Is it possible to “win a class over”?

On a national teachers’ Facebook page, someone recently asked, “How do you win a class over?” He got hundreds of responses, most of which I didn’t read, because I don’t think that there’s an answer to that which would be appropriate for the space below a FB posting.

Plus, I don’t think he’d like my answer, because my answer is that you can’t tell/teach a person how to win a class over. You have to figure that out yourself, and what works with one class may not work for another. Heck, what works one day for a class might not work the next day for the same class.

Good teaching is a constantly moving target. Sometimes, winning a class over is simple: find the unspoken leader and win that student over. Sometimes, a class doesn’t even have to be won over, because they’re metaphorically yours from the very first day of school. Sometimes, it’s a struggle that can last the entire school year. I haven’t had a class like that in at least a decade—thank god—but I remember trying everything in my arsenal on that class. There were dynamics going on that I couldn’t figure out. Sometimes, winning over a class has less to do with the teacher and more to do with two or three students who are battling each other, and the class becomes the battleground. That’s what was going on in my challenging class from years ago—I at least figured that much out—but I never figured out how to get two small cliques to click.

They still learned a lot, and their AP test scores were high (which I remember because I was happily surprised), but the class never gelled.

I never won that class over.

To an outside observer, my classes look like they’re easy to teach. Don’t be fooled. I’m concerned about that, because I have guests in and out of my classes on a regular basis, and I’m always afraid it’s going to look like teaching is easy, but there’s not much that’s easy about it. It’s fun. It’s rewarding. It’s the best job I can envision me having: my dream job.

But it’s not easy.

Winning a class over can’t be taught. It can be learned, though. I know that sounds paradoxical—or maybe even nonsensical. Instead of all of the “reforms” (DEforms?) targeting teachers, if we just spent that time and energy getting struggling teachers into good teachers’ classes to observe, I think we’d see huge gains. I was blessed, because when I was getting my teaching certificate, I got to spend 100 hours observing the best, the type of teacher about whom movies could be made, the type of teacher who makes it look “easy,” but I wasn’t fooled—then or now.

He didn’t teach me how to be a good teacher. But I learned how to be one from him, anyway (that’s me making the assumption that I am a “good” teacher. I hope I am….)

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Posted in education, politics, teaching, teenagers
2 comments on “Is it possible to “win a class over”?
  1. Hannelore Porter says:

    As your mother I have to say “you’re a good teacher” ,otherwise you’ld have listened to me and found a better paying job. I know you could….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a former student, I must also confirm that you are indeed a wonderful teacher. That year was magic for me. But I know that this post isn’t about getting confirmation for your teaching 🙂 I completely agree that there is an art to each teacher finding his or her “way of being” in the classroom–it’s that way of being coupled with instructional pedagogy that moves the class forward. I was not fortunate to have a good student teaching experience. Quite the contrary…my mentor taught with worksheets and made kids miss recess if they didn’t do their homework. Those weeks in her classroom conflicted with my teaching beliefs and helped me establish a very clear definition of who I am not. Fortunately, I spent 2 weeks shadowing a master teacher when I took over her classroom mid-year for my first job. To this day, I am still the person I learned to be watching her. She was an authentic teacher with masterful classroom management. She loved kids and empowered them to stretch themselves further. She had great relationships with families and it showed. I learned more from her in two weeks than in my entire student teaching experience. Therefore, I firmly agree that we could improve the profession by placing student teachers more carefully with skilled mentor teachers. Further, I encourage any future-teachers to very, very carefully select their student teaching experience. Spend time observing in that teachers’ classroom and choose someone whose style aligns with your own belief system as a teacher. And, of course–if you are a future English teacher, you should student teach with Chris Marsh 🙂


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