This was a difficult Critical Incident to produce. I’ve chosen to present it in a video because of it’s complex nature, because I thought that recording myself speaking about it would allow me to listen back to myself, and divine some more defined lines of thought from it. Here is a brief summary:
I conclude that my evaluation of the reflections on classroom management within this blog is not extensive enough. The conclusion I’d reached was that I need to put in extra work in order to get the best out of students. I resolved to invest extra thought and ‘go the extra mile’, to be better able to shape learner attitudes, and help them fulfil their potential, both as language learners and autonomous learners in future. This, I now believe, is not wrong, but doesn’t address the root cause of my attitude in this area. Why do I not put in the effort to have uncomfortable but beneficial conversations?
Addressing psychological factors was suggested to me by a peer, who has himself reflected on this level during this process. I was asked: ‘Do you fear confrontation?’, and had no answer but that ‘I just want everyone to like me!’. I suggested my age as a reason I avoid one-on-one conversations with my students, who are often older than me, in which I might have to take an authoritative stance. However, my age doesn’t have the same effect on my attitudes in other areas, such as learner training and language skills development, on which I will more happily present myself as a source of authority. It’s possible that I’ve been valuing being the ‘cool teacher’ over working on learner attitudes towards their role in their learning process. I have always tried to avoid confrontation where possible, throughout my life.
I considered the example of a more supportive, pastorally concerned approach taken by a peer whom I observed. Instead of taking a student to task over attitudes which are detrimental to their fulfilment of their learning potential, the teacher asked if anything was the matter, and if there was anything the student needed help with in their personal life (which was causing chronic lateness). This was successful, and could be a route to having these necessary but difficult conversations with learners that circumvents confrontation. However, I reflect that I feel equally uncomfortable assuming this mentoring/parental role with students, as I feel like I’m patronising them, or I’m a fraud for positioning myself in the role of their keeper. I like to stay firmly within what I see as my remit, as I discussed in Critical Incident 2.
I conclude from these reflections, in the video above and summarised briefly here, that therapy could be productive to examine why I feel this way. It’s worked for other people I know, who have wanted to tackle seemingly small aspects of their attitudes and beliefs or personality, and have uncovered far-reaching underlying causes. In all honesty I’m not committing to this yet – therapy’s expensive, I imagine – but I’m thinking about it seriously, and it remains a topic of conversation with the peer who suggested it.
At any rate, the conclusion I had reached prior to this critical incident was that I needed to make more effort to have these necessary interactions. Therefore, an immediate reaction to this critical incident has been to closely monitor the way I’ve felt when forcing myself to have these conversations that I feel so uncomfortable with, and to think afterwards about what I set out to communicate, and what was communicated in the end in each case. I’ve also resolved to approach each incident on a case-by-case basis, instead of trying to develop a boiler-plate approach.
So far, I’ve had one conversation with a learner from the Czech republic, who was being somewhat culturally insensitive about the students in the class who are fasting for Ramadan. This learner is easily 20 years older than me. I felt a little angry when speaking to them after the lesson – I was explaining that tolerance, and willingness to understand other beliefs and cultures, were very important to get by in a multicultural work environment – but also felt quite sheepish and embarrassed, as if I was at fault. The way I approached it was impersonal, removing my own views and explaining the demands of the context we are in and the culture they are living in. I did not attempt to change their attitude, only their behaviour. Although this served my immediate purpose, deeper intervention would benefit their language learning further still.
A different case with a different approach was a conversation with a student who is reliably one lesson late to class, arriving in lesson 2 each day. In the past, this is not a conversation I would have had. I would have written it off as ‘his problem’, instead of putting in the effort to develop his attitude to his own role in his learning, and encourage him to take autonomous ownership of it. The learner is my age, early 20s, but probably thinks I’m older than him, if it matters. I didn’t feel angry at all during the conversation, but felt a little uncomfortable, and even unkind. I would have much preferred leaving on a positive note to forcing the learner to discuss his attendance problems. I approached it in a personally focused way, explaining that he wouldn’t reach his target of moving up to B1 unless he came every day, applied himself, and showed me that it was the right step for his learning. I was attempting here to change his attitude as well as his behaviour.
The case-by-case basis is at this point, in my opinion, the easiest way for me to grow used to tackling sensitive or difficult issues with learners, and for me to learn about my reactions to different approaches to these conversations. By continuing to assess the way I feel when doing this, I hope to isolate particular causes of particular negative reactions in myself in such situations.