First, a disclaimer: you cannot manage everything.
No matter how well you organize a class, some incidents cannot be managed or ignored. Things involving threats, drugs, violence, weapons or abuse are ONLY for the administration. This is to protect you. If two kids are fighting, always refer them to the office or security. Don’t be the cool teacher and keep it quiet. Anything with drugs, anything sexual, same thing. Although you might be mentally qualified to deal with those, you don’t want to be liable, and mishandling them is a quick way to lose your job, your license or get sued. Don’t risk it.
To illustrate…I once had a good student named James.
He was a sharp fifteen-year-old, naturally curious and did a great job in class. He was also a stoner. I knew he was and so did everyone in the school, but he never gave me problems and always did a fine job. Some kids use weed like an asthma inhaler, but that doesn’t make them bad kids. James was an attentive, easy-going kid. I liked having him.
One day he came into class wearing a knit sweater boiling with the stink of weed. It floated with into the room and drowned out my Glade air freshener. The kids noticed it but didn’t say anything. As everyone sat and hauled out their books, I said, “James, let me see you in the hall for a sec.”
He didn’t seem worried. Maybe he didn’t notice he smelled like a brush fire at Woodstock.
Once we were alone and in the hallway, I said, “James, you reek of weed. I mean my eyes are watering from it.”
He said nothing but his perpetual cheerfulness disappeared.
“I have to send you to the principal,” I said.
His eyes widened and instantly watered.
“Oh please, please don’t…please…” he said. It was not a response I expected. James wasn’t a cowardly kid. In fact, he was as pleasant as students come. He was the kind of kid you knew you’d like as an adult.
But he remained obtuse to the stench of weed baking from his sweater. Maybe he wasn’t the one smoking it. Maybe it had belonged to his mother, a brother, a father…and he had just worn it this morning, scent-deaf to the fog. I doubted it, but maybe…
It didn’t matter. Drugs equal administration. Case closed.
He begged and pleaded, but I sent him to the principal and this decent kid got five days out of school, a substantial punishment. I felt terrible about it and still do eight years later, but when the issue involves drugs, alcohol, weapons, violence, sex or any abuse, your responsibility is to pass the buck. You don’t get paid enough to put yourself on the line.