Losing my best students

Getting back to my paranoid fears of the last post (because a blog might be time consuming and pay nothing, but unlike seeing a therapist it’s free), there definitely does seem to be one kind of student I have lost more than others since I’ve been in this school. While I know the reason why, that hasn’t helped me come up with a way of dealing with it.

Due to the famous reluctance of East Asian students to speak out in class, my teaching over the last six years (and earlier with lots of Chinese students in London) has developed so that brainstorming, discussion, lead ins to readings and listenings, discovery approach grammar tasks, drilling etc can be- and usually is- done 90% in pairs or groups. That doesn’t mean that I don’t try to elicit from the class, I just quickly switch tactics when it is obvious that most students won’t contribute or at least will feel uncomfortable doing so (or make the rest of us feel uncomfortable as we wait and wait and wait…)

I don’t think my lessons lose anything due to this way of teaching, and many students seem to find it a relief and a great way of improving the fluency that they are focused on. Some students, however, don’t agree. There are the usual few who see no merit in talking to someone of the same level who is probably making the same mistakes as them as you get everywhere (and much more in Spain than in Asia), but the bigger problem here is the students who have used the fact that they are one of the few who are happy to speak out to dominate their classes with other teachers. In my class they suddenly have less chance to speak and- even more of an issue for them- less chance to speak to the (native speaker) teacher. This is more of a problem here than in Japan as:

• For some reason, there are more students (usually at least one in every class) who are happy to turn the whole lesson into a one to one chat between them and the teacher while the rest of the class twiddle their thumbs

• The (even) greater privilege given to age and status means that some people are used to being able to dominate and pay no attention to anyone else

• There are usually more students who are willing to speak out, sometimes even a majority of the class. Unfortunately, that means even less speaking time for the ones who are not

• Younger students in Japan are often used to a native speaker prompting conversation with pairwork etc from ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) in public schools through JET etc.

• There are far fewer opportunities to get a one to one conversation teacher here if that is what they really want, and it is more expensive (in real terms) for students in Korea

Having more “fair” whole class speaking doesn’t seem to be an option, as neither they nor their classmates are going to be happy to sit there waiting five minutes for someone to say “Nothing special” every Monday morning. To put it another way, some students are just not happy with me being fair. That being the case, I can think of a possibly justifiable reaction is just to say screw them, but as it says in the title of this post, these students are in some way the best in the class- hard working, happy to speak out, doing lots of reading etc outside class, interested in the language and the world, thinking about studying abroad, etc etc (even if their social skills sometimes leave something to be desired). Anyway, if the other students are happy, the most obvious way for me to develop my teaching seems to be to focus on these demanding students for a while.

What do you think? (Only trained therapists are allowed to answer that with “What do YOU think?”)

This entry was posted in ALT, Classroom management, Cultural differences/ cultural training, Eliciting, JET, Pairwork and groupwork, Problem students, Teaching English in Asia, Teaching English in China, Teaching English in Japan, Teaching English in Korea, Teaching shy students. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Losing my best students

  1. Michael says:

    ‘Safety in numbers’ usually solves this problem. Try turning the ‘elicit’ task into a pair/group task. Then ask the pair/group to report back. You may end up with more ideas than you need so you will just have to be selective.

  2. Andy Mallory says:

    VERY true Alex.

    These few dominant types might be your best students in some ways – but I always felt they were the ones who least needed to come to class….

    They would be happier making friends with a native speaker – either in person or via skype – and chatting away to them ad nauseum.

    It might not be therapeutic but I can definitely say that it resonates with my experience in Korea and is much more of a problem with Koreans than with Japanese.

    I always found it essential to nip any tendency of the students to engage me directly in conversation iin the bud. Sometimes I got rid of problem students inside 2-3 days this way. Any really good students could be talked round after a few lessons.

    From my experience in Korea – those who really must dominate lessons and turn it into a S-T-S pseudo conversation will have no trouble finding another class were the teacher will allow and even encourage that.

  3. Jason West says:

    Very true Alex. Have you thought about teaching EOT? That way they will all get as much or as little native speaker talk time.. And all focused on what you taught in the lesson.

  4. AliceInWonderland says:

    Two of my Top 10 TEFL quotes are:
    “Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater.” (Gail Godwin, http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/26983.html); and
    “The opening line is important in teaching, as with many of the performance arts.” (English Teacher X, http://englishteacherx.blogspot.com/2010/03/but-seriously-folks.html).
    I often wonder how many professional actors could spend six hours a day (sometimes eight), five days a week, 52 weeks a year on stage, trying to remain cheerful and funny while interacting with an often uncooperative, silently glaring audience.

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