Working with difficult students – Naomi Epstein

 Will The Real Difficult Student Please Stand Up?

– Naomi Epstein

Naomi Epstein

Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT’S relativity”

- Albert Einstein

photo by Gil Epshtein

In every class in every year there will always be at least one student whom we would call difficult but difficult is a relative term. The reasons that cause us to feel that a certain student is harder to teach than the other students in the same class are not objective and not even constant. The student you found that most frustrated you (or brought you to a point where you were consciously aware of repressing anger) in one class that you taught, may have nothing in common with the difficult student in another class.

Two years ago, my most difficult student was a very clever girl who constantly interrupted me when I was explaining something on the whiteboard. She either had to inform me at once that her previous teacher had explained it differently (and better!) or needed a clarification question answered without delay.

Last year’s most difficult student was a boy whose sole aim in the classroom seemed to be proving that he had no need for a teacher and didn’t need to pay attention when he so obviously needed help and guidance.

This year my most difficult student is a girl with a constant whine in her voice. In her previous school when she whined enough she was either excused from the task or received a great deal of help.

The really slow learners or the hyperactive student who regularly knocked over the tin of pencils on my desk didn’t make it on my most difficult list. Making sure the hyperactive student had an excuse to move around during the lessons and ensuring the slower learners had support material was a very clear-cut and effective move. It’s those other ones that got under my skin.

So what did I do?

The first two students are still my students, but aren’t on my list anymore. I let off s lot of steam with my colleagues and my supportive husband. I took deep breaths before their lessons and tried to stay patient. I talked to them outside of the lesson. I looked for things I could compliment them on, unrelated to the lesson. But the main thing that happened had to do with time. Eventually, to different degrees, they learned to trust me. I really am trying to help them succeed.  Unfortunately, one can’t rush that realization.

The main thing that happened had to do with time. Eventually, to different degrees, they learned to trust me. I really AM trying to help them succeed. Unfortunately, one can’t rush that realization.

The penny has begun to drop with my  whining student but hasn’t reached that cha ching sound yet. Next year will be so much easier. Of course, then, there will be someone new.

– Naomi Epstein

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About Naomi Epstein

For the past twenty-five years I have specialized in teaching English as a foreign language to deaf and hard of hearing pupils in Israel. I began my career as an elementary school teacher but have taught high-school for the last 21 years. I have a B.A. in Deaf Education, a B.E.D. in EFL and an M.A. in Curriculum Development. I'm the author of two textbooks for these pupils. I am both a teacher and a teachers' counselor. As a firm believer in the quote: "Be the change you want to see in the world" (Gandhi) I have found that sharing with others, networking and reading have helped me keep my enthusiasm for teaching burning bright. I've recently discovered the joys of audiobooks - I now read books AND listen to them while doing housework! Naomi's blog: Visualizing Ideas