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What Should I Do About...

A Teacher Who's Out of Control


A teacher in Michigan writes
"I'm a third-year teacher currently assigned as a Title One support teacher for our elementary school. (My first two years, I taught in a regular 4th grade classroom.) I'm concerned about one of the 3rd grade teachers I work with -- or rather I'm concerned about her students. Her classroom is total chaos, and she doesn't seem to have any idea of what to do to control it. She rarely writes lesson plans -- and even more rarely follows the plans she writes. She just seems overwhelmed by it all -- and I can't even begin to imagine how her students must feel! I've tried making suggestions, sharing resources, and even modeling lessons, but she just doesn't seem to get it -- or know how to follow through. I don't know what else to do. I'm not her boss -- in fact, I've only taught one more year than she has -- and I'm not even sure it's my place to go to her boss. Should I say something about the situation? What? And to whom?"

A veteran teacher from Florida responds
"Michigan teacher is in a tough spot. As a professional, she's obligated to report situations in which children are in unsafe situations, as well as to address situations in which they're not receiving an appropriate education. However, even though she seems confident in what she's observed, it's possible that things might not be as they seem. Different teachers have different teaching styles, and students have different learning styles. I have known excellent teachers, whose classes have appeared to be in total chaos, but whose students were learning and retaining much more than in more orderly classes.

What Would You Do?

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"If this teacher is sure that's not true in this case, however, she has a new problem, in that going to a superior could be seen as a betrayal of the teacher's confidence in her. If we mentor someone in our district, for example, unless there's abuse going on, we don't act administratively -- it's not our job and doing so would pollute the mentoring relationship.

"I applaud that she first tried to help and model for the beleaguered teacher. If she's not in that type of a relationship with the teacher, however, I think she might have a general conversation with an administrator at the school, in which she expresses her concern about some of the classes in the school. If things are as bad as they seem, the administrators should already know about it. Testing data also should reflect the problems."

A teacher educator from Pennsylvania replies
"There really is nothing this Title One support teacher can do in a situation like this, although I completely understand her concern and applaud her for wanting to help. Young students much prefer a disciplined environment. As this Title One support teacher rightly points out, the students are far from happy in, and obviously do not benefit from, a chaotic classroom.

"Over the years, I have occasionally worked alongside teachers who simply were unable to control a class. It never ceased to amaze me that such teachers could come to work day after day -- in some cases year after year -- only to be abused by their students.

"There's no simple solution. I knew a teacher who started out at a new school and who, for one semester, had perfect pandemonium in his class. Then, after the Christmas break, he completely turned the situation around and had the children eating out of his hands. To this day, I don't know what he did, except that I do know he discussed his problems with his principal and no doubt got good advice and appropriate encouragement.

"Mentoring also is important. The best schools team a new teacher with an experienced (master) teacher and this will more than anything help a new teacher settle in and do a good job in the classroom from day one.

"It's very likely the 3rd grade teacher's principal already is aware of the problem. If the principal is doing nothing about it, why then, that might be the reason this kind of situation occurs. But assuming the principal is aware of what's going on, other teachers have to trust that the administrative team, led by the principal, is doing whatever is necessary to help ameliorate the situation. The principal and his or her administrative team have the responsibility to set and maintain a "tone" in the school that is apparent to everyone, and that obviates most indiscipline on the part of students."

A resource teacher from Pennsylvania says
Yes, you definitely need to say something. It seems you have already talked to her and either she doesn't see what she is doing wrong or she doesn't want to change. Now, you need to go to her supervisor, whoever that might be. You owe it to the students to do that. You can explain that you have observed her class several times on and every time things have been out of control, she seems unprepared, and so on.

If the supervisor is doing his or her job, he or she is probably already aware of the situation -- and should be reviewing lesson plans, observing the teacher's class, and so on. It's the job of the supervisor to support all teachers by giving them ideas on how they can improve, and to make sure there is follow-through on the teachers' part.

If talking to the supervisor doesn't help the situation, you might have to go further up the ladder until someone listens and pays attention. That might be the principal, department chair, director of instruction, superintendent, or someone else.

Another avenue is to work through the parents of the children. If you know any of them personally, you could have them complain to the principal, superintendent, or board of education. It seems if a parent or two complains, people take notice.

You probably feel that you should mind your own business; that it isn't your place to tell on another teacher. In the long run, however, you are doing the teacher a favor...she either will become a better teacher because of you or find another job. Either way, she will be happier. Also, you will be rescuing hundreds -- if not thousands -- of students from enduring what the current class is dealing with. You owe it to the students to find the courage to report the teacher and help her to grow.

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Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
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