Something you thought you understood but turned out to be wrong about? (This is the “Make Me Smart” podcast question.) – Roger

Classroom management, when I was a teacher. Hoo boy.

And what’s funny/sad is that In teaching school, the thing they warned all the new teachers about was exactly this. Without classroom management, they’d say, you can’t do any of the stuff you need to do as a teacher. And for those of us who wanted to teach high school, they’d point out that we were really only a few years out of high school ourselves and so getting the students to respect our authority was even harder.

A lot of the advice was style more than substance. Like: look the part by wearing a tie. Be serious, don’t tell jokes, don’t try to be the cool teacher or the zany teacher or whatever. Just play it very straight until you’re noticeably older than your students.

I did not do any of this, partly because I was 22 and did not want to, as I saw it at the time, play a role for my students. I thought, I’ll just do really interesting stuff in class and be myself and things will work out. The best teachers I knew and/or had were that way, so I figured I’d be just like them.

But here’s where it got tricky: I always “got” the business side of school. Whatever it was that teachers were expecting me to do, or say, or produce, I could figure that out and deliver it, and then go back to doing radio shows or band practice or whatever. I wasn’t able to put myself in the head of the kid who didn’t know how to do that stuff, or just plain didn’t want to be there. The teachers I know who are still in it and still successful were smart people who understood that side of being in school in a way I didn’t. So they could reach – or, in the lingo, “manage” – students in a way I couldn’t.

I was in teaching school a zillion years ago, so maybe it’s changed, but future teachers, if your profs are telling you about the importance of classroom management, I can confirm the struggle is real!