Individual Approach in Teaching

“Claire” was a student in my Intermediate Spanish course that I taught during my very first semester at this university. Claire was very smart but hopelessly lazy. The few times she actually bothered to show up for class, she just slept on her desk. She refused to do her lab assignments and never handed in any homework. As a result, her Spanish was very weak and she failed the course. I tried hard to awaken Claire’s interest in the subject but nothing I did had any impact.

Three years later, Claire joined my course on the culture of Spain. This is an advanced course that requires a high level of linguistic competency, so I was worried about Claire. I soon discovered, however, that Claire’s Spanish had improved dramatically. Obviously, my colleagues who have been teaching Claire in the meanwhile found a way to get through to her and make her interested in the Spanish language and culture.

Claire participated actively in class discussions, did brilliantly on the tests, and showed great enthusiasm for the course. I was especially impressed with her beautiful and fluid writing in Spanish. So I decided to support Claire’s efforts and complimented her writing and the great progress she had made on one of the written assignments I returned to her.

That was a huge mistake. It turned out that Claire does not respond well to positive feedback. The day after I gave her the assignment with my praise, Claire sauntered into class late and spent the entire session sleeping on the desk. Since then, she hasn’t turned in a single homework and failed the last mini-quiz. With a single ill-considered paragraph that I wrote praising her progress, I undid all of the good work my colleagues had invested into making Claire a better student.

In the course of my teaching career, I have managed to turn around many students with praise and encouragement. However, this is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. Some people are motivated by compliments while other lose all motivation when they are praised. I wish I had invested more time into figuring out the approach that would work with Claire. I have 99 students this semester, and developing an individual approach to each student is not possible. This is the price we pay for taking on too many students and expanding our teaching loads.

13 thoughts on “Individual Approach in Teaching

  1. Don’t be so hard on yourself! While small class sizes are always better, you have your own personal teaching style that has been incredibly successful overall. No teacher can be everything to every student. This is why students have multiple teachers! It is incredibly beneficial to students to have many teachers and to experience a multiplicity of pedagogies. And incidentally, this yet another reason why home schooling is such a bad idea: homeschooling provides one teacher for your entire life. Can you imagine anything worse? But I can tell you are a wonderful teacher who cares deeply about your students. And you also seem to have wonderful colleagues. Everybody benefits! 🙂


  2. In the circumstances that you outline, I would single this young woman out in front of the entire class and shame her for her bad behavior in this class. I would not mention the past, or your note of praise. Just take her down ruthlessly in public. That will get her attention and shake up other slackers as well.


  3. hi”’friends is a new day that the lord has give as’praise his name,,,,DOT,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,THE WAY!

    John 14:5-6

    Thomas said to Him, Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way? Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.


  4. You did not sabotage Claire’s learning experience. She is the one to blame. As an educator I did much worse that praising a student for hir good work, while ignoring that that student was a masochistic human being.


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