Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Reluctant or Hostile?

Years ago, I was working with a 6 year-old, first grade child. He had no desire whatsoever to learn to read, write, count, or do much of anything. "I don't need to learn," he told me. "When I grow up, I'll sit in the chair, watch T.V. and my wife will bring me beer." While adult learners, who are spending someone's hard-earned money to come to college, may not be as direct as this child, nonetheless tutors / teachers have ample experience with reluctant, or downright hostile, students.

The most openly hostile student I encountered was a man in his late 30's, who had started college for the first time this past summer semester. We chatted a bit, and he informed me that he was taking 15 credit hours, including English 1010 and Math 1010, along with some other academic classes. To me, it appeared the class load was frustrating, and more work than he anticipated.

This student complained about the amount of writing in 1010, and I attempted to explain that the assignments are meant as smaller steps to a larger project, and a better understanding of university level writing. He scoffed at this concept, complaining that the small assignments were too frequent to be of any educational value. Basically, he came in with a negative attitude.

As our session progressed, he argued every point I made, every slight error I pointed out, every hint and tip I tried to give him. Run-on sentences were okay, in his mind, simply because they were long. Sentence fragments were okay. Subject / verb errors, mysterious pronouns with missing antecedents,  its and it's, he had a reason why every word he had written was correct, and he refused to make notes or changes. He seemed to think that the more loudly he made his argument, the more correct his belief, and the more I would respect him. We made it through the session, with me making suggestions, him countering my instructions, and me nodding my head and saying, "Are you sure you don't want to make a note of this for later," and making similar other non-threatening, generalized comments.

This student came in, already overburdened, frustrated, and angry that the teacher was forcing the student through, in the student's eyes, one more pointless exercise. I realized that the student wasn't going to learn anything I taught because, like the first grader, he had already made up his mind that he didn't need this. Students who close their minds to learning are impossible to teach. If they don't want to learn, they won't. After half an hour, the student and I agreed to end the session and I filled out his brown paper. Really, they should be gold-colored as they seem as valuable as gold.

In any event, the session was not effective, but I didn't take it personally. I know I might handle other hostile or aggressive students differently. As we all know, each tutoring session is individual and has its own flavor. All we can do is use the best tools we have to teach and manage difficult learning situations.


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