New Teacher Wants “Hitler Style” Effectiveness – Ask John #8

Dear John,

I’m a 26 years old and fresh in my teaching career.

I’m facing a lot of discipline problems in class. I know my fellow teachers control the classes more efficiently than me, but I don’t like the way they control class and their teaching style––they use a “Hitler style” to do that. I’m looking for better ways to discipline.

Please help me,



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Deer Sandeep,

You are right to get to this problem at once, because it has a tendency, if ignored, to get progressively worse, and each year it drives thousands of teachers, trained in rational negotiation as a way to solve problems, from the business and even to suicide.

Rational negotiation rarely is adequate to solve this dilemma with teenagers however; sorry to have to say this, but if something about your style, perhaps even your speech or dress is unacceptable to the kids who attend your classes, and may not even be correctible, you need to bring a committee of the worst disruptors aside and ask them. Also, get feedback from a committee of their better-behaved classmates.


When you have data about your tormentors’ objections to yourself in hand, and only then, will you be prepared to ask yourself whether it makes moral sense to alter yourself to meet student expectations.

An effort-heavy strategy which sometimes works is to personally visit the homes of each ringleader and recruit parents on your side against their own kids. The kids will HATE you for doing this, and it damages family harmony, but it does tend to lessen class chaos if kids know you are capable of pestering their parents for help.

At times, and only in such conferences are they willing to become brutally honest about what aspects of yourself they are reacting against; another strategy which occasionally works is to take the worst ringleader privately aside to establish a personal relationship –– this is Machiavellian––find out something he/she really wants, and trade it for their good behavior; also do this: find out which teachers they do not bother, ask for their help; at times just being seen associating with such people will buy you a pass from torment.

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For all my success as a teacher, I often experienced the problem you describe, so I fully sympathize with the bewilderment-frustration you feel, but try everything I suggest, and keep in mind the terrible truth that unless you solve this problem––even if it takes Hitler-methods––the school will eventually fire you.

The problem you describe makes life for armies of schoolteachers unbearable, and the chaos that ensues makes concentration––essential to best learning– –impossible.

There are ways to launch efforts to end the bad situation:

  1. Refuse responsibility, pass it on to administrators to solve––rookie teachers often try this, but persisting in this course will get you fired.
  1. Blame it on the kids––for a long time this seems only fair. All schools have good classes and bad classes, by the luck of the draw some teachers––usually rookies––are given groups of unruly kids with wretched manners or hostile attitudes. The trouble with trying to operate from this premise is that it leads nowhere productive; guilt-tripping “you are hopelessly bad demons!” can easily make things worse. You must accept that YOU are the cause of disruption.

Accepting responsibility will be a starting point for constant improvement in your teaching ability as long as you stay in the business. The kids will reward you for the trouble and you will have the unique satisfactions that teaching the young can deliver.

feedbackFeedback is to be welcomed, not feared, even negative feedback.

Stick with the self-improvement method and you will inevitably get better; when that happens, the kids will let you know with interest and attention.

Finally, Sandeep, your kids misbehave for you for the same reason they do for other teachers––you force them to do things they see no reason to do, stuff that’s irrelevant to their lives (in the present, and they care little about the theoretical future). You do it to earn a living––I understand that; they don’t, and so dislike you for persisting day after day; they act up to get back at you for tormenting them.

As said before, they either dislike you and your personal style, or they dislike your teaching. You need to better your relationships with them: candidly ask their suggestions on how to do that. Also ask teachers you share disruptive kids with for their suggestions (if they have better class control than you).

Try to individualize your curriculum, custom-tailoring it to each kid. Hard work, yes, but truly possible, and better than being eaten alive every day.


Good luck. This is the common dilemma of public schools across the country––even the best ones. Private and religious schools avoid them by using heavy doses of Hitler, expelling the worst.

John Gatto

State Teacher of the Year, New York, 1991


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