This is a post for the teachers. Unfortunately we all have had the experience of ‘the awkward student’. I have experienced it in the past but in my current volunteering role it has turned out to be something else.
When you have a class of 20 students and there is one with an attitude problem, your lesson can continue largely undisrupted as you have the choice to either
(a) – ignore the problem if it’s just a student having an off day
(b) – speak to the student and address the problem
(c) – remove the student and take it higher up the chain
If its a class motivation problem, you can run a session as I have done in the past on ‘why study English?’. This often re-energises students who have lost their focus.
When its a 1:1 2 hour session and your student things they know everything already there is nowhere to run.
As coming across heavy-handed has not worked for me in the past, I started by meeting this notable attitude problem by treating my student like an adult. I involved him in the dialogue, asked what he wanted help with. I tried to accommodate him as far as I could without veering off the planned lesson. It didn’t work.
Some of the highlights of my nightmare with this student include him interrupting me, speaking to another student, waving his homework in my face and asking us to ‘do grammar’.
When I proceeded to tell this student I was in the middle of speaking to someone and that I’d speak to him when I was finished, he walked out.
Another highlight; when he decided to take a break and ‘freshen up’ 30 minutes before the end of the lesson. Ok in itself but he then came back and announced he was too tired to continue. I conceded.
Did I mention the work of sarcasm he produced when he was asked to write pretend directions to an imaginary house. He didn’t want to do it, ‘couldn’t’ fathom the concept of the house not being real and so wrote on his worksheet (paraphrased)
‘I can not comment on this house as I don’t know anything about this house’.
Then, in my last session, I was asked again to ‘do grammar’, asked ‘why I was here’ and despite the student not being able to answer any questions on the work, protest that it was all pointless/too easy etc. etc.
Some of the techniques I have used to deal with this situation include;
- accommodating him (simply because I am a volunteer and in a difficult situation)
- refusing to accommodate him (he did not like this)
- speaking to his actual teacher about the problem (this didn’t seem to resolve much)
- putting him straight about his attitude myself
Sometimes I wonder why students embark on ESOL courses seeking the guidance of tuition only to try to control it themselves. Language learning is not all about singing songs and playing games, there comes a point where you have to put some effort in and try. When a student is twice the age of the teacher they can often become condescending. Luckily, he is moving to a daytime class and I can continue with the other student I am teaching who is enthusiastic and respectful.
Have you ever had to deal with a situation like this? How would you have handled it?