When kids don’t want to be there


angry student

Image: sizumaru

Teaching Villagers rock! I’ve shared two problem situations with you recently, and the advice has been superb. Both teachers really appreciated your shared wisdom. I have another teacher with another fairly common problem. I’m sure you’ll be able to provide some excellent ideas for this situation, too.

What do you do when you have a student who just doesn’t want to be in your class? Young learners don’t often choose to study English. They are in English class because their parents think it’s a good thing for them to do.

I have kids that just shout for no reason other than to be loud and annoy other kids. One kid broke all the lead in my mechanical pencil for no reason other than it was there. Then he (the pencil lead breaking kid) snuck upstairs after asking to go to the bathroom. (I teach at home.) I know he doesn’t want to be there. His mom is definitely sending her boys to English class to get them out of her hair (the younger brother is in kindy class and he doesn’t want to be there, but he’s not *too* disruptive or destructive). She has a 9-month old and a husband that doesn’t live at home right now. I don’t really want to tell anyone not to come (I need the money!) but … *sigh*. This is my elementary class–he is in 3rd grade. The class isn’t very demanding, we review what we’ve learned, we play games, and sing songs. It’s hard because the student doesn’t want or understand why he is in English class.

Can you help? Have you ever had a student who acted this way? What suggestions can you give this teacher?

You may also like...

10 Responses

  1. Mary says:

    OK. So he doesn’t like English and he gets bored in class. What DOES he like? Why don’t you try to find out what he is interested in? You might establish a connection there… Does he play a musical instrument? Is he keen on anime? Does he like playing football? There are so many activities you might prepare (or find, the internet is just full of ready-made worksheets) using this information to your advantage (that is, the kid finally paying attention and participating actively). I had the same problem with a 10-year old boy whose face finally lit up when we did maths in English, he just loves numbers and everything that has to do with science, so I try to introduce some science funfacts or to do arithmetic every week. Good luck!

    • Barbara says:

      This is so very true, Mary. One of the nice things about teaching neighborhood children is that you get to hear about likes and dislikes, and what clubs they belong to and what’s going on with their family and siblings. It all matters. One of things that really interests my students these days is technology. It doesn’t have to be anything major — having a chance to use an app on my phone, or record each other doing a puppet show, or playing an online English game. For the most part, my students’ parents are afraid to allow them to touch the family phone or computer, so it’s still a big deal. It takes a lot of planning to incorporate gadgets so that they aren’t just novel toys, but it’s really engaging when I can.

  2. Anna Musielak says:

    It is a tough situation….I would definitely:
    1. Try to find something that the kid is really interested in (games/football/films..) and build a lesson around that topic
    2. Create a kind of a reward system – for every “good” non-desruptive behaviour
    the pupils gets a sticker/plus/point – whatever works and once he reaches a certain number he can either have a 5 minute recess/play a favourite game/get
    no homework pass/choose a fav activity
    3. if there are more kids in the group do something REALLY interesting with them – the ones that behave well that is – play a non-verbal game/watch a funny, short film or youtube clip – reward them – maybe then the kid who misbehaves will see that English learning can be fun and good behaviour is noticed and rewarded.

    • Barbara says:

      Thanks, Ania! One of the ways I do this is to put a really popular activity at the end of class, but announce it at the beginning. If we can finish everything we need to finish before the end of class, the activity is a treat. I’ve noticed that students seem to work together and police each other, and peer pressure is stronger than anything I can do to guide behavior.

  3. Lesley Koustaff says:

    You have my sympathies! This is a tricky situation indeed, but one that can be handled. This is what I do and have had success with over the many years I have taught children. It involves a series of talks about acceptable and not acceptable behavior in class between you and the Ss, you and the parents, the parents and their children, and the Ss amongst themselves. I always set a few rules like: Don’t bother anyone. Respect things in the classroom. etc I say, “You are in my home. It’s important to respect my property. How would you feel if someone came into your room and messed with your things?” It is important that Ss understand the reason for the rules. Children are smart – they get it. Both parents and Ss need to understand that if they are coming into your home, then your property needs to be respected. This is not unreasonable. Also, once rules have been set, and they are understood by Ss and parents, I write them on a poster so they are visible in class. I then ‘enforce’ them with consequences appropriate to the infraction. As Ss know the rules, you can simply say “What rule are you breaking?” It is then between the rule and the S, not you and the S, so this reduces confrontation. An important thing in this scenario is that you are willing to walk away from a S who shows continual disrespect to you and the other Ss, thereby continually disrupting class. I always tell my Ss that I am there to help them, and the easier they make it for me to help them, the more I am able to help them. I also say, “We will be together for this hour every week, so let’s all do our best to behave well during this time together so we can learn. Isn’t it nice if you walk out of class knowing more than when you walked in?”
    I have often found that this continual bad behavior is a cry for attention, and once the S realizes that the bad behavior brings no attention other than fleeting attention for the consequence, it stops. In one case I spoke to a child I knew was troubled. I told him that I knew there was a great little boy inside and i wanted to see him. I asked him why I never got to see that little boy. I asked him if the next week he would be willing to show me that little boy. I told him that would make me very happy. Next class when he came I told him I was looking forward to having him in class. Worked like a charm.
    As I said, this is what I do and have done, and may not work for everyone. It also depends on what your thoughts are about speaking to Ss in their native language. For rule setting I use their native language as it is important that they understand what the rule was and why it is important. I have the rules written in both English and native language.

    • Barbara says:

      Thanks, Lesley. I like the idea of having simple written rules to refer to. Even if they can’t read them independently, pointing to the rules immediately lets students know that something they’re doing doesn’t match what you expect.

      One more question I’ve found to be useful is, “Would your mother let you do that at home? Can I ask her?”

  4. DaveDodgson says:

    Fully agree with the above comments about finding something he is interested in. As you are teaching at home home and (I assume) working independently of any set syllabus beyond review of what they are doing at school, you have the chance and the time to do this. It might be sport, music, another subject but there will be something that he wants to do and will engage in regardless of the language. I have had students who are disrutptive or reluctant to join in but when we start using examples such as cartoon characters or computer games, they become very enthusiastic.

    Also, you said the class is not demanding and reviews what they have already learned – perhaps this is why this boy doesn’t see the point of being there. He may be acting up because he thinks he knows all of this language already. I would find a way to push the boundaries a little, taking what they have learned and building on it/adding something new so this boy and the others feel they are doing more than going over the same ground.

  5. Patricia says:

    I’ve been teaching kids for five years now and I also study pedagogy. I believe it would be nice if you stop for a while just to talk to the lid, explain him why does he need to study English and the importance of it all. You can also ask his mom to talk to him about it, so you both can work together.
    You already said that you work with different activities and I think it’s better if you keep it and try to vary more and more. Try to discover his interests and use them! Once I even used videogames to teach about food!
    At last but not least ALWAYS talk to him about everything and don’t be afraid of changing the activities if you think they’re not working or if the kid is not interesting enough.
    I hope it helps a little bit!

  6. Patricia says:

    And also for not acceptable behaviours you can give him options. One option is usually “bad”, for example: if a kid is playing with a toy in an inappropriate way, you can say: “you have two options: play nice or i’ll take the toy from you”

  1. June 19, 2013

    […] Young learners don't often choose to study English. They are in English class because their parents think it's a good thing for them to do. I have kids that just shout for no reason other than to be loud and annoy other kids.  […]