We all have a rough year sometimes. Some years are amazing, like a dream. The kids are a good mix and the parents are supportive. You feel like you can reach all the students. Everyone works and grows. And you leave the year feeling like you made a difference. You feel like you touched lives. You feel like what you did matters and you were appreciated.
And some years that dream just… isn’t. Some years the students in your class don’t mix well. You may not have much (or any) parental support. Some years the parents work against you. The demands of the students are simply more than you can conquer each and every day. You do your best, but it is hard. You wonder if what you are doing everyday matters. And you don’t feel valued or appreciated. It is just… harder.
First of all, we always call Kindergarten potluck because we simply do not know what will walk through that door until it happens. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it isn’t good. The truth about a rough year is… it happens. These years may not be the most fun, but that is what they are. You have to teach yourself to have. You have to help mold them into the best learners they can with the time frame you are given. It is more challenging and more trying.
These years do not mean that your job is not important, in fact, the opposite is true. This is the year your students need you even more. Your teaching craft is the most needed. This is the time to work the hardest you have ever worked, and try things you have never tried. Dig deep… then deeper… and then dig even deeper. They need more of you than you have ever given.
I know that God chooses each and every student on your roster. Every name was hand-picked by Him to be placed in your care for the next 180 days. Now, you do not have to know why they are in your care. Knowing God entrusted them to you is a powerful thought.
It Isn’t the Students, it is the Mix of Students’ Personalities
Every teacher has had a classroom with different and challenging dynamics from time to time. Some of you perhaps this happens more often than not. If a teacher says they have not, they are not being honest with you. We all have had a few rough groups. Most of the time it isn’t the actual kids’ students themselves, rather than how the students’ personalities mix (or therefore don’t mix) in a group setting.
Evaluated or Addressed Issues
Some of our students have never left their families before and are unsure of a classroom setting, even simple things like getting in a line are shocking. Bathroom protocol or going through a lunch line can be mind-blowing and a seriously trying time for their sensory system. Some of our students have never been in a classroom of 20 or more students. They simply can not understand why you can’t stop to tie their shoe or solve their every problem the second they tell you about it. Some of our students have serious issues or developmental needs that have never been evaluated or addressed.
Then we must keep in mind that it is not easy to address and help solve social issues, but it is in the best interest of your class and future classrooms to do this as soon as possible. You also have to separate intentional, hurtful behaviors from native, innocent behaviors that stem from a lack of understanding. The teacher has to set an excellent, unwavering balance of self-control and empathy.
We have to do the paperwork, the meetings, and the leg work to find the correct underlying issues and address them correctly in our classroom. This means, we also have to collect the data attached to a variety of strategies. We do this tirelessly, even though it is exhausting because it is in the best interest of our students.
What Do You Do When You Have a Rough Year?
Therefore, my advice for when you have a rough year is to get through it. Work as hard as you can each and every day. Try your best. Never give up. Focus on what you are doing right and the positive attributes that are occurring. Surround yourself with others too who you can vent to let out your frustrations, but also inspire you to keep reaching out to your students.
Now, work on building those relationships. A teacher who has deep, meaningful relationships reach their students on a very different level. And students who feel valued and heard by the teachers will work harder for you.
Then, make sure your lesson plans on rock solid. You can not have a day filled with holes in your lessons. My guess is you most likely can not even turn your back on your class for 30 seconds to pull a resource off your bookshelf. You have to be ready with rock-solid lesson plans for the whole day. Plan ahead for those small transitions and plan ahead for if anyone finishes early. Make sure your lesson plans are activities that are highly engaging and make your students WANT to see what is going to happen next.
Student Problems Verses Parent Problems
Next, you have to separate a parent problem from a student problem. You can not allow what a parent does or does not do to have a negative effect on your student. If they do not have supplies or required materials, you have to find a way to get each student what they need anyways. If their parent does not read newsletters, help students complete homework, or sign the paperwork, you have to find a way to include that student anyways. This always requires more of us because we have to go out of our way to make extra phone calls home, extra notes, reminders, and extra contacts to get what we need. But in the end, it is worth it.
The Next Year
Most of all, when you have a rough year, there is two great take always from having a rough group of students. The first takeaway is that having tougher groups makes you a better teacher. It almost forces you to think outside the box and get creative. Your problem-solving skills to teach the kids you have will skyrocket. And the last great takeaway is you will always appreciate a good group of students that much more.
Finally, I had a student one year that weighed and weighs heavy on my heart… Here is what happened to me when I had A Student Worth Fighting For.