Help! My Students Won’t Listen To Me! (Like, Ever)

We don’t give teachers anywhere near what they need to facilitate classroom learning.

Illustration of teacher being bad at classroom management

Dear WeAreTeachers,
I’m in my second year of teaching fifth grade. My appraiser says I’m doing a great job with everything but classroom management. My students are constantly talking over me and either not listening (or taking forever) when I ask them to do something. I want to be better at managing them, but I don’t know what else to do! I’ve tried motivating them with positive rewards, threatening them with consequences, and making efforts to connect with them to try to build relationships. I’ve read books on classroom management and even attended a whole week of non-mandatory professional development this summer to improve. But my appraiser and I both agree we haven’t seen much improvement in classroom management. I’m starting to think I’m not cut out for teaching. What should I do? —Managing to Mess It All Up

Dear M.T.M.I.A.U.,

We don’t give teachers—especially new teachers—anywhere near what they need to facilitate classroom learning. Here’s what should be in place for every teacher to learn how to manage a classroom:

  • At least one administrator with the knowledge, time, and bandwidth to adequately support the teacher.
  • A reasonable class size so that the teacher can form relationships and give necessary attention to students.
  • A highly effective, highly respected mentor teacher who can provide weekly observations and feedback to the teacher (as well as support/time for the mentor teacher to provide this instruction).
  • Systems in place in the school to support students’ physical, emotional, and mental health needs so those aren’t creating or exacerbating classroom issues.
  • Funding to provide the supplies, resources, classroom space, technology, and materials teachers actually need.
  • Teachers trained extensively in what responsive classrooms look like.

With the abysmal funding of public education, how many schools can honestly say they offer this to their teachers? Not many.

If you’re struggling with classroom management, know that it’s not supposed to be this way. If you had to play football on a poorly drained field wearing sneakers and had me for a coach, you might think you’re a bad football player. In the same way, you might totally have what it takes to be a stellar classroom coordinator but are lacking the support, training, and resources that are needed to do the job.


I know how helpless it can feel to think you’ve tried everything. Maybe at this point it’s about reframing what you know to be true about classroom management. Or maybe you can narrow down what feels like a huge and overwhelming problem to one issue at a time to work on (e.g., “The toughest part is noise control, so I’m going to work on that first.”). If you’ve only had feedback from your appraiser, consider chatting with an experienced teacher in the building. Ask if you can observe them and vice versa. I’ve found the best PD is always down the hall.

Dear WeAreTeachers,
Some of my junior students were telling me that they applied at the beginning of this school year to start an Atheist Club. They filled out the appropriate paperwork, got a faculty sponsor, but were denied by administration on the grounds that their club was “not school appropriate.” I’m with them on this one, but it’s only my second year teaching at this school and I don’t want to rock the boat. How do I stand up for my students without putting a target on my back? —A Skittish Supporter

Dear S.S.,

Oh, yay! This one’s easy.

Public schools cannot do this. The Equal Access Act of 1984 ensures the First Amendment rights of students to meet voluntarily and during noninstructional times regardless of the “religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings.” Also, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment not only prohibits the government from establishing a religion, but it also prohibits the government from favoring certain religions (and favoring religion over non-religion).

So for a federally funded government entity to say not only “We reject the First Amendment rights of these students to gather because we oppose the content of the speech at such meetings” and “We reject their right to gather because we find non-religion distasteful” is truly playing with fire.

But if you’re not ready to engage in the conflict just yet, I would simply give the students advice. “You have a valid point here. Read these two pieces of legislation and run them by [the faculty sponsor] to see what they think.”

My guess is they will change course after a legal reminder. But if the school doesn’t, I think it might be time to get involved. People who are only interested in protecting the rights of students who think like them have no business leading a school.

Dear WeAreTeachers,
I will admit: This is a very strange problem to have. My partner teacher and I (second grade) get along so well that I can’t get any work done at school! We have similar schedules (get to school early, leave after the bell) and end up chatting throughout our whole planning period. I end up having to take so much work home, but it feels mean to say, “Hey, can you, like, not talk to me so much?” I like her a lot and definitely don’t want to jeopardize our working relationship. Help! —Pal With Plummeting Productivity

Dear P.W.P.P,

I love this problem so much. I shared a room with a coworker I loved my last two years of teaching. It can be both a blessing for collaboration and friendship and a curse for productivity.

Even though you and your coworker get along great, ultimately this is a boundaries issue. Setting boundaries can feel “mean,” but consider a reframe. Here’s how Christina Cawdery defines it in her article on setting boundaries as a teacher:

“I had always seen boundaries as creating distance. Instead, boundaries are a way of showing trust, care, and confidence. Setting clear boundaries means that I not only trust them to respect me but that I trust myself enough to know what I actually need.”

Consider this too: What if your coworker is feeling the same way and is also afraid to say something? I would try something like this:

“I’m so grateful to have you for a partner teacher. I’ve been noticing something and wonder if you have too—I’ve been taking a lot of work home lately that deviates from my norm. Do you think we could figure out a way to set aside a certain time of the day as uninterrupted nose-to-the-grindstone time?

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Dear WeAreTeachers,
Long story, but here’s the short version. I put some patio furniture for sale on a social media marketplace. A guy reached out wanting to buy it, but we entered into this really frustrating weeklong back-and-forth on pricing. He then accused me of being stingy (using colorful language), and I used equally colorful language back for him wasting my time. Then I get this message: “Omg Mrs. E! It’s Liam. I got you so bad!” It was one of my former students who is a grade older now but still at our school as an eighth grader. I’m panicking at the potential for this to be used against me. What should I do? —Wrought Iron Regret

This week on Ask WeAreTeachers, we tackle the classroom management blues, a school club rejection, and teachers who get along ... too well?