Last year I was teaching a group of “junior professionals” and I was really enjoying the ride. The participants were highly motivated, so they loved coming to class. Most of them were cooperative and easy-going. However, there was one student (A) who relished contradicting absolutely everybody.
A poked fun at everyone’s weaknesses or queries in class. What’s more, he enjoyed teasing me. I found his jokes funny at the beginning but little by little I started to feel everyone’s uneasiness about his behaviour. Nobody could foresee what he was going to say or do next, which was totally uncomfortable.
I have a tendency to trust people easily, I love interpersonal communication and I always try to see the sunny side of life. A, instead, complained about his colleagues, politicians, the company, the economy and so on and so forth. I tried to moderate his comments by saying something which could shed some light on his cynical views. He always had the same reaction:
“oh, yeah, I’d forgotten…you’re SO positive, aren’t you?. In fact, you’re far too naive. No offence”
I knew he held me in contempt. He felt I lived in a bubble where only teaching, feelings and my family mattered while he was working hard in that factory and there was little prospect of his climbing the career ladder. I decided to take it easy because I liked the that class and so did they.
One day we started talking about an issue concerning the corporate world. I hadn’t planned that but students were really engaged, so I looked for supplementary material to work on. A said bluntly:
“We’re dwelling on this topic. We should drop it unless you’re too innocent to believe all those lies”.
I decided to smile and added:
“Ok A, why don’t you bring to class what you like? I volunteer to design tasks to work on that”
A was surprised and started to tell me what he wanted me to do. I tried to be as positive as I could and just asked him to be nice and not to find his own material boring. He chuckled at my comment.
We followed our syllabus and took some time to deal with what A had suggested now and then. I wanted to establish rapport with him. As A was a bold type of person I started to behave in the same way with him. I used to unexpectedly stop at some point in our classes and asked:
“A, have we worked on this for too long? Do you allow us to stay with it a little longer?”
He found it funny and always had something to say back:
“oh yeah yeah we could continue with this a little longer”
I went telling him things like:
“oh, what a relief. I trust you so much. I know you’ll tell me when it’s time for a change”
After some time, A said to me:
“I think you’re innocent but I don’t think you’re stupid”
“Neither do I. I’m surprised at your comment. Is it a compliment?”
A’s change was amazing. He cooperated with his peers and with me. By the end of the year we got on with each other really well. I’m proud of him (and of myself!).
So what do you think?
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