ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Classroom Management: A teaching memoir

Updated on December 21, 2008

Classroom Management

Classroom management was the key buzzword in teachers' college when I went back to school to learn to become a teacher after a first career as a woodworker. I remember being disdainful of the philosophy of education that seemed implicit in the term, seemingly a philosophy based on control, organization and business. My image of teaching was much closer to the Socratic picture of peripatetic dialogue among the olive groves, a calm, honest search for the truth conducted with mutual respect among convivial colleagues and students. My first teaching position at a Sacred Heart girls' school in Omaha, Nebraska was enough like this description that I sailed through my first four years in a new career with undiminished enthusiasm. True, I wasn't in Greece and none of us had Plato or Aristotle's intellect, but I did manage to feel like we were engaged in learning significantly motivated by passion and the desire to understand the world. The girls were cooperative and patient with my inexpert methods. But this position came to an end when my wife accepted the position of Curator of Programs and Exhibitions at Yale University. When Yale calls, people come.

In Connecticut, I immediately sent my resume to many private schools and looked into teaching in the public schools as well. The agency of the State of Connecticut looked suspiciously at my Nebraska teaching credential, four years of experience teaching in a High School, three years of teaching as a graduate student and my all-but-dissertation PhD in the Philosophy of Education. They required me to go back and take a course in American History, which somehow I had failed to do in 10 years of higher education. While I was taking the course at Southern Connecticut State University to satisfy the credentialing requirement, I taught a course in World Religions at Norwalk Community College (a great pleasure, by the way, because the students were mostly adults returning to school, genuinely interested in the subject and intent upon maximizing their opportunity for its own sake). But then a full-time position fell out of a tree, literally.

I was called by the Principal at Portland Public High School for an interview. They needed someone to substitute for a full year for a teacher who had fallen 75 feet from a high branch of a tree. To earn extra income during the summer, he worked as an arborist, but the inherent danger of his second job had caught up with him. The force of the fall had broken his arm so severely that he had actually shoved the bone into the ground. The result was very slow to heal; a bone infection had set in and was proving intractable to antibiotics. One man's disaster is another's opportunity. It was strange to profit so directly from someone else's misfortune, but there it was. I saw my opportunity as a proverbial "foot in the door." They wanted me to teach four sections of English: one senior honors World Literature class, one "regular" freshman class, one junior honors class and one "regular" junior class. The teacher I was replacing was something of a master teacher. He was beloved by his students and the courses he taught were wildly varied. The senior literature class was small but was an amazing assemblage of talented students, indeed, as a whole they were the brightest I have ever had the privilege of teaching in sixteen years. The junior classes could not have been more different. While the honors section students were nipping at the heels of the talented seniors, the "regular" class was almost a teacher's worst nightmare. These students had one mission in life: torment teachers.

They arrived or rather slouched into class and sat down as if they awaiting their execution (or perhaps mine). They would throw their books down, sit with legs akimbo in every postural effort to demonstrate that they couldn't care less about the class. Their gelid eyes were alert to only one issue and that was how they could turn the tables of authority and humiliate me. The teacher's problem in this circumstance is existential. And although reliance on the bureaucratic power structure to keep order is a last resort, it is inevitable. The teacher knows that if he is to have any shred of credibility, he will have to confront at least one student and send him or her to the principal's office. The students know this as well, and they love to play the cat and mouse game of pushing the line. Of course the most talented student is always the one who is best at the game, and I was reluctant to alienate the one leader who could make the class intelligible if his loyalty could be enlisted. But that only happens in movies or perhaps in near miraculous circumstances. I had had one conversation with the teacher I was substituting for before the year began. and his words of advice regarding this particular section of students were "don't try to inspire them." At the time, what he had said made no sense to me because I still believed that my idealism could overcome all adversity. What he knew was something that I had yet to learn which was that the effort to inspire was an open door of weakness from the point of view of alienated students. For the teacher to care was a soft underbelly to be exploited, aped, ridiculed and finally humiliated. There was not a single student in the class who had anything like a proper attitude except perhaps one girl who seemed to play, perhaps out of pity, both sides of the fence. Naturally, it was she who I finally sent first to the principal's office for some snide remark. And like a dam bursting, in the following weeks, a virtual parade of students were dismissed to sit in lines at the main office waiting to be chastised by the vice-principal who was the lord of discipline. Two students were finally, permanently expelled and sent to a remedial vocational school of last resort. The conversation about "classroom management" began to make more sense to me even though it was a conversation that never really got to the bottom of why such students carried the attitudes and values they did in the first place. Instead it was a conversation about control, organization and discipline designed to allay the fears of existentially exposed new teachers. However, oddly enough, it wasn't this class that taught me the most poignant lesson about teaching and authority; it was my freshman class.

