Teaching Opinion

Owning and Overcoming Classroom Woes

By David Ginsburg — September 02, 2010 2 min read
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Welcome to my blog, where I’ll be sharing practical insights, strategies, and resources that have contributed to classroom success for me and teachers I’ve coached--our failures included, since it’s often what doesn’t work in the classroom that gives rise to what does work.

And indeed almost nothing worked for me as a first-year Chicago Public Schools teacher in 1993. Just six weeks in, and with my classroom already up for grabs, insult and injury came when I was decked by a stray elbow while trying to break up a fight in class. As it turned out, though, this physical blow was far less staggering than the emotional one I sustained just five minutes later. On my way downstairs for an icepack, I looked out the window and saw a young man’s body in a pool of blood. I never felt more hopeless.

There’s more to the story, but the point is that I hung in there and eventually turned things around in my classroom. When teachers ask me what I did to turn things around, I stress at first that it wasn’t what I did so much as what I believed. In particular, even in my darkest moments, I clung to the belief that there was something I was doing (or not doing) to contribute to--if not cause--my classroom woes. This may seem like a lot to put on any teacher, let alone a new one. Yet this sort of ownership over classroom outcomes has been a hallmark of successful teachers I’ve known over the years. And if you think about it, to believe otherwise is to accept powerlessness over your situation.

Still, just because you believe you’re causing your own problems doesn’t mean you know how to solve them. In fact, as isolating as teaching can be, it’s often hard to identify the sources of classroom problems, not to mention solutions. In my case, for example, even though I went home night after night knowing change was imperative, I was unsure what or how to change. Yet buoyed by the belief that I was causing my own problems, I dabbled with one new idea after another. And by the middle of my second year, this trial and error (especially error!) process had begun to provide solutions. And when new problems emerged in future years, as they always do in a dynamic profession like teaching, new solutions eventually emerged too.

Such is the never-ending process of successful teaching: owning and pinpointing the causes of classroom problems, then identifying and implementing solutions. I look forward to sharing classroom problems and solutions based on my experience, and to your reactions (including alternative solutions!) based on your experience.

The opinions expressed in Coach G’s Teaching Tips are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.