5 Things You Should Do When Your Class Humiliates You to Your Core (Plus 5 Things You Shouldn’t Do)

We’ve all been there.

Photo of teacher wondering what to do when your class humiliates you

However it happens, I’ve heard that sometimes other teachers (definitely not me) are embarrassed by their classes from time to time. Maybe they were on their worst behavior during an observation. Maybe they were so loud that teachers from next door have come in to shush everyone several times.

Or maybe what your class did was worse.

Perhaps while on a field trip to create class murals, they painted in male genitalia disguised as flowers (again, definitely no one from any of my classes).

Maybe they asked a guest speaker district attorney leading a mock trial if they are dating your teacher and everyone laughed! (Allow me to reiterate: This did not happen to me.)

Or it’s possible that your class (unlike any of mine! Ever!) threw all your school supplies off the shelves, tore papers out of binders, and held a “trash” fight when a substitute teacher didn’t show up! Maybe one of those students uploaded a video of the trash fight to Facebook during class and the principal texted you about it while you (not me!) were in the sunscreen aisle in Target minding your own personal day business!


OK. So maybe I know—firsthand, over and over, and with painful acuity—what it’s like when your class humiliates you.

First, let’s dive into the feelings that surround this issue.

Why it’s so embarrassing when your class humiliates you:

If your class does something that makes you feel like changing your name, renting a submarine-house, and moving to the bottom of the sea, first know: You are not alone. Being a teacher is the only profession I can think of where you’re responsible for the behavior, engagement, and safety of dozens of humans outside your control—and you can’t fire any of them. That’s a lot to get used to, and even after you’re used to it, it’s a lot to manage.

When a class humiliates us, here are some of the common feelings that pop up.

  • It feels like a reflection of our competence. Especially if you’re humiliated and other teachers, parents, or community members see or find out about it. Oof.
  • It feels like a breach of trust. Whether this happens while you’re absent or right in front of your very eyes, it can feel like “I thought we had a better relationship than this?”
  • It can feel isolating. Are we the only ones who can’t handle our classes? Are we the only ones struggling? Is everyone else just absolutely killing it at this teaching gig?

Please know that to a certain extent, these are all projections. You can’t equate the behavior of one class with your professional competence. When your class humiliates you, you can’t use that single moment as a litmus test for whether your students have any respect or positive feelings for you.

One of the most harmful (and yet widely accepted) myths about teaching is that teachers are responsible for students’ behavior. We can employ strategies to help manage behavior, certainly. But that only goes so far. We are not our students’ behavior.

Hear me on this: Children hath made dummies of us all.

It’s not about preventing this from ever happening to you.

It’s not about whose fault it is or whether this would have happened to the fabulous teacher down the hall.

It’s all about what you do in response.

So, the next time you are brought to your knees in agony by a class (just figuratively, hopefully), remember these guidelines.

5 things to do when your class humiliates you:

1. Do detach yourself and your personal/professional worth from this situation.

As tempting as it is to spiral, stop yourself. This didn’t happen because you’re a bad teacher. This didn’t happen because your students hate you. Why did this happen? Because good kids mess up sometimes. (If anyone’s to blame, it’s The System for big class sizes and a decline in societal respect for our teachers, but I digress.)

2. Do email or call the caretakers of any students whose behaviors you can pinpoint. 

Not like a “Your kid is a doofus” email, but something along the lines of “We had a very important guest speaker on Tuesday, and Kai made the choice to behave in a way that didn’t represent himself in a positive way. [Note specific behavior here]. I wanted you to be aware he’s working on the skill of showing maturity during important conversations. I know he’ll need this skill since he has such a bright future ahead of him.”

3. Do talk to your whole class about their behavior using the framework of impact vs. intent

Even if you are sure that your students intended to embarrass you by acting like total boneheads, give them the benefit of the doubt. Stress that they are good kids and you don’t think they meant to embarrass you. But reframe the story of what happened and invite them to imagine the perspectives of other people they may have affected. “I know you were probably just focused on the fun you were having. But how do you think it felt for the sub?” or “I know you just said that to be funny. But what impact do you think it had on the guest speaker?” Once you’ve established the impact their behavior had, let them be a part of figuring out how to make it right.

4. Do connect with another teacher about it.

Learning you’re not alone is like a magic balm for recovery in the teaching world. I can guarantee you: Even the most perfect-seeming teachers at your school have stories of their bad days that will make you gasp.

Also, it could be good to ask a teacher you trust (and whose teaching you want to emulate) their advice for next time.

5. Do note what information you can frontload for next time.

One of the biggest mistakes I made as a teacher was thinking, “These kids are 14. I don’t need to tell them to [insert low behavioral expectation here].”

Yes, I learned. They are 14 AND I absolutely have to tell them that expectation. Explicitly.

Whether your humiliating moment happened with a sub, at recess, or on a field trip, make a note for the next time to prep your students depending on how much guidance they need. As basic as it sounds, have students practice whatever they struggled with previously. Walking in the hallway. Asking appropriate questions. Remaining respectful to a substitute.

Maybe even tap into their goofy sides and use this secret student trick.

5 things not to do when your class humiliates you:

1. Don’t react in the moment or retaliate.

It’s totally fair to let your students know you’re embarrassed. But losing your temper, yelling, or retaliating in response will only lose you additional respect.

2. Don’t wallow.

Don’t despair. Talk to yourself the way you would talk to a fellow teacher you really love. If they had a bad day, you wouldn’t say, “Yeah, you’re pretty terrible at this. Sorry you’re such a giant failure.” Pump yourself up with the kind of pep talk you’d give a friend.

3. Don’t entertain “never” or “always” thinking.

They would have never acted this way for Mr. Walker.

They always do stuff like this on observation days.

I’ll never be a good enough teacher.

My 6th period always ruins a fun opportunity.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to think in “never” and “always” statements when I’m mad. Are these statements accurate? No. But they feel accurate at the time. When you catch yourself thinking in extremes, remember that it’s not the truth talking. It’s the stress.

4. Don’t punish whole-group.

Yeesh. When I think back to the times I whole-group punished as a teacher, I cringe. They just don’t work. And they’re really annoying for the kids who didn’t do anything.

5. Don’t deny them a blank slate.

If you decide this is your “bad class,” I promise your class will pick up on this label (even if you never say it out loud). Give them a chance to see that you still believe in their goodness.

If you do nothing else, don’t think you’re alone in this. We’ve all been there.

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When your class humiliates you, what do you do? We've got the 5 things you should absolutely do... and the 5 things you absolutely shouldn't.