Where I Fail As a Teacher

I’m a very good teacher but I’m far from perfect. There is a lot of room for improvement in my teaching. One thing that I consistently fail at is mixing students up as often as I should. In a language course, students tend to choose one or two partners they are most comfortable with. Since most of the in-class work happens in groups, students want to work with their buddies.

This is very detrimental to their learning because they settle into the same roles and their language skills do not develop as well as they could. To give an example, if one person in the group is good at conjugating verbs, s/he will be put in charge of conjugating by the group, and other people will not get to practice their own conjugation skills.

The best thing to do is to mix them up and place them with new partners all the time. I know that I should be doing it but it isn’t easy. Students really resist being separated from their friends and placed with strangers. They get sulky, whiny, and sometimes have to be almost forced to change groups. This is disruptive to the learning process and creates an unpleasant atmosphere in the classroom. So I forego this practice most of the time.

This semester, I’ve had two buddies in one of my courses who threw actual tantrums whenever I attempted to separate them. I stopped trying and just let them be. Of course, the result is that now each of them is lacking a crucial skill because he’s been relying on the friend to provide it. Both run a serious risk of not passing the course.

Maybe I should explain at the beginning of the course why working in different groups is important. It always feels like students get really bored whenever you start explaining the methodology of teaching to them.

11 thoughts on “Where I Fail As a Teacher

  1. Could it be that the tantrums have to do with extreme shyness or not being comfortable with other classmates? Additional icebreaker activities might help with that. It can also help to set up activities in which each student has the opportunity to speak to several students in rapid succession (sort of like educational speed dating) to get them used to partnering with different people.


  2. I agree that you should explain to the students why you’re breaking them up- they still be resistant, but they’ll be a touch more compliant. I often explain to students why I make them do things they find unpleasant, and they tend to respect me for that honesty and are lest sulky why they do the task. They also tend to give me more positive teaching evaluations 😉


  3. My Spanish professor asked us to sit in different seating arrangements by just announcing ‘don’t sit where you sat yesterday’ and then assigned groups just by who you were sitting next to. He did that for the first couple of weeks, so now we do naturally sit in unique arrangements each day, which means I usually end up working with different people, although I do actively avoid sitting next to one person who is – as awful as I feel saying it – really, really slow and has to be pulled through every exercise.

    Perhaps giving a quick explanation about working with different people would be helpful for resistant students.


  4. Putting on the syllabus something like: “You must work at least n times with each other class member,” where n is appropriate to the setup of the course, would help, I think. Probably n = 2, n = 3, or n = 4 would suffice for a typical class size. It should be possibel to maybe require students to get the signatures of everyone in their group each time, and give points for the most balanced set of partenrs. Part of learning a language is being able to communicate with people one is not really comfortable with, it seems to me.


  5. I just do not, do not, do not understand the entitlement mentality of students today. I hear this from all my teacher friends: “the students won’t do this, don’t want to do that, complained about this and that” — I just don’t get it. I went to public school in Florida in the Seventies, a time and place where you would think discipline was lax, and it was, but when a teacher told us to do something, we did it. Sure, sometimes there were token protests, but nothing serious — mostly along the lines of “awww, do we have to?” The only thing I recall that was an ongoing problem was talking in class, but if the teacher chose to tend to that problem by moving seats around (so the Chatty Cathys had to set apart), it was done, there was no “unpleasant atmosphere” or anything else. #youkidsgetoffmylawn #inmyday


  6. I mix students up by putting a number, letter, symbol etc on the activity I’m handing out and they have to find the student with the matching one. I also explain why I do things in language classes, and although at first I thought the students would be bored, they actually seemed to really appreciate it and were more dedicated to the activities afterwards. So I’d definitely recommend trying it.


  7. I do a mix of a lot of things suggested here:

    1) I explain beforehand the value of working with new people.

    2) I make it a requirement at times. Often — at least initially — I will specify that the newbie arrangement is just for a short time (15 minutes, one class, etc.). This seems to soothe a lot of teething troubles.

    3) I do the number/symbol/partner thing fairly regularly as well — again, with shorter time durations at first.

    4) In my situation — where I often offer extended (2-3 weeks) partner writing options (they may also choose to work alone) — I make it clear that the Big Projects are their safeguards. At least for the group of students that I work with, this gives them a sort of security blanket that, at least for the assignments that will majorly impact their grades, they will not have to work with an Unknown Quantity partner unless they choose to do so.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.