Teaching the unteachable

What do you do when you find yourself in front of a class of teenage students who don’t want to be there, who couldn’t care less about what you are there to help them learn, and who even more vehemently do not want your help — which is the one thing they really need?

I have found myself pondering this question quite often lately. I really want to help these learners, I can see and feel they desperately need to be helped, guided, educated, and I wish I could do just that. But the one thing they don’t want (or pretend not to anyway) is my help. My colleagues’ answer is often simple enough: disciplinary action. Which of course works and is necessary in some cases. But how to make learners see that you care, that they truly need to be guided, that you are there for them, and not against them? This I have still to figure out — if ever indeed there is a way to do that.

I know there are many teachers who work in much tougher situations than the one I find myself in, and I can’t help but have the profoundest admiration for their commitment to this hard, demanding job whose importance is hardly ever acknowledge — let alone rewarded — by society. I wish I could ask them how they make it work, how they face daily dozens of students who’d rather be anywhere else, who see teachers (often the only people who are trying to help them) as their worst enemy.

I guess I’ll have to make do with the tools and strategies I have developed so far, and use a trial-and-error approach to figure out what works and what doesn’t in each specific situation. Still, in these days more then ever I wish education were at the forefront of all political agendas, of national and international funding, and most of all of people’s concerns.

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