For the last month or so I've been working a long-term sub placement. It's been a learning experience. I was warned before I started that the class was tough. The first few days were lovely.
Then the brawls started. These are third graders. I had no idea.
Apparently, this teacher I'm subbing for is so good with the "difficult" kids that they've all been moved into her classroom over the course of the year. She has 27 students, while the other teachers in the grade have fewer than 23 each. At first I dealt with disturbances in the classroom, since I didn't feel that punishment would do any good (the kids know right from wrong, and punishment really only teaches that and nothing else). After week three, I would send kids who wouldn't stop fighting to the office to cool off so I could continue teaching, but not to have a talk with anyone from administration. The school's secretaries, who are wonderful, would send one or the other kid to the social worker if they couldn't cool off after awhile. Otherwise, they'd get sent back to class and all would be well for a bit.
I've had two different children tell me that the adults in their lives have told them that they must always punch other kids back, even if the only thing exchanged up to that point was words. Just as their regular teacher has done, I've enforced the notion that at school we don't hit back, no matter what. I've told them to come to me and we can solve the problem instead of fighting about it. They don't believe it's possible to solve things without fists or feet, which I know their regular teacher doesn't stand for.
The other students tell me that my two biggest problems are 1) I'm not very tall, and 2) I don't have a voice as loud as their regular teacher. Great, two things I can't change. For the record, my voice isn't exactly quiet, but it's not as loud as they're used to.
Most of the kids are fabulous, but the 5 or 6 who are having difficulty take up all my energy and most of my attention. This is not some school in a blighted neighborhood. This is a school with a good reputation, loads of high-achieving students, and supportive administrators.
I have asked other people to come observe me to help me figure out what I'm doing to contribute to the problem. I have some ideas of how to do positive things with the kids who are struggling behaviorally, which I'll be trying next week (thank you, teacher across the hall, for all your super advice! You rock!). The teacher whose sub I am has been in frequent communication with me. The class' student teacher from earlier in the semester has been in the building this whole time on another placement, so I've been able to get histories from her and her observations from a longer period of time.
I feel incompetent often throughout the day. I know I can handle two or even three challenging kids in a group as large as 30. But dealing with 5 or 6 of them in between all the pull-outs they get for various reasons is really making me question myself. Everyone I talk to tells me I'm handling it about as well as could be expected, but it's so hard to be a good teacher when you feel a little more like a jail warden.