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Managing Teacher-Student Clashes

In English language classrooms, there are going to be times when teachers and students don’t quite mesh. There may simply be A vs. B personality conflict, frustrating attitudes, or even ideological, political, and religious differences.

So, how do we handle those times? How do we avoid losing a student and possibly jeopardizing our good standing in a company or with a client base? Let’s look at the various types of clashes that can occur in an ESOL classroom. As we do, we’ll share ideas on how to manage them.

Read: How to Manage Unmotivated English Language Learners

Personality Clashes

Have you ever run into this situation? There are times when you and your student just don’t mesh. There may be something about them that rubs you the wrong way. You may just find them irritating.

But, if you let that stop you from teaching a class, you won’t get very far in this business. There have been occasions like this in, I would speculate, just about every teacher’s career who has taught long term.

If you look at the world as type As and Bs, you’ll realize it’s a contrast of 50%. So, we’re not going to teach people we connect with all the time. In fact, you’re possibly going to teach people you wouldn’t talk to or befriend if not for this line of work. That may sound harsh, but it’s reality.
How do we manage these times? First and foremost, remember that you’re a professional. As professionals, we’re not supposed to let our feelings get in the way of delivering top quality service. A professional remains professional rain or shine, through thick or thin.

Secondly, we need to remember that we’re in a service industry. We deliver language training services to our clients. Because of that, we must have enough discipline to take the good with the bad. And, since they are customers, we need to remain calm and treat them with due courtesy.

If you know any business process outsourcing (BPO) agents (i.e. call-center agents), ask them about it. They’re trained to encounter nastiness in people and still keep smiling. Investigate their training a little more and incorporate it into your work.

Bad-Attitude or No-Effort Clashes

Have you ever encountered students who are constantly negative? How about those who criticize everything? Others, who speak impolitely; speak to you without courtesy or respect?
Then, there are learners who aren’t much more than bumps on logs who don’t respond to questions, smile, nor do they even try!

What can you do about it? Smile! Just realize that this person is investing their time, effort, and finances to improve themselves. Understand that they’re humans too, with dreams, goals, and difficulties in life just like you and me.

As you see them in a different light, you might just be able to get past their attitudes and realize that sometimes, maybe much of the time, they’re like that because they’re scared, demotivated, or nervous.

Read: Teacher Courtesy in the ESL Classroom

Ideological and or Political Clashes

There may be times when you don’t see eye to eye with your learners. You may not agree with their political or ideological beliefs. Do you alienate them? Do you decide never to teach them again? Will you spend class time getting them to understand your political point of view?
Each option, I’m sorry to say, has made it’s way into an ESOL classroom on more than one occasion. But there’s a better way to handle these times. You can understand that not everyone has the same political standpoint as you. You can realize your role as an ESOL teacher is not to convert people to your politics or ideology.

Your role is to facilitate English language acquisition. However, your class members intend to use English (within reason), which is their business. They do not pay us for coming down on them for their ideologies or political choices.

Religious or No-Religion Clashes

Sometimes clashes arise over differences in religious beliefs. In fact, you may clash with students for having no religious beliefs or they with you. Will you spend the entire class injecting your religious perspectives? Conversely, will you spend the class downing them for theirs? Will you belittle them for having religious beliefs if you have none yourself?

When it comes to religious clashes, however, you catch more bees with honey. Many if not most religions look to convert people to their beliefs and worldviews. Often, these beliefs entail some kind or courteous behavior to accomplish those goals.

If you consider yourself faithful to your religion and religious convictions, you may just win a student over by simply behaving nicely. You never know, your student may be aware of your beliefs and by your decency, he or she may become interested in knowing more.

But, whatever you do, it’s not worth pushing learners away because they don’t believe what you believe. In the end, won’t they think ill of your religion?

On the other hand, if you’re not a religious person (maybe atheist or agnostic), be aware that some of the more zealous students you encounter may be seeking to convert you to their religion. There’s no need to debate. You can simply ask that you not talk about such a highly charged topic as religion.

Pursue a career as a successful TESOL teacher!

Wrapping Up

Okay. We covered a somewhat heavy but needful topic today. We just aren’t going to mesh with every student. So, it helps to have a better idea of how you can view such circumstances. It also helps to know we have options for our responses when they occur.

What Do You Think? Did we miss anything? Are there other clashes you’d like to know more about? Or, perhaps there’s a clash or two from your own experience you’d like to share? We’d enjoy hearing from you. Feel free to tell us in the comments below.

And be sure to check out our professional TESOL certificate courses. Our TESOL programs are internationally recognized, plus we help our graduates with job placement. Feel free to contact us; a customer assistant would be glad to discuss the benefits of OnTESOL training and certificates with you. So, reach out today to learn more about which program would be a good fit for you.

Recommended Reading:

6 Ways You May Be Teaching English All Wrong

Techniques To Foster Participation In The ESL Class

TESOL Tips: Foster a Social Community in Your Classroom

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