Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 21 2012

Mean Girls

I find Bitchy Girls to be the absolute hardest to handle. I’ll take Angry Boys any day. I’ll take Loud and Obnoxious. I’ll take Bullies and Violent Kids. I’ll take Emotionally Disturbed. I’ll take I-Can’t-Add-With-My-Fingers-And-Hate-You-For-Making-Me-Try. I’ll take the gangter who wrapped a wire around a kid’s neck in class my first year. I’ll take the kid who intentionally stapled his arm and ran screaming out of my room. I’ll take the ones who flip furniture and the ones who scream curse words. I’ll take those Terrible Ones that no one else wants to take. The famously bad kids, I can handle. But the Bitchy Girls are going to be the end of me.


When one of those girls decides to have it out for you, it is disastrous. They can give you the type of vicious attitude that leaves you at a loss for words. They can undermine an entire class without being overtly disruptive. They can make you feel useless and make your consequences feel irrelevant. They can manipulate you back into liking them and then turn on you in a second. They are the girls that become the Mean Girls in teen social-scene dramas. They are the nightmares that mothers have about their daughters’ teen years. They are defiant and sneaky and rude and exhausting and awful.


Somehow, I got myself onto one of these girls’ Shit List a couple of months ago. We were great for the first half of the year (unlike other Mean Girls I’ve had, who smelled weakness when I was new and went for the kill early), and everything should have been fine. But over the last few months, our relationship has deteriorated dramatically. She has started being an enormous bitch to me, and I don’t know why. Maybe I did something wrong. Maybe I’m not consistent enough. Maybe it’s her hormones. Maybe it’s her recent breakup with a boy she only sees in math class. Maybe it’s her new resentment toward her mother and the fact that she sees me as a mother figure (according to our psychologist… I don’t do psychoanalysis). Maybe it’s just funny to see me angry.


Regardless, nothing I can do will make her stop. I’ve given firm consequences. I’ve bribed her for good behavior. I’ve called home a million times. I’ve put her on a contract. I’ve gone over to her house. I’ve moved her seat everywhere. I’ve used heavy praise. I’ve used heavy scolding. I’ve hung out with her at lunch. I’ve involved my administration, her homeroom teacher, and the social worker. I know she’s capable of being great, because one-on-one she’s lovely to me, she’s good in her other classes, and she’s good if someone sits in my class to watch her. But on a normal day in my classroom, she is terrible to me and I’m sick of dealing with it.


Does anyone have suggestions? I am completely out of ideas.

11 Responses

  1. Monique Christensen

    Oh yes, I know just what you mean. This isn’t perfect advise, nothing ever is, but I seriously know just how “13″ girls like that make you feel. Best advise someone gave me once was to quit being a girl and take my feelings out of the equation. Think like a burley man. My advise is to not take it personal, rise above it & ignore her rude behavior because that is her hook to manipulate and exert power over you. Be her teacher only and impart knowledge and vibes of authority over friendship. AND, most definitely, know you are a good person and better than all that drama.

  2. The first step would be to stop thinking of her as a bitch or a “mean girl.” Easier said than done, but most people can tell when you’re faking kindness or when professionalism is a veneer for antipathy, and if they’re at all prickly, they respond accordingly. No one likes to be patronized.

    Over the years, I’ve learned how to Jedi mind trick myself into this with most kids. Just have to focus on what’s great about them and refuse to dwell on how much they’re driving you nuts. Of course, in my position I have a lot of motivation to do this, because I can have the same students all day for years…if we don’t get along it’d make things miserable.

  3. Lucas

    I don’t understand that advice. Honestly, I don’t think it makes any sense. Why shouldn’t one think of her as a mean girl if she is obviously and overtly mean? What does it accomplish to pretend otherwise? From the description, it’s pretty clear she knows she’s being mean and nasty, and is doing it on purpose. That’s why you’ve classified her as a Mean Girl (call me prudish, but as a man, I don’t feel comfortable using the other word, even if it is accurate) and not just an Emotionally Disturbed Kid, right? So if it’s a bad idea to gloss over problems with a veneer of unflappable professionalism, as was suggested, then how is it a good idea to gloss over the same problems with a veneer of single-minded positivity? If kids know when you’re faking kindness, wouldn’t they know when you’re faking a lack of appropriate concern and criticism? I certainly don’t know what the answer is, but it doesn’t seem likely to be more praise at the expense of directly addressing the problem, which is not how she feels, but what she is doing about it. Once she crosses the line from feeling resentful inside to deliberately trying to make other people’s lives miserable on a daily basis, it’s not all about her any more. You don’t owe her anything other than the opportunity and encouragement to become a better person. Frankly, that’s a lot more generosity than she can expect from people once she leaves school, in a world where so many judgements are made based on a first impression.

    • It’s one thing to acknowledge that someone isn’t very pleasant. It’s another thing to get to the point where you’re so upset at a kid that you’re posting publicly about what a bitch she is and slamming a bunch of other female students as well. Time for the adult to be the bigger person here. It may or may not change the kid’s attitude, but this kind of power struggle and outright hostility (over a kid being “rude and sneaky”? Please) isn’t healthy or productive.

      • Thanks, Parus. I appreciated your advice in the first post. As for your second post, I’d like to clear up that this is my third year with middle schoolers and I’m getting pretty good at making sure ALL my kids know I love them unconditionally and keeping my irritation out of the equation when I interact with them. (I still have days where I slip there, but by now I’m good on most days.)

        I use my blog to do anonymous venting, and I’m sorry you think there’s something wrong with that. Sometimes I just need to get it out. When I’m getting really frustrated, this is my release so that I CAN go back into the classroom and treat the kid right the next day. I think an anonymous rant into the blogosphere actually is healthy and productive when it lets me get emotions out of my system in a place that doesn’t affect my kids.

