Teachers are normal people, most of the time. We laugh, we cry, we have good days, we have horrid days. Generally speaking, if you're working with human beings, you have to be able to accept that people are going to behave like people. And sometimes, being humans, they have human ways of dealing with problems. Or not dealing with them.
I just had class with a student who I'll call Oxford. Oxford is a very successful lawyer who's had senior positions in the Spanish government. Oxford has a hell of a time with English, however - it takes forever to get sentences out, there are a lot of problems with vocabulary, and I do wonder about Oxford's ability to handle information. For the past two years, Oxford has had conversation classes, but it never occurred to me to ask Oxford why the classes had to focus on conversation and nothing else.
I think I learned the reason why today.
Since Oxford is setting up a lot of meetings, I thought, OK, maybe a lesson on taking notes and manipulating written information would be a good idea. No way. At first, Oxford didn't resist directly; Oxford asked a lot of questions and didn't quite get the idea behind reading a text and condensing information into notes. It was as if my questions were bouncing off Oxford at every angle, like a basketball that has too much air in it - you could get close to the net, but not in it.
It turns out that Oxford doesn't read. I don't really know the reason why. When reading the newspaper, for example, Oxford claims to scan for the most important words, but once Oxford more or less understands the article, that's it. The newspaper goes in the garbage.
Okaaaay...what about law school? Or laws? Or legal briefs?
So we have fifty minutes left of class, and the class has just hit the wall. Oxford cannot or does not want to do the exercise - I'm still not sure why. But then it occurs to me: Maybe Oxford has some kind of reading disability or dyslexia or something. The best thing would be to ask Oxford what's going on, but that's not a good idea: Oxford keeps getting more and more agitated.
Boom. The exercise goes in the garbage.
Next plan: Listening. I decide to improvise a listening exercise from something we did the other day, but there's a problem: the academy has lost the CDs for that textbook. All right. Oxford wants conversation? That's what we'll do, then. This would be a good plan, except that Oxford is now in such a bad mood, conversation becomes a one-sided, somewhat understandable monologue about steel, Chinese manufacturing, how evil Coca-Cola is...you get the idea.
So what do you do in those situations? The same thing, I imagine, that parents do when their kids have tantrums. I just sat there, nodded, tried not to look at the watch too often, asked questions slowly, and tried to understand Oxford as best I could. At the same time, however, I kept thinking, Where is this coming from? Why is this student behaving like this?
The reason why is probably irrelevant. But when you first start teaching, it's really, really, really hard to realize that, just like us, students are going to have horrible days. Students are going to react badly if they feel they're being attacked. Students will get frustrated if they don't see why an exercise is important, and when a student explodes, sometimes the best thing to do is to try to be sympathetic and not pass judgment.
I don't know if Oxford will ever make progress; in some ways, that doesn't matter. Oxford still attends classes, and that's the most important thing. The second most important thing is that we, as teachers, do not think that you are crazy or weird or unstable or nuts because you have days like that. We all have days like that.
"Some days, you're the windscreen; some days, you're the bug." -- Mark Knopfler