This is the second in a series of three blogs I’m planning to write about what to do when our adult students misbehave in class. The idea is to share your views on these real experiences and what could be done in future similar scenarios.
A few years ago in my in-company classes, my class management skills were really put to the test.
I was teaching at a multinational steelmaker. Most of my classes were a mix of people who worked in the factory plant and people who worked in the HR, Accounting and Supply Chain offices. An old student of mine (A), who I’m really fond of, was going to join one of my classes.
A had been putting off starting her English class because it was not simple for her to stop her activities in the plant to move all the way to the company’s offices. I insisted on her coming because she needed English for work and I had found her a great class.
I loved that particular group because it was very laid-back. All teachers usually have one class which they are specially keen on. In my “easy” class, there were two men and one woman (B), all of whom were working in the company’s offices. We got on really well.
When A turned up, B made a strange face. I don’t think she did it on purpose, I realized later on she couldn’t help it. A addressed B directly, ignoring the rest of us and said:
“You and the complete HR department are useless”.
One of the men added: “I’ll say”.
I felt a knot in my stomach and just uttered “A, leave that for later on, please”.
But A was red-cheeked with rage. She went on:
“Your department asked me to report on all the employees under my charge. I worked relentlessly for two days and then you e-mailed me back saying that there had been a mistake and that I didn’t have to report on anything?”
B’s eyes were starting to water. The men in the class felt inadequate. They cracked jokes like “yeah, we hate one another at work”or “Yeah, wow!” in an attempt to ease the tension. I felt terrible and just said:
“A, please, this is the English class. Everybody gets frustrated at work now and then. I’m not asking you to leave your life outside, I’m asking you to calm down and let yourself go with the flow of the class”
A was oblivious to my discomfort and to B’s suffering. She added:
“You know what? I think HR only cares about the colours in their power point presentations. Do you know how much invaluable time I wasted on those reports? No, because you never go to the production plant!”
B gathered strength and said:
“You’re right HR tends to make mistakes. I made a mistake this time. I’m aware of the fact that people in the plant don’t see the value in our work. What else do you want me to say?” and shy tears started to roll down her cheeks.
A was apparently moved because she felt silent. I looked at everyone in the class and said:
“This has been a very uncomfortable situation. I know, it’s not easy for you to have a break from work and come to the English class. I really appreciate that you do. But this is not a boxing ring. This is not the place where you vent your anger. You come here from different parts of the company. You probably don’t know one another that well. Please let’s try to cooperate to foster a good atmosphere where learning can take place. We need to pratice more tolerance if we want to work in this community.”
A’s emotions seemed to have ranged from anger to guilt. B apologised. The men just listened. We carried out the tasks in the class quite smoothly afterwards but my head was pounding. A never returned to our classes.
I had the feeling that the class got out of hand. I had the feeling that my management skills had just failed me. The situation took me by surprise. I was taken aback. To be honest, I still wonder what I could have done.
What do you think? You are welcome to comment on this. Thank you
Georgina Hudson's blogs are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.