A common classroom conundrum

Home / Single Post

Try this one out…

Your school has one (or more likely more) of those classes.

You know the ones I’m talking about. We use the word “disengaged” if we’re being polite, and far more colourful language if we’re not! So who should teach them?

Some bright spark suggests that perhaps the best teacher in the department teaches them next term.

Of course this is crazy talk, because the best teacher is taking the advanced classes.

Or in other words, the best teacher only teaches the best students. 

You see I’m concerned that all too often we give our toughest classes to our newest recruits. I examined this phenomenon in an article I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this year.

It’s not just in Australia by the way, it happens all over the world.

We give our new teachers a baptism of fire that is so torrid that the research suggests it sees off nearly half of them within their first 5 years of teaching…

I’ll say that again –


Meanwhile, the best teachers keep on teaching the best students…

0 Comments on “A common classroom conundrum

  1. I have an AP and a very experienced year coordinator teaching three of my four ‘tough’ classes and ii have removed the streaming entirely in the year groups where i can. I think this is the only way to organise a department ethically.

    • Hi Brendan,
      Thanks for the comment. when you say you have “removed streaming entirely in the year groups where I can” how has this been received by parents, and what prevents it happening for all classes?
      Cheers for stopping by!

  2. Great point Dan, but perhaps it could be teased out a little further. What or rather ‘who’ is the best teacher in this instance. I know at my old school we had brilliant teachers perfectly suited to teaching the advanced classes, and equally brilliant teachers who looked after the less academically focused classes. However, if the roles were reversed, even the teachers were effective, they were not as brilliant as when they taught in their ‘element’. In this situation, the term ‘best’ teacher becomes relative or contextual.

    To my mind the great or ‘best’ 🙂 leaders are those who know their people well enough to allocate classes based on who will do ‘best’ in context.

    • I totally agree with your reply. However, First year teachers do need support and guidance when dealing with challenging students. The support network needs to be there for them, otherwise, some good teachers might be lost because of this lack of support. Sometimes just having a mentor to talk to and provide alternative suggestions to recurring problems.

      • Thanks May. Having a mentor is crucial for new teachers… It should be the norm, rather than the exception in my opinion.
        Thanks for stopping by!

    • Hi Nicole,
      Thx for your comment.. I deliberately didn’t go into defining “best” as this is such a vexed topic… just see the performance related pay debate!
      For what it’s worth… I like your take on what “best” means.
      Thanks again!

  3. I couldn’t agree with you more Dan. I had a wonderful head maths teacher once upon a time. He always took the *worst* class himself, as he figured he would end up having to deal with them anyway. He also shared out other difficult classes very fairly to experienced teachers. Sometimes he would even assign two teachers to a potentially violent class, one in the role of support. It would help enormously to have two teachers in one of these classes.
    Then this fantastic man retired and we got a young first time HT, who gave all the hardest classes to ONE teacher and gave herself and the staff she *liked* the *best* classes.
    She gave little or no back up to the poor teacher saddled with all the abusive classes and within 6 months they had a breakdown.
    Such poor management skills and ethics on the part of the second HT!!! What a contrast.

    • Thanks Vivian. Unfortunately these kinds of experiences are too common. Hopefully though as social media means schools can become more aware of what happens in others, things like this will be seen and identified for what it is, and addressed without any more staff burning out.

  4. Everyone makes valid points here. In our situation, we don’t stream deliberately but still end up with skewed classes in terms of ability. We don’t have many behaviour problems as a general rule but when I was in the classroom until recently I tended to get the classroom with the most issues because I was the experienced teacher. Our school though is heavily skewed towards relatively inexperienced teachers in general in classroom and has developed a system of experienced teachers in leadership roles who give support in classrooms on a regular basis, which I currently do. We are also attending PD in coaching and mentoring which I have taken on this year with a graduate who has a relatively challenging grade with a high number of talented children who need extension in Maths. With relatively large class sizes, our principal has worked hard to balance the books to employ non leadership support staff as well. A lot of this comes down to the school’s staffing budget and how it its allocated. Employing less experienced classroom staff meaning smaller pay packets meaning money left over to employ more support staff and Leadership roles who in theory can then improve the skills of the inexperienced in mentor roles. It’s a tough one. I know a particular problem child nearly broke me in my second year. Knowing what I know now, he really wasn’t that big a problem. We need to guide our newbies well or they will crash and burn.

    • Mark, thanks so much for your comment and sharing your experiences! I’m a big fan of peer coaching, so I wish you all the best for your staffs’ continued PD in this area. You rightly identify $$ as another factor in this debate, which makes the NSW Govt decision to cut funds all the more frustrating.
      Thanks again!

  5. Hmm, I’m in 2 minds about this. I know of this happening … Sadly, I do know of situations where it has happened like this, and it doesn’t do anyone any good. In our faculty, though, we try and give every teacher a good range of classes. My head teacher and I often end up with the more difficult to manage classes, with the challenging behaviour and high needs students (often the same thing, but not always!)

    • Thx Tamara, it sounds like your faculty is on the right track… I wonder what the people who “get it” can do to influence those who clearly don’t?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *