A Letter To An Unnamed Student

Dear Unnamed Student,

I am writing you this letter because I feel the need to apologise. Recently, I was thinking back to our lessons, and I realised I needed to say sorry. I should have given you more when you were a student in my class.

There was clearly a problem from the beginning. As you were all too aware, the other students in your class were at a higher level than you. You struggled to produce even the most basic sentences when asked and it was clear from the beginning that you weren’t going to fit in. I imagine that made you feel vulnerable, embarrassed, maybe even ashamed and lonely. I hate to think of anyone feeling that way in one of my classes.

When I look back on it now, I wish I had been more thoughtful and considerate. Unfortunately amongst us teachers there was an unspoken agreement that you were somehow unteachable. I think we thought that to give you the lessons you needed would have been detrimental to the other students in your class. Now I don’t think that’s true, I think we told ourselves that to make us feel better. We wanted to be reassured into thinking that by neglecting you, we were doing the right thing.

And that’s what I want to apologise for. We were wrong. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, or was incapable of finding a way to help you, but I was lazy of thought and I took the easy way out. You were there in my classroom and you deserved as much of an opportunity to learn as anyone else. So I’m sorry, and I want you to know I’ll never do that to another student for as long as I teach.

Yours,

James

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14 thoughts on “A Letter To An Unnamed Student

  1. I'm sure plenty of other teachers have shared that conversation about the “unteachable student” in the class.

    An interesting thought about ELT is that we really try to group students into “same level” groups to progress at the same rate (through a course book)but even when we do that students are still radically different from each other, learn at different rates, have different strengths and weaknesses…Maybe we shouldn't value “same level” groups as much as we do…

  2. Oh, this is a tough and painful issue.
    First I want to applaud you for your attitude and may students bless their good fortune for having you as a teacher.
    Yes, some teachers are lazy and don't try to accomodate all students. That is shameful. But you aren't and neither am I. Yet there are situations when a student is in a class which is totally wrong for him and you can simply not give him everything he needs. Some students need remedial teaching, one-on-one and it is simply not possible to give them all they would get in a one-on-one lesson within the class lesson. I could go on about this…
    Bottom line is we should bend over backwards. But once we have, we shouldn't feel guilty because sometimes our best isn't good enough.

  3. Oh my….
    I get a sinking feeling when I read this. I remember getting into the same situation one too many a times. It's toughest when it's the lowest level, where learners can probably not even speak a word of English. Then, you have the most dreaded moment :- a learner who's been repeating the first level countless times. It was truly, truly a challenge.

  4. Thanks for sharing this James. Love to read how we, are moving forward and somehow I think it has to do with “integration” integration of people with different abilities, thoughts, beliefs, I guess it's all about “integration”. Letting everybody show their own light …
    Thanks James, Deeper than deeper

  5. Chris – I agree that the multilevel class system is problematic in ELT and I wonder if anyone has researched the effect that this has on the students at the top and bottom of the clases.

    Clearly this is one of the issues with this particular student, but she was in the 'lowest' level class, so there wasn't anywhere else for her to go. But what we teachers should have been talking about was not how impossible it was to tech her, but what we could have done to help her. I think confidence would have been a good place to start.

  6. Naomi – I agree completely with what you said, especially

    “Bottom line is we should bend over backwards. But once we have, we shouldn't feel guilty because sometimes our best isn't good enough.”

    I just wished I hadn't lazily toed the line and made that effort.

  7. Ratna – But without the challenge, what would it be? It wouldn't be the job that motivates us to write and read blogs, and connect with each other wherever in the world we are. It can be tough, frustrating but the pay off is huge.

  8. Debbie – Thanks. “Letting everybody show their light”, I like that! And I think that was the problem, I couldn't find a way to let that happen. I wish I could go back and try again.

  9. Wow, this is good. I've felt this way too, but now I'm into private tutoring and so I give all my attention to one student. I left classroom teaching partly because I had a bunch of unmotivated students and it was difficult to really make an impact in such a huge class. So I've felt similarly before.

    I hope most teachers feel the same way when something like this happens.

  10. Hi! My name is Sean. I was wondering, do you ever publish guest posts? I have an idea for an article about how to maximize your TEFL certification. If you're interested, e-mail me at seanlords13(at)gmail(dot)com. Hope to hear from you soon!

    -Sean

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