What kind of students do you find difficult?


A student once asked me, “What kind of students do you find difficult?” I couldn’t reply immediately, but this question lingered in my mind for months. In this post, I want to answer my student's question.

First, I’ll give some context. I don’t teach at a state school or a university. I do in-company training and prepare students for international exams. My students take classes voluntarily because they use English at work or because they want to enrol in university programs taught in English.

For me, difficult students are people who:
  • don't know what they want.

Some students come and say they want IELTS preparation. They don’t know anything about the test, but they think it’s a good idea to have the certificate. Sooner or later they realize they don’t really need it, so they decide they want to work with TED talks because they are sick and tired of coursebooks. But working with TED talks turns out to be harder than working with coursebooks, so they change their mind. They decide they want to focus on their writing skills. And then professional articles. And then something else. This juggling continues non-stop and produces no result (except for wearing me down).
  • don’t tell me what they want.

Some students are very secretive and superstitious about their needs, goals, and deadlines. They tell me they want to brush up on their English skills, but they don’t tell me what for because they are afraid to jinx it. This obscurity makes teaching hard because I don’t know what to focus on and for how long. Knowing the context and the time frames helps me choose the most appropriate methods and materials.
  • don’t trust me.

Some students don’t trust me as a teacher; they don’t do what I tell them and start teaching me how to teach them. But I know what I am doing. I know how to teach, what to teach, and in what order. I actually know several ways to teach. If something that works for most students doesn’t work for you, I will notice and change it. If you don’t get something right, I will see it and cover the topic again. If you struggle with a certain skill, I will make sure we practise it more. I have the learning process under control, and there is a purpose to everything I do.
  • don’t help me.

I am not omnipotent, I need help. The least students can do to help me is homework. But it’s not just that. It’s also watching movies, reading and many other things. Because having classes two times a week is not enough. Neither is following the coursebook. Find out more in my post “10,000 hours of English.
  • don’t want to get out of their comfort zone.

Examples of getting out of your comfort zone include but are not limited to using English-English dictionaries, explaining the word you need rather than saying it in Russian, speaking English with me at all times. Doing exercises that ask you to open the brackets or match the words with the definitions feels more comfortable, but let’s face, you are never ever going to do that in real life. If you are going to travel, work or study abroad, you will need to get real life skills. To get real life skills, you need to get out of your comfort zone. An English class is actually the most comfortable place to start doing it.
  • don’t want to work hard and hope for life hacks.

There are no life hacks, there is no magic, there is no perfect coursebook, app or teacher. There is hard work, day in, day out.

I have two questions for my readers:
1) If you are a teacher, what kind of students do you find difficult?
2) If you are a language learner, what kind of teachers do you find difficult?

Photo by Irina Lutsenko.
The photo features an art piece spotted in front of King John’s Castle in Limerick, Ireland.

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