‘A Difficult Equation’ – Critical Incident #1

So the equation is as follows: take one Pre-Intermediate EAP class and add one SEN student who constantly demands attention. Then minus relevant teacher training and experience in both fields. What this equates to is what I have myself called a personal ‘failure in teaching’.

These interactions with my SEN student (from now on referred to as ‘M’) and my inability to deal with them made me feel like I failed him, failed the class and failed as a teacher, which is not something I would often say of myself. I consider myself a confident, skilled and professional teacher but this situation was way beyond my training and completely out of my comfort-zone.

I could rarely get him away from his phone or to write anything down at all and when he did contribute to class, he was often way off topic or saying something highly inappropriate which would just create a negative atmosphere in the room and I found myself becoming disjointed and I could feel my lessons falling apart. I would even dread going to teach that class because I know a lot of my time and energy would go in to either trying to engage or calm M down.

I couldn’t succeed either way. On the one hand if I left him to his own devices (quite literally), he would annoy other students because he wouldn’t engage with group work or completely change the subject. As this was an EAP class, the students who had signed up were either going on to university or hoping to take an IELTS test in the future, so I got the impression that they were depending on the delivery of this academic content and sometimes M would derail that.

On the other hand, if I tried to manage M’s behaviour or even challenge him on occasion, I got the same outcome; I spent all my time with M and the other students were left behind. This is why I used the term failure, as this was the first time in my career that I had felt this feeling. I had failed M for not catering to his needs, I had failed the rest of the class because I couldn’t effectively keep the class on track and manage M effectively and ultimately I failed myself. I still feel disappointed with myself for not being able to handle that situation. And the thing is, like many colleagues in the industry, I am completely untrained.

I think attending a seminar or CPD session on the subject of behavioural issues would be extremely beneficial, or reading some literature about SEN students.I feel completely lost in this area of teaching and I do not wish for a repeat situation in the future. Even though not an SEN specialist, I could still be educated with the fundamentals of teaching strategies for those particular students.

Tomorrow is M’s last day in school and I feel both relieved and sad, I should have been able to do more for him. I will come back to this post a few weeks later and reflect on the situation, hopefully with some training or literature to strengthen my resolve in the future.

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