Teaching 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.”