The Hardest Kinds of Lessons

1.1-boredYou’d think that sitting around talking would be the easiest thing in the world, but it’s not.  Whether you’re teaching adults, teenagers, or little kids, there will come a time when you’ll wonder where your life went wrong.

The one-on-one tween:

This kid is failing English at school and his parents are punishing him with private tutoring once a week.  The parents are lovely people who paid the course fee without complaint, and everyone wants to see the kid’s grades improve.  Except the kid.  He doesn’t give two flicks about English or you or your brilliant activities.  He won’t open his mouth to save his life.  Week after week you try everything that normally goes well with his peers: talking about favorite movies, vocab card games, watching and describing interesting YouTube videos of skateboarders or musicians, riddles, funny stories, arts and crafts, madlibs activities, scrabble, and then finally silence.  You throw silence back at him and he sits like a bump on a log, peeling at the laminated corners of your table.

The solution?  Return the remaining money to his parents and tell them the truth: that this kid is wasting everyone’s time.  When he’s ready to open his mouth, he’s welcome to buy a new course.

Tweens can be the greatest students and even the most stubborn can be motivated.  But if they actively obstruct or resist learning, you’re doing everyone a disservice by continuing to play along.  The tween will waste the lesson with silence, thus punishing the parents who paid the fee.  If you give the parents the remaining money back, the tween will not get the victory he wanted because the money could still be put to use against him.  If you keep the remaining fee, you’ll only annoy the parents who will feel angry, not only at the tween, but also with you.  They will all unite as a family in the opinion that you’re a horrible money-grubbing charlatan, and that maybe it’s not the tween’s fault after all.

It’s important to tell the parents immediately if the tween is obstructing the lesson, and give them the chance to remedy the situation.  Maybe he’s shy, afraid, self-conscious, or needs to start with something easier.  But if you’re on your fourth lesson and the tween is still clearly just being a jerk, pull the plug.