      • Lucas

        You can disagree with the choice of words perhaps, although I think the adjective “bitchy” was intended not to convey gratuitous hostility, but to serve an illustrative point, albeit colorfully, and the post did not mention the girl by name. I seriously doubt the girl reads this blog, or will ever know of its existence, so I must say I do not see any harm done. I would not have chosen such a word, but I suspect the teacher in this case routinely demonstrates consummate professionalism in the classroom, and just needs to let of steam once in a while, in a way that does not adversely affect her students. That strikes me as not only pretty innocuous, but also quite healthy. But I would say that praise, especially when not deserved, is not a long-term solution to the attitude and behavioral problems of deliberately obnoxious people, young or old, because while they may be temporarily taken off guard or even won over by a spirit of generosity, ultimately too many of them see it as a weakness, especially in their peers, and find ways to manipulate it as a source of idle amusement. I honestly believe such people never change until they feel desperately lonely, and realize that predicament is of their own making. On this point, I agree with Ms. Christensen’s remarks above. For that reason, it is my view that our modern preoccupation with constant “interventions” of one sort or another, some by teachers, some by psychologists, is in many cases not only a waste of time and resources, but counterproductive. Let them stew in their own juices for a while, perhaps after having been suspended from school, and let them come to understand what it feels like to be ignored and to become irrelevant, because that is exactly what they will become in the world beyond school if they do not develop a sense of common decency. I would also say that there is a subtle and complex power struggle going on in every classroom, as a biological consequence of human nature, and it had better not be won by the most obnoxious person simply because the others lack the energy or conviction to get mad and fight back, as any sane, courageous human being would under the circumstances. Every time a teacher (and I am not one) has to stop class to deal with a single obnoxious kid, there are countless others whose education permanently suffers as a direct consequence. Do you consider that fair to the dozens of other children who actually have the presence of mind to control themselves? And you have the audacity to suggest we reward such behavior with praise? The freedom to think independently is a right. The ability to pursue education is a right. But formalized schooling is not a right. It is a privilege. People who do not respect it should not enjoy it. They should not be praised. They should be expelled, or at the very least suspended until they are prepared to take the institution seriously.

  4. Sam

    I think the number one is – do not engage in a one-on-one confrontation with her in front of the other students. Students like the one you describe tend to thrive with that type of showcase, and you’re bound to lose.

    I don’t know what age group you teach, but I teach in a middle school, and my students, ESPECIALLY those like the “mean girl” you describe, tend to have a hyper awareness of what their peers think. They want attention, and they want to be the one’s in control.

    What HAS worked for me:
    1. Give her a leadership role (attendance taker, homework completion checker, assignment alphabetizer – something!). This will let her have her “control” but filter it into a manageable setting. Also, it will keep her busy!
    2. If she is a performer (making rude comments out loud obviously have an intended audience), focus on her crowd. Praise THEM for their good behavior. Talk to THEM. Often, shifting the attention, even in an exaggerated way, to other on-task, but still socially with-it students can make a huge difference.
    3. Be very strategic about social dynamics and seating. It’s amazing how this can shift a class. I’ve moved entire classes of 34 around just to make sure one or two kids are in a position that will curb their behavior. I also have isolated seats – two right next to my desk, two in the back, and one touching the whiteboard (sounds crazy I know). These come in handy all the time!
    4. Document like crazy. If you don’t have a good system I can email you some really simple forms that I use in my classroom. When I have a repeat offender, I document them like crazy – in class and after.This usually tends to make meetings with admins and parents go really smoothly. And, make her sign it. No signature? That’s cool – just write refused to sign. Again, don’t showboat – take care of this with her one-on-one since it seems like shes a a lot better in that scenario.

    Finally, I know you said you’ve tried a contract and it wasn’t effective, but I’d say give it another shot. My contracts work best when:
    1. The length of time is short – 1 week max.
    2. There are rewards and consequences that are logical and sequential.
    3. There is a level of student input, but you set the non-negotiables. After all, it’s YOUR classroom.

    Good luck! Hopefully some of this will be helpful!


    • THANK YOU, Sam. I’m going to try pretty much all of that :-)

  5. Ms. H

    All I can do is think about one of the girls at my school. She is very resentful about my role in her education (as she doesn’t want to be a special education student), so she started being extremely rude to me. It is a constant battle, but every day I have to remember that she is still a young girl, and that she has the potential to change before becoming a true “mean girl.”
    I try to chat with her every morning at breakfast, but sometimes she still an make me feel like I am an inch tall…
    Sorry, I know this isn’t great advice, and honestly I am not sure what to say, other than keep trying to break through to her. There were a few beauties your first year, but they came around. Also, think about my lovely from your first year… she eventually came around, too.
    In the meanwhile, call me and I might be able to give you some more help if I have more specifics.
    Talk to you later.

    • Ms. H

      Also, I think that something that may work is a natural consequence. I really think that a lot of students are rude and horrible until they are forced to change. If other students started standing up to her for you, that may be more powerful. I know that this may not be the best advice, but I just know that peer approval, as you mentioned in your previous post, can be so beneficial. Granted, the peers would need to be at least a little appropriate when standing up to her. The trick, then, would to be to get the other students to “stick-up” for you.

  6. Dave

    Did you ask her?

    You’ve done a lot to solve the problem, but I didn’t see whether you sat her down and told her basically what this post says and asked her why she’s doing this.

    You’ve done a lot to try to solve the problem, but I think that if it hasn’t gone away by now, she’s going to have to acknowledge the problem and want to solve it.

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