Teacher vs. Student: How We Both Won 

Who’s being naughty and who’s being nice? 😂

Baobao Challenges

I’ve known one of my students for almost the entire time I’ve been with VIPKid (more than two years). Baobao, as I will refer to her, was six years old when she began her courses, and she is certainly one of my sharpest students. However, she was almost completely uncooperative for more than a year with me. She would play with her toys, she would answer questions incorrectly on purpose, or she would just make nonsensical babbling. The only time she would talk was to mimic me in a not-so-nice manner. I know this is a situation that might be trying for many, but for some reason, it never really bothered me. I just went with it.

Grandma Assuages

I guess it helped that her grandmother constantly wrote encouraging feedback, telling me how much Baobao loves me. I am sure Grandma was just being nice, but all the same, if we make the paying customers happy, then half the battle is won. Grandma tried other teachers; she probably knew that Baobao was not cooperative, and she wanted to see if there would be a different response with someone else. I am totally fine with this–I think that parents (or grandparents) should do what they think is best for their children. Grandma might not have known how to handle this situation; no one in the family except Baobao speaks any English. Baobao met with other teachers a few times, but Grandma’s attempts did not seem to come to fruition. Therefore, I remained her one and only teacher.

Have you ever taught to a pouty child for a full 25 minutes?  Challenging students sure can be frustrating, on top of the regular stresses our lives bring!

Teacher Perseveres

I continued to do what I had always done with her–I tried to get her to participate, but if she didn’t, I wouldn’t force it. In my feedback, I wouldn’t criticize her either. I would simply say that we worked on focusing on the lesson and following directions. I suppose I wasn’t so concerned because I only had so much control over the situation and I knew that Baobao was smart enough to catch on quickly.  Fast forward two years, and I started noticing a huge difference. A student who I wasn’t even sure could speak, read, or write English at the current level began to respond. She still wasn’t ecstatic about taking classes, but she would manage to crack a smile and even laugh sometimes. She was reading entire slides and answering questions correctly. When I would make conversation with her, she would answer my questions in full sentences.

It’s a Tie!

Naturally, this method isn’t what I’d use for every classroom challenge. Yet, it’s a good example of how we don’t always have to be the big boss in order for our kids to learn. Just because they aren’t paying attention or following directions doesn’t mean they aren’t subconsciously retaining the target language.

So what happened? I’ve pondered my relationship with this student often. Allowing her to have some control over the lesson made her trust me more. I permitted toys during the lesson because sometimes if I was lucky, she’d use them to demonstrate some knowledge. Playing with toys and drawing during class were helping her mind to anchor the information–kind of like when a sound or smell evokes a certain memory for us.

Sure, she probably has English classes in school, but as we all know, textbook learning isn’t enough for fluency in a target language. Fluency will only come about with a solid, interactive experience with another human being–a.k.a., conversation. Although I thought my efforts were going unnoticed, Baobao seemed to absorb the content from our lessons. Even her acts of defiance were working to her advantage, unbeknownst to her. She was using English, comprehending English to resist me stubbornly. What an ironic, albeit pleasant outcome to one of my biggest online teaching challenges!

2019-04-10T10:11:04+00:00

About the Author:

Hi there, fellow ESL teachers! I love traveling far and wide, playing piano, listening to Finnish metal, reading books from every genre, Netflix bingeing, cooking, rescuing animals, watching the stock market, linguistics, studying German, and renovating my old cabin-style home! One of my goals is to visit at least 25% of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, but in the meantime, I live in Florida with Thisbe the Dog and Pete the Cat. If you'd like to ask me questions about any of my articles, please feel free to follow me or contact me on Instagram @ESLwithGabrielle.