I’ve had my fair share of challenging students, and in turn challenging classes. In the world of English teaching, which I’ve immersed myself in; you grow accustomed to the fact that you’ll never have a timetable of ‘perfect’ classes.
When you go to training sessions and seminars, you attend plenaries and workshops of those more experienced than you showing off what they do with they do with their students. It is here when you often end up questioning yourself whether or not that person has that oh sought after timetable of perfection.
It’s here where I consider myself lucky. Up till now I’ve been fortunate to have more enjoyable classes than those challenging. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching kids who’ve genuinely wanted to be there. But there have been kids that have tried their best to get my goat.
In my first year it was a little boy, Eric. One who wouldn’t have the time for his teacher or evidently on more than one occasion, his mother. Unable to stay in his seat, he viewed the classroom as his own world. He was Spiderman, and the chairs were his buildings. How there never was an accident, I’ll never know.
Then there was Mario. Mario never wanted to be in class. Mario never did the homework. I even remember the time Mario failed to show for a private make up class. When I questioned the secretary had he heard from his parents, he proceeded to give them a call. It turned out his father had dropped him outside the school. Mario decided to never to enter the building; and decided to see out the hour in the park across the street.
Challenging students is one thing, but when throw a few of the above into one class and the game changes completely. It can lead to classes when you doubt yourself. You try your best to find the solution. You go colleagues for advice and use that advice. Nine times out of ten, said advice becomes trial and error, and provides enough antidote to see you through the year.
Up until now I’ve had challenging students, but never a student who pushed me to the point of breaking. Think the above, but louder, more obnoxious and one who had a complete and total lack of respect for any classroom rules.
This was a student who rarely came to class with a smile on their face. Entering the class, they would often slam their book down, would address their classmates in Spanish and would greet me too in Spanish. I knew from the beginning of the year it was going to be a long one.
For the most part I was able to deal with them. More times than not I had to hold them back, and question why I was doing it. The question of parents and getting them in frequently came up. ‘Would you like an extra activity this weekend?’ almost became a classroom mantra.
On bad days, they would lead their classmates on, causing lengthily discussions in Spanish that were difficult to break up, causing me to raise my voice until they had stopped. One evening however, they were having none of it.
‘Ok ok ok,’ I said trying to diffuse the latest off topic ‘charla en español’. Can we contin…’
‘ONE MOMENT!’ they said.
Suddenly, I felt something I never had in my years in the classroom – a sickly feeling of disrespect and anger.
‘WOAH WOAH WOAH’, I roared back, perhaps too loud in hindsight. ‘ONE MOMENT? YOU DO NOT TELL ME ONE MOMENT!’ I could feel a pulse in my neck at this point.
For once I had their full attention.
‘DO YOU KNOW HOW DISRESPECTFUL THAT IS?’ I asked. ‘DO YOU SAY “ONE MOMENT” TO YOUR MOTHER? TO YOUR FATHER?’
They took their time.
I found myself lost for words. I wanted to send them out of the class; I wanted to drag them to my director so that the parents could be informed. I instead decided to wait until after class. This was one of the first times I had properly raised my voice in anger at them, and they too experienced for the first time that I had a limit.
When looking back, I think how easily in the heat of the moment I could have said something I could have easily regretted, something that led to students telling their parents, which in turn found its way back to the school. I thank myself to this day that I stopped where I did.
What about you? Have you ever experienced moments of powerlessness when faced with a challenging student? Let me know in the comments below!