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You don’t like what you are thinking. How you are feeling, They’re somebody’s kid. Someone’s world. But you can’t help it. Seeing her name on your class list has you worried. All you can think about are class disruptions, interrupted instruction and stand-offs.

Please know that that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. We’ve all have felt this way before and anyone that says they haven’t is either lying or has never had a class of their own. Don’t worry, you got this. Below are five suggestions that may help shift your mindset.

Don’t Buy-In to the Rumors

Sure, you’ve heard the student that is going to be in your class this year has a history of misbehavior and her discipline log entries take up three pages. Your colleagues breathed a sigh of relief when they saw that she wasn’t on their class roster. Okay, but guess what? She hasn’t been in your class before. She hasn’t had you for an entire year. You haven’t even met her yet.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Ruby Payne, author of Emotional Poverty in All Demographics, about how teachers can maintain their emotional stability when students lose theirs. During our discussion, she pointed out that “the difference between a good and a bad behavior is compassion.”


I used to thing that bad behavior was bad and good behavior was good and that was that (deep, I know). It was fairly cut and dry. But then I thought back to an incident that I witnessed ten years ago involving a student attacking another student. I remember my initial reaction and thoughts and I remember how everything changed once I learned all the facts. Once I learned of everything that led up to the incident, I had compassion. Take a moment to read this short piece where I go into more detail and I think you’ll see what I mean.

The bottom line is that you don’t know why she misbehaved in the past. But you owe it to her and you owe it yourself to start fresh and make your own impression. You could be her favorite of all time. The one she talks about twenty years from now when her friends ask her about the teacher that made a difference in her life.

Imagine being the person that helped rewrite this child’s lifescript. That’s powerful and definitely worth a shot. So, whatever you do don’t buy-in to what you’ve heard about this kid. Don’t you dare.

Don’t Believe the Movies

Who among us hasn’t been inspired at some point in our lives by the way that teachers in movies are able to magically transform students who are struggling into model students in a matter of weeks? From Dangerous Minds to Dead Poets Society, Lean on Me to Stand and Deliver, it’s mesmerizing to watch what these men and women are able to accomplish—on the screen.

On the other hand, we know that we are not Morgan Freeman or Michelle Pfieffer and this scares us. We see these movies for the first time when we are young and oftentimes they are what inspire us to go into education. But then the Hollywood Effect wears off and we have our first class—our first difficult situation in which we can’t figure out what to do what with hard-to-reach student. We think back to the movies and we say what Morgan Freeman said and we do what Michelle Pfieffer did. And it doesn’t work. And we are scared. And we think it’s us.

Can teachers transform lives like the characters in the movies? Yes and no. Yes, you can absolutely change the lives of students and impact them like these fictional and sometimes real-life characters did. But it often doesn’t happen as smoothly and as quickly as it does in the movies. Movie producers and script writers must tell a story in under two hours and the bumps and bruises aren’t always as exciting as the victories and transformed lives. So, we never have the opportunity to witness the entire story. Author Jon Acuff once said, “don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.”

You Will Have Help

Often we think that we must go it alone. Turn this kid around all by ourselves. Yet, we are often the first person to offer help or lend a hand when it is needed. Then why is it that we are reluctant to ask for help?

I think we believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness—it signifies that we are unable to do our jobs. The thing is, nothing could be further from the truth. Schools have guidance counselors and social workers and coaches for a reason. Teaching is hard and it is meant not meant to be a solo act.

While some students may come to you well-adjusted and in need of little, there are others that are in need of help and resources from various stakeholders. That is why they are they are there. The services that some students need couldn’t possibly be one person alone. So, don’t hesitate to reach out.

They May Be There for You

Did you ever stop to think that maybe this particular student was put in your class such that you could get better? Yes, we are the ones that are being paid. Yes, we are the adults. And yes, we already have our degree.

But, what if this student that has you worried was somehow, someway, placed in your room to help you learn more about yourself. Maybe this student requires us to practice extreme patience. More than we have ever needed before. And maybe we do, over the course of the year or the semester, become a much more patient person.

We mustn’t forget that we are much more than educators. We are mothers and fathers and husbands and wives and friends and partners. Learning to be more patient at school will often help us become more patient at home.

I know. I know. It is hard to imagine that the angry, defiant student has something to teach us. But I’m betting they do. If we are open to the possibility. As Ryan Holiday reminds us in The Obstacle is the Way, changing the way we see obstacles can make all the difference as we go through life. We can hang our head when presented with difficult situations or we can believe that obstacles placed before us have the potential to help us grow. As the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius put it: “the impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

You Got This

I have been where you are. I know what it is like to see a student’s name on my class list and think the worst. It doesn’t make us bad people. It makes us human.

I’ve also had students that drove me crazy and struggled all year become the same ones that came back years later to give me a hug. Or stopped me in Target to say hello. They remembered me and I definitely remembered them. And while I remember wanting to pull my hair out at times, I will also never forget their mom telling me how much of a difference I made in their child’s life. And that was worth it.

Have a great year!

Additional Resources:

Maintaining Your Emotional Stability When Students Lose Theirs  interview with Ruby Payne

Best Year Yet a short story about a teacher and a student who met each other at just the right time

Fix? a short piece about the mistaken mindset that it is our job to fix students

Why I let 2 kids’ behavior ruin my school year (and what I wish I’d done differently) an incredibly transparent piece and accompanying podcast episode from Angela Watson

*If you would like to have my next article and my latest podcast episode delivered to your in box just click HERE. And as an extra bonus, when you sign up for my newsletter you will receive “A Teacher’s Blueprint To The Best Week Ever”. This is a free, 40 page pdf designed to help you have an awesome week. It’s not what you think, trust me.

2 comments on “Worried About That Student on Your Class List? (Just remember these 5 things)

  1. RitaPlatt says:

    Oh John! This is a WONDERFUL post! I just shared it with every teacher I know.

    1. jonharper70 says:

      Rita thank you so much. That means a lot.

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