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Teachable moment for the teacher

Have you ever had one of those days when the loudmouth in the back row delivers a teachable moment? I had one of those days this week. I’m the one who learned a lesson, though, not the students. Loudmouth was shouting for attention for the umpteenth time. Can I say the grammar was just abominable? I would have ignored it if this student hadn’t been so rude. So instead of answering the question, I corrected the English. I guess I showed my annoyance and corrected a little too vigorously. Loudmouth completely shut down, arms crossed, slumped in the chair, suddenly refusing to answer questions or participate. Another student told me that Loudmouth was very offended and hurt. I sighed and made a comment about too much drama. I said I would write a pass to see the counselor if the offense was so great. Otherwise just be quiet and do the work like everyone else. So loudmouth gets up and asks to see the counselor. Good, I thought secretly, now the classroom will be quiet.

So when I followed up with the counselor to see if Loudmouth actually made it into the counseling office, I learned that the student was thinking about quitting school because of low self esteem and feelings of incompetence in the classroom. I suddenly felt horrible. I’m not that kind of teacher. I don’t belittle kids. I’m usually the most patient, supportive teacher imaginable. I can understand how difficult it is to read, write and think in a non-native language all day every day. When I lived overseas, it was exhausting to speak French, even when the stakes weren’t that high. These students have to deal with so much more.

What I have learned from this incident is that no matter how rough my day is, the students deserve 100% of my attention, compassion, and support. Inappropriate behavior can mask insecurity and a need to overcompensate. I guess my response was also a symptom of my need to stay in control and keep moving through the curriculum at the right pace.

So next time a student shouts a comment from the back row, I’ll take a deep breath and ask, “Would you care to elaborate?”

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evaksullivan

Eva K. Sullivan teaches English as a Second Language in Montgomery County, MD. She is writing a memoir about her experience as an expat in West Africa in the 1990s.

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