Why you should fire that toxic student.

Introduction

When I decided to go freelance as a language teacher, I did it because I wanted to learn and grow professionally. I was tired of being at the mercy of schools and agencies that weren’t paying me what I was worth, and classes that left me physically exhausted and professionally disillusioned. Yes I wanted to decide my own schedule and design classes the way I had always dreamed of, but I also wanted to thrive personally. The transition hasn’t been easy.

Clash of values

I once had a student who after 6 months began to make racist comments. This is not as uncommon in Spain as one would hope. But this student was particularly open about her views. She would literally say “I hate (add any of several ethnic groups here)” when not prompted to do so in any way, in addition to making not so veiled allusions about which people she did not like on her trip to New York. Maybe I should have been flattered, as she obviously trusted me with her darkest opinions. But seeing as this goes completely against my values and sense of basic human dignity and equality, not to mention that my partner is of one of the groups she said she hates, the relationship had to be terminated, and soon.

Poor Communication

Some students think they can disappear without a trace and then expect to fall back into your trusted hands whenever they feel like it. One such student was a no-show for a class. She later sent me a text explaining why she couldn’t attend and that she would be in touch soon to schedule our next class. Already the second of such episodes, she got back in touch months later, with stories of all the stress and problems in her life, and declared that she now wanted to recommence “her classes”. Annoyed, I decided to take my time in responding — one week to be exact. Well, she never let me reach that week, because within a few days she had already sent me a scathing message, something to the effect of “how dare I not respond to her message!” and that she would now be searching for another teacher. Nowhere in any of her messages was there a single “I’m sorry” or “How are you?”. Good riddance!

Narcissism

Beware of students who never ask about you and your life. Yes, it’s obvious that classes focus on the lives and experiences of students and teacher-talk time should be kept to a minimum, especially if you’re trying to build up your student’s fluency and confidence. A 80–20 ratio for student versus teacher-talk time is a good rule of thumb.

Toxic behaviour

Some students can kill the enthusiasm you have for your work through subtle, negative behaviour. This behaviour can vary, and I’m no psychologist, but it would seem to arise from their own insecure sense of self and/or or a need for control in any situation.

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