Managing the pressure of the 'difficult' class

Sometimes, it seems the class you are teaching is more than you can cope with. 
A whole range of factors seem to conspire against you at the start of the year and despite your efforts you don’t feel you are gaining the usual traction with your students. Whether it’s the particular mix of learners, the specific learning needs of some students or the challenging behaviour of others, things are not quite going as planned and you are starting to question your ability as a teacher and maybe even thinking now is the time to switch careers. 
The truth is all teachers face times like this. The sad part is that many good teachers decide that the best move for them in these times is to leave the profession; a trend we need to fix. 
It is easy to imagine that the mark of a competent teacher is their ability to successfully manage the learning needs of any group of students or the needs of any specific student purely as a result of their individual talents. Such thinking is deeply flawed but is reinforced by organisational structures that isolate teachers and privatise the teaching process. When we become more open and collaborative we see that we are not alone in our struggles to meet the needs of our students. Opportunities to share stories from the classroom, allow us to see that even the teachers we imagine as the most talented and experienced have moments where they are challenged by the learning needs of their students, have trouble connecting with individuals and confront feelings of self-doubt. 
Collaborative teams of teachers and specialists are essential and should be the norm in all schools. A collaborative planning team allows teachers to formally discuss the learning needs of their students as individuals and as members of a learning community. A diverse collaborative team will bring new perspectives and understandings of the challenges and offer alternate strategies for meeting the needs of the learners. An effective collaborative team will be supportive of the teacher and ensure that the teacher is well supported. While the ultimate goal of the team is to develop a strategy that serves the needs of the learner, the first task is to ensure the teacher is looked after and knows that the team is supporting their efforts.
Membership of the collaborative team will vary depending on the specifics of the situation but should always include the child’s parents or carers. The perspective that the child’s family brings is important to any plans made for the child and their participation in the plans implementation is vital. In schools that achieve the greatest success for their students, close ties will already exist with the parent body and discussions about the learning goals of the school and the part that families can play in supporting these will be the norm. 
Access to relevant professional development should be the norm and teachers should be able to tailor their access to this based on the needs of their learners. This professional development should include access to professionals such as child psychologists, occupational therapists and counsellors who have knowledge of the specific circumstances of the child and the context of their learning. Access to such specialists can be expensive and a goal of developing a more equitable education system should include providing access to these professional services for all who require it. 
Believing in the growth potential of every student is critical to success. By knowing where our students are with their learning, seeking to understand how they learn and the obstacles that might impede their learning teachers can set achievable goals and map a path towards these. Knowing that the path will take many twists and turns and times progress might seem slow is part of the process. Teachers with a true growth mindset will know that there are aspects of teaching that trigger their fixed mindset and that the same applies for their students. By working and learning together it is possible to see growth as an achievable goal and from that point it becomes possible to make progress in the desired direction. 
As individual teachers and as teaching teams it is important that we look after ourselves in addition to looking after the needs of our students. When we find ourselves with a challenging student or class the workload and stress escalates and as it does our capacity to problem solve diminishes. We need to understand that before we can meet the needs of our students we need to meet our personal needs. Taking the personal time to rest, reset and reflect is critical, as is time with our families and time away from thinking about work. Setting clear boundaries, disconnecting from work by turing off email and engaging with our personal interests are habits that make us better teachers. 
The teacher that our students need, is the teacher who is willing to do what it takes to meet their needs but who is not willing to sacrifice their own sanity in doing so. Great teachers know their limits and know that the best way to meet the needs of their learners is by building a collaborative team around them. Great teachers seek help, ask for guidance and understand that they cannot know all the answers. They are gentle on themselves and forgiving of mistakes, recognising that every day is a new day with new hope and fresh possibility. 
 By Nigel Coutts