In my previous post I challenged out #RPPLN crew to describe a negative (or challenging) experience they have had.
Josette LeBlanc went her own way and provided a perspective on classroom interaction that will get you thinking.
I too will follow in Josette’s renegade footsteps. The following will be a description of an experience I had in the classroom. There is quite a bit of self introspection mixed in as well if you’ll be so kind as to indulge me.
One thing about reflective practice (and something our #RPPLN has consistently shown) is that the “rules/directions” we follow are guidelines, not instructions.
That said, here goes.
I walk into my second class of the day straight after the completion of my first, which happens to be in the next classroom over. I love my first class of the day. The dynamics of the class and the rapport the students and I have built together has been fantastic. I always leave with a smile on my face.
It’s an intermediate class. There are 15 students on the roll, but attendance is sporadic and averages about 7. Students are all young adults or adults.
The second class of the day is full of great students as well. However, I actively feel my enjoyment and happiness leeching into the atmosphere as I walk into the room. The second class has some very strong personalities. It also has a few quite meek ones. It demands constant attention on my part, to make sure the dominant members don’t take all my attention.
I’d like to focus on an interaction I have had with my two biggest talkers.
This experience comes after the class has met a number of times. It or something similar has happened a number of times throughout the course and is one of the big reasons maintaining the enthusiasm and verve from the day’s first lesson has become so challenging.
One of the students in question is by far the oldest in the class. He is also not a native Korean, in a class full of native Koreans. The other student is nearer the age of her classmates, but has been a previous student of mine on two separate occasions. We are friendly and both frequently join weekly coffee/lunch sessions I have as open invitations to all my students.
Both of these students are quite gregarious. They love speaking. They both tend to dominate the conversations they are in. They both have major difficulties with listening comprehension. They both demonstrate very low awareness of their own speech or of the speech with whom they converse.
With these challenges in mind I come into the classroom. These two students are always the first in the room, and I try to give them as much of my time as possible before the class proper begins.
On this particular day I felt more acute frustration than normal at my inability to replicate the great atmosphere and dynamics of my day’s first lesson. I was annoyed that errors and mistakes noted and worked upon many lessons over were not being noticed by the students themselves or their peers. I was confused as to why peer noticing was working so well in the first lesson of the day and failing so miserably in the second.
Today I entered the room and spent the break chatting with my eager beavers. When the time came and all students had assembled we began our “free time” (a short period at the beginning of class when students can don their metaphorical language hats and settle in for the day).
During this time students are to chat with neighbours, or friends, or me about whatever they’d like to talk about. On this day, eager beaver 1 & 2 had little intention on halting their conversation with me. In previous classes I had tried to use this energy to spark other students into comment. Many are very reluctant to talk. Today I saw all the other students sitting around our circle looking bored, with their heads down, as my two dominant speakers maintained their line of questioning with me. I repeated many times that it is “free time” and that this is their chance to talk about whatever they’d like to talk about with whomever they wanted to talk to.
I repeated these instructions with little avail.
I allowed my frustration to show with the tone of my voice, even though I maintained my smile. I cut off the two in mid-concurrent-sentence.
STOP! Thank you. Slow down. Listen. Please. Slow down. Now it is free time. Please talk to one of your classmates. Try to listen to yourself. Listeners, help the speakers notice errors. Mistakes are A-OK! Let’s fix our errors! (We had talked about the difference many times. We also discussed the need to fix our errors and how helpful we could be to each other in working towards that goal.)
As I did this with a tone of a parent speaking to a child, with a forced smile pasted on my face, I was ashamed of myself. My eager beavers responded with graciousness and smiles. It certainly did not stop them from wanting to interact. Neither did it stop them from attending my coffee/lunch sessions or generally hurt the rapport within the class. Nevertheless, I was disappointed in my reaction.
As we moved on into other activities I replayed the whole experience back in my head many times. I haven’t been able to let go of that ill feeling, that is until I read a couple of Josette’s recent posts on compassion training and self-lovingkindness.
When I think back on this experience now I see myself seeing the hole in the road coming (even though I wasn’t in a mindful enough place to see it in real time). That knowledge led to more self abuse. That is, until I recognised my large step forward in regards to my own mindfulness.
I had seen the hole in the road. I recognised it immediately upon falling in. I mitigated some of the possible negative outcomes by handling the fall more gracefully than I might have done in the past, when that hole would’ve had me at sixes and sevens. All positive steps taken.
Recognising all of this leaves me in a better place the next time this particular hole presents itself, and even if I fall in again, I know I can be mindful enough to recover.
That knowledge is a massive weight lifted.
Thank you for reading and providing me a space to further explore. As others have noted, simply by “getting it out there” we see with far more clarity.
Some questions to consider:
What impact do I think my handling of these students had on their enthusiasm, desire or learning?
How might it have affected the classroom dynamic as a whole?
How might I better manage my expectations from class to class?
How could I have better managed the class as a whole to better serve each student as a whole person (how could I have tailored my lessons to better fit each students needs)?
And many many more…