We’ve all had one. That one student who insists on asking endless questions, who queries every tiny thing that passes your lips, who needs an explanation for everything ever said in the English language EVER. Who seems to like putting you on the spot and is just trying to catch you out and show you up for the raving incompetent they clearly think you are.
Well hold on just a minute and I’ll tell you the one single change you can make that will turn your teaching around and keep those irritating students at bay.
The complaints at the start of this post are known to all teachers, but I find they crop up the most with new teachers. It’s normal. You’re new and still learning, finding your feet. And I’m sure I don’t need to point out that the only person in the room who suspects you are a raving incompetent, and who thus spreads that idea round the group like a cold round kindergarten, is you. And if you try to overcompensate for that by pretending to know it all, bluffing, brushing off questions, getting defensive, you do yourself and your students a disservice. You will lose their trust in you, and having the students’ trust is fundamental for a positive learning/teaching experience.
I can’t remember who or what pointed me in the right direction, if it was something I read or something a colleague said, or if I simply arrived there on my own, but one day I suddenly realised that being a student makes you vulnerable. Back in a classroom, sitting in your chair with your pen and paper like you were fifteen again, not knowing the answers to things, having to make a fool of yourself, even though you are an intelligent grown-up who runs a family/school/business/shop/life of your own. And I realised (dur) that students are not there to ‘catch you out’ – they are simply there to learn. I can’t believe how long it took me to figure that out. An embarrassingly long time. And once I realised that, and approached all my students from a – sorry for the hippy bullshit – place of compassion and empathy – my teaching was transformed.
So really, if you only do one thing, make it this: drop the ego. That’s it. It will have an immediate, positive and lasting effect on your teaching. It’s not about you. It’s about the student. Make every single thing you do about them. They’re asking those questions because they don’t know, and they need an answer. So answer them. Be kind, be patient, be firm, have a laugh. Admit if you don’t know something; go and check. Check together. They want to know that you have their best interests at heart, they want to know if they can trust their learning to you. They want to feel safe in your hands, so the last thing you want to do is bullshit them in order to shore up your own ego.
Since I did this, funnily enough, I haven’t had a single annoying student.