Teaching fourteen and fifteen year olds about the wonders of grammar and literature is not an easy task in the best of circumstances. Facing thirty such children in one classroom and keeping them "on task" (another buzzword from teacher's college) is no easy trick. I quickly realized that it was essential to start bringing students to order immediately and firmly with clear lesson plans in hand even before the bell had stopped ringing, if I were to get on top of classroom management. After a semester of honing this skill, I was beginning to congratulate myself on my bullying talent when a guerilla raider began to undermine my valiant efforts. She was a student from a neighboring classroom who somehow decided it was her favorite activity to run into my classroom at the last second and converse excitedly with a friend in the back row, and then after disturbing things a bit, she would run out to the classroom she was supposed to be in that hour. The first time she conducted her raid, I didn't think too much about it, but give a kid an inch, she will take a mile. In the course of one week, she must have played her game three times, and I began to get annoyed. So I made a plan to deal with the interloper: I would stand in the doorway as the bell rang and block her entrance. So the next day, I was smiling at my cleverness as I stood in the doorway, calling for order, and right according to plan the miscreant came running around the corner , pulled up short upon seeing me, but then tried to push past me to get to her friend in the back row. Putting my hands up in front of me, I said, "Hold on don't belong here." She was so intent on her friend, that she wasn't going to pay attention but I wasn't going to budge either. She jumped up in an effort to see past me and perhaps to squeeze by at the same time, but I blocked her with my hands and a wide stance. In doing so, I pushed her lightly on the shoulder and suddenly she stopped, looked at me as if for the first time, and then swung her fist with all her might and yelled at me, "Don't you f..king touch me." Her blow landed directly on my left cheek with full force.

I was stunned and simply gaped at her audacity in disbelief. Fortunately another teacher, directly across the hall witnessed the entire circumstance and quickly came to my aid by interposing himself between the girl and myself. She tried to elude him as well and yelled at me "come on, hit me back, hit me back!" She had her fists in the air as if she were in a boxing ring and being held back by the referee. The other teacher hustled her off to the principal's office while I turned, shaken, back to my students and tried to gather my wits. The students were concerned for my sake and expressed anger at the student who had hit me. We talked, amazed.

The upshot was that the offending student was suspended for a month and charged in juvenile court with assault. I was asked to explain the event to the board of education. I told my story and was treated with a modicum of sympathy, but it seemed also like I had in some way failed by even being party to such an occurrence. I was distressed on some level for months and reconsidered the profession of teaching. But time heals all wounds.

The happy ending to the story was that my resume caught the interest of a private girls' boarding school, and I was hired for the following year. I have now taught here for ten years, and I have left "classroom management" behind, at least as a primary existential teaching task. Where I teach now, discipline is a rare problem that can easily be handled with a poor grade or an after-class word with a student. On a good day, I can almost smell the olive groves.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • barranca profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Last night I was required to chaperone a "dance." If you haven't witnessed what passes for a dance these days, you are lucky. Incessant pounding beat, sweat and overt mastubatory rubbing everywhere. Futile teachers trying to maintain some standard of decency. Girl gets punched in the face by boy....etc. etc.

    • HubCrafter profile image


      8 years ago from Arizona

      I'm fascinated by the teacher's role, the view, the ideals.

      Professional teaching has never been a goal. But I love to share the enthusiasm and the joy of the living world. It's greys and blacks stand out against the black and white thoughts and the colorful dreams of youth.

      Being a very un-professional student has made me leery of administration, bureaucracy and what you've wonderfully described as, 'management'.

      There are still those who, like me, love to learn. And some still open to hear and gather up the breeze of ideas and people and places.

      I hope you'll stop by some time. Linda and I enjoy a good chat and chance to laugh with new friends.


    • barranca profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      People don't realize what pressure cookers schools are for all concerned. I can imagine your curiosity about her plan but disarming her as you did is also a great lesson.

    • vreccc profile image


      10 years ago from Concord, NH

      I'm glad this turned out well for you. I'm pretty sure I avoided a bad incident when I was teaching in Virginia. The one student that hated my guts all year came to see me on the last day of class while I was teaching another class. She was acting really weird. I immediately thought she was trying to muster up the courage to carry out whatever sinister plan she had. I brought her out into the hall and asked her if there was anything wrong. I think my directness and concern caught her off guard and she abandoned whatever she was going to do to me. Now I kind of wish she had done what she was going to do. My curiosity has the better of me.

      What was she going to do?????

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 

      10 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Great story. You're lucky she didn't pull a gun.

    • barranca profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Thanks robie2. I appreciate the high mark, never having gotten an A+ on anything.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 

      10 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Like your personal touch a lot--really great. I think you are part Socrates and part Mr Chips:-) In any case thanks for a delightful read. I give you an A+ on this one


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)