Blogging A-Z: F is for fear. Fear is a crippling emotion for a teacher. I have known more than a few teachers who were fearful of either their entire class or of one or two students. There’s a bit more leeway for an elementary teacher who is fearful, but by middle or high school, visible fear will derail the entire classroom. I’ve had the unenviable challenge of mentoring a few fearful teachers. These teachers tended to be anxious people by nature, usually inexperienced and uncertain about their abilities, and easily overwhelmed by novel situations. When you consider that every school day presents multitudes of novel experiences, these fearful folks were in shambles shortly after the day began.
When asked to help, I would hear comments like “She can’t control her class” or “She needs help managing the kids with behavior problems.” But when I observed, I’d see fear. Fear of losing control leads to loss of control. Kids sense these things. Some may be sympathetic but others are quick to take advantage. Kids know there’s a vacuum and fill it. Fearful teachers are constantly redrawing lines in the sand, forever backing up.
There’s no easy solution in these cases. Sometimes a student would be reassigned and the teacher settled into an uneasy “comfort zone.” Until the next defiant kid showed up. Other times, the teacher limped through the year and then left. If they feel defensive, fearful teachers will blame their students’ behavior. I’ve been sucked into that trap a few times and know that it’s a losing cause. Nothing I suggest will make a dent in the situation because fear has chewed up all the teacher’s authority. Improved and rigorous student teaching experiences have greatly lessened the extent of this problem. Still, there are times when a great classroom teacher can pass a baton to a novice without either of them realizing that fear is lurking in the background, ready to bite when that new teacher is in her own class.