Banging My Head Against A Wall I Can’t See

Blank Sheet of Paper
Image by mark78_xp via Flickr

I’m tired.

I’m sore.

I’m frustrated and drained.

I know that teaching is a physically demanding profession, but I expected to feel better after my first day back following two weeks of enforced rest due to an ailing knee.

Instead I feel like I don’t want to face going to work tomorrow, particularly since the 8th grade class is my first period.

It is so important to get off to a good start with a class. That didn’t happen with the 8th graders. I only had one session with them before I got hurt and apparently I did not establish myself enough to carry over for the two weeks I was out.

Where my 6th grade class wanted to talk about my knee more than they wanted to follow my lesson plan, at least they acknowledged that I was there.

The 8th graders barely noticed that I was in the room. The dozen or so I was able to reach for the first part of the class joined in the socializing of the other 26 before it was half over

All my apprehensions about having to teach a large class for the first time in my career are coming true. I so much want to go back to teaching special education classes of twelve.

I have no idea how to walk into this class two weeks into the school year and establish routines, especially when I can’t get them to stop talking long enough for me to say hello.

When the bell finally rang after 43 minutes of near chaos, I was stunned when about half the students crowded around me asking what the homework was.

As I was sitting in my car after school, waiting for the Triple-A garage to come deal with a flat tire (yeah, it was one of those days) I heard someone in a radio story on NPR say that teaching is a constant process of recovering and learning from lessons that failed.

Today should have been one hell of an education.

First period tomorrow I have to do something different than what I did today and different from what I did twe weeks ago.

Right now I have no idea what that something is.

I hate feeling inept.

And I have no idea how I’m going to figure it out.

I hate feeling this empty.

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14 Responses to Banging My Head Against A Wall I Can’t See

  1. Play some music…Start with some images… ask some open ended questions about the images… I don’t know. do something unexpected… like don’t talk too much.

    Good luck… I feel your pain.

    my day was bad… sorta… but the bad part of the day was with adults and not kids.

    • Deven Black says:

      Thanks for the ideas, Janelle. The room this class meets in has absolutely no tech in it, not even an overhead projector. I try not to talk at all when I teach, but this room doesn’t even have a real blackboard. I’m going to ask my principal to drop in to observe me tomorrow. Maybe he’ll have an idea what I can do.

  2. @blairteach says:

    My suggestion is to treat your return as the “new” beginning of the school year. Tell the students that it is unfortunate you only had one day with them before your absence began and that now “we” (you and the class) have to start from the beginning and establish the expectations, rules, procedures, and routines. It might also help to ask for their suggestions on how to get the year off to a good start (after the initial seemingly false start). Their input can be invaluable and it increases their buy-in and willingness to conform. Instructionally, it is important to have an engaging lesson that taps into their interests.

    • Deven Black says:

      Thanks for the comment and ideas. Treating today like it was a new beginning is what I was trying to do while I was being so thoroughly ignored. I was looking for them to help me re-start the year (I even learned their names while I was out) but they acted like they couldn’t hear me. Its hard to tap into their interests when they don’t give me a chance to get to know them.

      I’m going to try again tomorrow, do something different. Just have to figure out what I can do with no tech at all in the room, not even an overhear projector.

  3. Tim Lauer says:

    Came across your post form a post on Twitter. Sorry to hear about your knee and the resulting situation of coming into class 2 weeks into the year. Am sure tomorrow will be better than today. Am sure they are glad to have you are back. Best wishes…

  4. Hadass Eviatar says:

    First of all, let me give you a big hug, Deven. This is *so* disheartening. I totally feel your pain. This is how it feels to substitute in a Grade 8 class, I assure you. That is how they are treating you, because, as you say, you did not have time to establish yourself as their teacher.

    Do you have a projector in the classroom? Can you set up some sort of movie clip or something to grab their attention and get them to stop talking, and then follow up with some kind of assignment that is related to it? Maybe then you can segue into the conversation about routines and classroom climate and all the rest of it.

    Good luck … you will figure it out.

  5. Harold Shaw says:

    Deven – grab their attention tomorrow, be the teacher you were on the first day of school. I am facing the same thing next week, my first day in the classroom after a month of school for them, so I am going to have to do something “interesting”.

    Pretend that it is the first day of school again, because for you it really is.

    Just look at it as one of those days, don’t get to down on yourself and keep plugging away. You’ve had those days before and you will have them again. Just have fun and start showing them things that they can use.

    You will probably be saying this to me next week, so keep going and things do/will get better.


    • Deven Black says:

      Harold, That’s what I tried to do today, but I was not able to get their attention at all. I really felt invisible. What level do you teach?

  6. Hadass Eviatar says:

    Oooh, no tech, that’s tricky. What have they been doing while you were out? Maybe you need to get nasty and schedule a test on that material really soon, and offer a review. Sometimes with Grade 8s nice guys finish last.

    Here’s a thought. On the assumption that you have a blackboard and chalk, write the word “Respect” really big on the board before they come in, and assign, FOR MARKS (that should get their attention) an essay on the subject. How should people treat teachers, parents, fellow students? Have they ever felt disrespected and invisible? What did they do about it? Etc.

    There might be an opening for a discussion following this …

  7. Michael J says:


    You might want to try this. It’s a bit from left field, but worked pretty well for me in a very similar situation.

    Give them a writing assignment in class. I’m not sure of the exact prompt. But the critical part is to tell them you are going to collect the assignment at the end of the class. Probably what will happen is that about 50% will do it with no problem. 30% will have to be coaxed and 20% will blow you off.

    For very next day, prepare a chart with each students name and a check mark if they did the assignment. If possible distribute to each student. Then repeat the assignment with a different or related prompt.

    Repeat the next day with the addition of a place at the bottom for their parents contact information and signature. They have to take it home and have momma sign it and if possible give you all the contact info.

    Next day collect the signed sheets. Probably you’ll get about 50%. Then lots of excuses. Say fine. Do it again with a different prompt.

    Next day distribute the same chart. This time, put on language that says “Any Student who misses a total of three assignments during the semester will automatically fail, no matter what else they have accomplished. Again send it for signature at home.

    When I tried I got about 85% work compliance in about a week. With the other 15% get the AP involved. It will probably need an AP meeting with the parents.

    I think the real trick is to prepare the charts the very next day.

    • Deven Black says:

      I like this idea, and my AP says I can do it. Meant to try it this AM but other ideas worked. I’ll save this for the next time I need heavy artillery.

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