Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How will you get the meanest, nastiest, and rudest kid in the class to listen to you?

In a recent post, Miss Snuffleupagus says, "Good teachers know how to turn around the unteachable class: quickly determine who are the ringleaders, and get them on side. They will discipline the class for you. They will command the class' attention for you. They will even inspire the class to work for you." We couldn't agree more.

I interview hundreds of Canadian teachers a year for positions teaching in London, England. Each interview is a little different, but there is always the same theme. I ask the teacher what they do in order to teach in an incredibly diverse setting. I explain that a typical class in London will consist of 22-27 students, 90% may be from another country and a good 20-40% will speak another language at home. I explain that the classes are filled with different ability levels, and that their teaching will have to adapt to this type of classroom. Then I ask, "So, how do you teach in that kind of learning environment?"

And I always get the same answer. They say they will modify their lessons, differentiate for the various learning styles and use more visual cues for the ESL learners. These are perfectly good answers. But what I really want to ask is, "Ya but...how will you get the meanest, nastiest, and rudest kid in the class to listen to you?" That's really a better question to ask. But of course, I don't want to scare the good teachers away.

The reality is that kids in London (in general) won't just give you respect because you're a teacher. We have it really lucky here in Canada. We have a culture that values education (again, in general). We have a middle-class work ethic that mostly believes that in order to do better in life (get a job, buy a house, raise a family) one must go to school. So, as teachers, we don't have
too many battles to face when it comes to education. There are always exceptions of course. But in London, the kids know their rights.

The ring leader in the class will either love you or hate you and your day will either be a good one or a bad one depending on how your interaction with that one student goes. If you're really lucky, you'll have
many ringleaders and they'll be battling over your attention as the day goes on. So, what are you going to do?

If you're anything like Miss Snuffleupegas, you'll know what to do from the outset. You'll have that "x-factor" for teaching in inner city schools. If you're anything like me, you'll learn it soon enough. In my first year, I went in head-strong, determined to survive teaching in one of the toughest schools by being louder, sticking to my decisions and being a "strong teacher". Boy, was I wrong. My ringleaders stood up to me every chance they got. They didn't respect me. Why would they? I had to earn their respect.

The qualities of a good inner city teacher are very different from the qualities of a good suburban teacher in Canada. An inner city teacher loves diversity and a challenge. They want to know more about the kids lives and teach
these kids. They believe that every child deserves a solid education despite their own personal set-backs in life. They are determined to teach. To not just "contain the kids" or "manage the class", but to provide the students with the education they deserve. But you can't teach without having the ringleaders on your side. So you better figure out how to win them over and fast. Unfortunately, there is no set rule for how to do this. Each ringleader has their own personality. Luckily, they tend to stand out pretty quickly.

This is the most important lesson you will learn before you depart for teaching in London:"Teaching the unteachable class is like going into battle. Win your ringleaders, and you will win the war," Miss Snuffy.

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Thanks for sharing your two pence!

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