profession, and having another teacher who cares can make such a big difference.

      1. These issues are NOT normal in Public schools. There are many wonderful well run public schools. Reach out to experienced teachers, your principal and your supt. It’s hard to ask for help but you will not get it without asking. Celebrate each little success and hang in there. Every new year is another new beginning.

        1. This is normal in any school whether it be public, private or charter. There are behavior issues in any school. I have worked in suburban and inner-city schools and have these issues. I taught 6 years and have had 2 classes like this. It’s called luck of the draw.

        2. I’ve been in several different public school systems in several different towns/cities and it is in every public school system I’ve ever seen. I’d love to see one where there wasn’t an issue like this somewhere. Where do you teach?

  2. This is so what I needed to hear today.

    I am also a first year teacher. My class is full of behavior problems and a whole mess of other issues that clash with each other. Today, within the first 10 minutes I had 2 different sets of students arguing over ridiculous things. Other teachers even shake their head and apologize when they find out that I have not one, not two, but several of these troubl

    I keep telling myself that I always hear teachers talk about “that one class” and I just happened to be so lucky to get it on my first year. So next year will be easy peezy right??

    1. Yes, I *do* think next year will feel easier to you in comparison to this year! And don’t stress out worrying about whether you’ll get “that class” again next year…that’s extremely rare. I had two of “those classes” in my eleven years and they were spaced well apart. That seems to be the case for most teachers I know.

  3. Hi! thanks for this article…so true…I have been teaching 15 years and this is my 3rd class from h@*#.. In K, I have had suspensions, “boot camp”, and constant guidance interventions. Luckily in my school, we have a fabulous guidance team that works tirelessly to try to guide our troubled kids to see better ways. We have a Kindergarten “bootcamp”, which is 5, 10 or 15 days of intense following the rules (they use songs!) This is fabulous for 5 year olds. I had one child pulled from my class and our school because the parents were mad at us for this child biting, hitting, punching, etc other children. It was our fault…but, still I did breath a sigh of relief and so did many of my parents when this child left. I was sad at the same time, though…because I felt that Ihad tried so many interventions with this child and was making teeny tiny steps with this child. Anyway, most of our children have problems because of the parents…and lack of respect or time for their own kids….yikes…. I did find a great quote on Pinterest and it is tacked on my wall here at home and on my desk at school.. Look it up…it helps me everyday… “The Kids Who Need Love the most will ask for it in the most unloving of ways…” Hope my experiences and my school’s ideas will help some struggling teacher out there… I just remember that all kids are good…it is their environment that makes them who they are…we can help them to become better than that, but it is not easy…nothing really great is is it? Much love! 🙂

        1. Hi Frank. I would like to know more about this Kindergarten boot camp and which school system do you work for? This is an excellent idea and I think my school could benefit from something like that. Thanks.

  4. What a great post! That’s so true. I had a few tough classes but you do learn so much from them…… I think it’s also so easy to start assuming that “this class is just awful” and then projecting our lack of faith to the students. We have to try to combat that natural tendency & believe in their potential (even if they’re not living up to it now.) It’s so exciting a few years down the road to see students succeeding who used to be a huge challenge. (if you’re a first year teacher just keep this in mind. It may seem like you’re making no progress but you are making a difference. It just sometimes takes months or even years to see real results.)

    Angela, I hate to point this out but I think you’re missing the word “to” in your picture graphic.

    1. Linda, I’m really glad you said something about the typo before the image gets spread all over Pinterest and I feel even more embarrassed. Thank you!!

      Your point about projecting our lack of faith in students is a really importatn one, and I think it’s worthy of its own post. When we believe a class cannot change and is inherently “bad”, we train our minds to only see the bad, and we project an energy to students that makes them feel hopeless. Believing that students can and usually do improve is powerful.

  5. For those of you suffering this year, keep in mind you will also be likely to have classes that make you smile years later. I had one group of first graders I will never forget. My wish is for every teacher to have at least one group like them. On a tough day, I think back to them and remember the feeling. It keeps me going . . . 🙂 Anne

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