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Dealing with Difficult ESL Students

December 06, 2005

Students may display problem behavior in class for many different reasons, often for reasons quite unrelated to what is happening in the lesson.

Readers,

They may have personal problems, relational difficulties with other members of the class, they may resent having to attend classes, they might have low blood sugar! Yet teachers have a tendency to blame themselves for any disruptive behavior in their classes. And, of course, sometimes they are at the root of the problem. But the academic management of a school needs a strategy for dealing with difficult students so that teachers do not feel alone and vulnerable in this stressful situation.

It is helpful in a teacher's induction to warn them about what the school considers unnacceptable classroom behavior. This will vary from school to school but typical examples are lateness; eating, drinking or smoking in class; failure to bring required books and writing materials; dressing inappropriately; not being respectful to others; being uncooperative in classroom activities.

There should also be an agreed procedure for dealing with the problem incidents. The teacher might first try to deal with it personally by analyzing each event and trying to understand how and why it arose. Teachers also need some self-awareness in this, understanding what makes them angry and what they cannot tolerate. This is because cultural differences may make them overreact to certain behaviors that are not seen as a problem locally. Take punctuality as an example. In some cultures attitudes to time are much more fluid and relaxed than in others. The teacher might be applying inappropriate cultural responses by reacting to behavor that is more less normal for the perpetrator.

The teacher needs to turn the spotlight on what happens in the classroom so that he/she can begin to increase the activities that foster successful learning and reduce the negative factors. Learning in groups involves many positive factors:

increased range of ideas and perspectives
opportunity to explore similarities and differences
increased student interaction.

However, there are also risks to learning in groups:

varying levels of knowledge and abilities
some members of the group have different aims from others
the teacher cannot give detailed attention to each student all the time.

In order to minimize the risks of problem behavior it is useful to explore with the students their own expectations of what working in a group involves. They might even wish to draw up their own list of rules for co-operation.

Because teachers are seen as the authority figures in the group, some students might try to dump problems on their teachers that are not within their sphere of control. If, for example, a student who is consistently late for class turns out on investigation to have serious problems at home, then the teacher has to learn to draw a line under the responsibility he or she has in the situation. Teachers cannot be expected to act as social workers. They might be able to point a student in the right direction to find help, but they should resist being drawn into situations that are beyond their expertise.

However, if a problem is identified and cannot be sorted out by the teacher and the student together, the school needs to provide back-up for the teacher. Students, no matter if they pay fees, must be willing to work harmoniously in a group and a teacher will be undermined if the school does provide support when a difficult situation arises. Of course the mediator in the situation needs to listen to both sides but a solution should be found that leaves the teacher's self-respect and confidence intact.

With kind regards,

Patricia

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» What Do You Do About Missed ESL Classes? from ESL Lesson Plan
Private lessons no-shows. Has this ever happened to you? You spent an hour preparing for a private class, then rush to get to it on time. You set up your props or whatever you will be using, then sit back and wait for . . . [Read More]

Tracked on December 9, 2005 09:33 PM

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