Who’s in Charge?

When a colleague compliments her teaching, Emma reflects on how her skills as a teacher-particularly regarding classroom management-have changed over the years. As she recalls her early challenges, she sees continued opportunity for growth as she matures as an educator.

Experienced teacher Emma Loring remembers her early challenges as a classroom manager.

Scene Photo

Emma’s classroom runs smoothly.

I gave Sharon a ride to the metro after school today, and on the way we chatted about how teaching is going for her. At one point, she looked at me admiringly and said, “You’re just a born teacher, aren’t you?” I had a good laugh at that one—and I’m still smiling.

It wasn’t always easy—and to tell the truth, it still isn’t. Face it: teaching is hard. Very hard. And some days are harder than others. Heck, some years are harder than others. But most of the time, I think I’ve got it down. Gone are the days when a student’s outburst could send me to the hall in tears. Yes, that happened a few times that first year, and it always left me feeling powerless and out of control.

If I’d had other options, I would’ve left the classroom behind. But maybe that’s not quite right; there was something in me, some tenacity, that kept me thinking and figuring and exploring. I’ve never liked giving up.

See, those first few years, I really, really wanted my students to like me. Now, I wouldn’t have put it that way then, but when a student gave me a hard time, I crumbled. If somebody said, “Your class is soooooo boring,” I’d go home wondering where I’d gone wrong and how to make it more fun—and scrap whatever plans I’d made to try something more “fun.” As if the choice were: like me or learn.

And that got me thinking: if I couldn’t take care of myself, well, I couldn’t expect my students to! That was absurd. So I began reading everything I could about classroom management, from Glasser to Kohn to Kounin to Dreikur to Jones. And so on. And not everything rang true. I tried different models, switching things up from week to week—probably confused my students more than anything else! But slowly, I began to hit my stride and figure out what works authentically for me.

When I started teaching, I thought I planned my lessons pretty well. And I did—for a novice teacher. It’s just, there were so many things to learn, content and routines—let alone school politics. I just couldn’t get them all at once. But once I understood the basics of classroom management, I turned my focus to instruction. And boy, what a difference that made! The two just go hand-in-hand, if you ask me.

I’m not saying I’ve got it down, but I’ve been teaching sixth and seventh grade social studies for so long I do think I’ve got a few good tricks up my sleeve. I can travel so much further with my students now that I’m not worrying about whether there’s going to be a problem (and there always was) or if they’re enjoying my class. I like kids and my content area—and I keep my eye on what I’m here to do: teach academic and socio-emotional skills. And guess what? I think my students like me—and I know they learn a lot in my class. You might even say they have fun.