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Eye of the Optimist -bad egg

I often tell my students that they should not be English majors if they don't like studying English, whatever the economic and social motives for feeling like you should study English. It is not worth it if you cannot muster up any enthusiasm and it becomes a painful experience. I tell such students to find some other focus. After all, they can still learn some English on the side as it may indeed prove to be a useful complement.

For the first time, I told one student not to visit me or join my classes ever again because of his bad attitude. I blamed him for dragging down the spirit and energy of the class during the whole semester.

There are students with issues who have trouble coping for one personal reason or another, and they might lose focus and drag their heels because of the distracting or diverting problem. It can be a difficult situation to manage. A teacher tries talking to them and makes suggestions, shows willingness to make allowances and give the student more chance to catch up or make changes. She alerts staff with more authority or resources so that an offer of help can be made. Such individuals can be a problem in the functioning of the class, at which point they have to be told to pick up their socks, or attend under special circumstances but  cooperate and be quiet, or leave.

I told a young woman to leave the class because this student had not done assignments and exams, and stated clearly that she was not going to do them even after being given more time. It was the third time that this woman had joined one of my classes, so I knew her and her temperament. I know here to be a sharp student with excellent skills in English although she has not had any extra tutoring or immersion experiences. She is basically a bright and good kid. She had somehow coped and kept up with classroom activities before, even though she had some kind of panic attack or extreme drop in confidence and failed to complete the final exams. This time, she was so withdrawn and distracted that she could not follow what was going on and could not maintain a memory of the class work. I had to ask her to leave if she was not going to participate at all.  Her case is some kind of health or social problem, not motivation and attitude as a student, though.

Recently, I told a student plainly that he had a bad attitude and had been a problem in class. Though I kept my cool and professional comportment the whole semester, I told him I did not want to see him around again on the last day. He was a rotten egg.

I had a group of four far from keen students in a freshman English conversation class this past semester. They said their parents wanted them to study English, and a few had been to academies and to schools abroad. They actually had better skills than many of the others in the class, although they are not interested in English any more. They slumped in their chairs, fiddled with their mobile gadgets nearly the whole time, wandered in and out of the room constantly, missed classes or arrived late, complained all the time, did not follow through with the practice activities, and were negligent or tardy with assignments and homework. Their behavior affected the rest of the class, who were more motivated but shier and less confident in their ability to learn and master English.

Freshmen classes can be difficult to manage. There are usually social behavior and motivation issues. Also, it is generally hard for them to understand the spoken language. This was true of a couple within the group that I just described above, although their vocabulary and reading ability was pretty good. I had to pay attention to the class as a whole and could not devote most of my attention and energy to the four students with above average competency for freshmen year English conversation class. I had to keep at a steady pace, explain slowly and reinforce the lessons a lot for the majority in the class.

In this scenario, the keen high level student still takes the opportunity to talk a lot and ask the teacher questions. Such a person is usually highly motivated and that is precisely why they excel, besides any privileged access to learning they have enjoyed. I can talk to them and make their experience more challenging. Indeed, of the four most advanced students in all skill areas in this conversation class, three were well motivated and displayed a good attitude. Two of them took the opportunity to pair up and speak at their level together every day. The one with low motivation and a bad attitude, however, that one bad egg, slouched and slacked off. The remaining model student was put in the situation of having to pair up with the slacker, who was a bit older and constrained by peer loyalty and friendship; he was denied a lot of speaking practice because of this situation and therefore suffered because of this bad egg. It was plain to see that he was bored and frustrated, and he even mentioned it, while the other two advanced students progressed and got pleasure out of being in the class.

The bad student complained all the time. He expressed disinterest in nearly everything except computer games and tried to justify himself by giving the impression that he was disadvantaged for one reason or another. He did not signal an ounce of hope. He had nothing positive to say. He was disrespectful to me. He failed to do nearly everything I asked students to do in the class. He always gave lame excuses. He was the first to ask to end the class early. He did not follow lessons. I think he was manipulative. He knew that other guys would be compelled to show support and defend him. I think he was mischievous enough to want to affect the atmosphere and drag others down with him to his muddy existence. I also think that he was enough of a smart ass to consider himself good enough at English to be able to coast without thinking and still get an A. This tactic had not paid off. Because he was not heeding me and not following class activities, he performed poorly at a major assignment. Of course, he complained and seemed not to understand how a low mark was possible in his case, but I stood by my marking and explained how. I gave him a lecture about motivation and not choosing to study subjects that do not inspire passion, rejecting any morsel of suggestion that it might be the teaching that was the cause of his woes. 

This guy missed a couple of classes, though he was counting on a good attendance record to squeak through with an A or B+, I guess. It sure was nice when he did not show up. His absence brightened up the atmosphere and made the experience agreeable. 

On the last day, he again asked to leave early. The plan was a test followed by a last class of the semester party of sorts. I had promised to bring refreshments, which I had done. Yet, this worm was rude enough to actually ask me to leave right after the test. I said, "Yes, please leave. Leave forever. Do not come back. Do not sign-up for my classes ever again. You have a bad attitude. I don't want you around." That penetrated his feeble consciousness a little, and he showed a little shame. He stuck around, and I treated him like any other class member, offering him biscuits and drinks, but I really would have preferred him gone.

I hope you agree with my assessment and response to this one bad egg.

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