The Difficult Student

Most group classes have what I like to call the Difficult Student. It’s the one who’s always playing with their cell phone in class, or who is chronically 30 minutes late, or who thinks they know better than the teacher, or is in some other way disruptive of the class dynamic.

I knew my Difficult Student (hereafter referred to as DS) would be a problem from the first day of the semester, when I was calling on individual students for answers to an exercise:

Me: Carolina, do you have the answer to number 3?

DS (Not Carolina): Number 3 is “he was running”! Past continuous!

Carolina looked rather taken aback. I suppressed an impulse to say, “Is your name Carolina?” to DS; it seemed childish, and DS is in his 50s. Taking a deep breath, I moved on:

Me: Felipe, can you tell me your thoughts on the article?

DS (also not Felipe): Well, teacher, I think that bla bla bla bla bla…

DS doesn’t seem to understand that it is a group, not an individual class. He repeatedly tries to monopolize my time and attention, sometimes interrupting other students (or even me) to make a comment that may or may not have anything to do with the topic at hand.

Here’s another classic:

Me: Please discuss the questions in exercise 5 with your partner. [Pairs up students]

DS: [Literally turning his back on his partner and talking to me instead] I have very strong opinion on this topic! I believe that –

Me: Wait! Please speak with your partner, who is Nelson.

DS: [Still directed at me] I believe that social responsibility is so important because –

Me: Yes! Tell your belief to your partner. [Leaves the room]

Pretty much every time I give a task that involves partners, I have to leave the room, otherwise DS thinks his permanent partner is me.

This incident, however, trumped them all:

Last month, DS was absent from 3 classes in a row. Thank God, I thought to myself as each class ran smoothly, Maybe he’s dropped out of the course. 

No such luck – the fourth week he was back, sitting in his typical seat (the one closest to me). This is what ensued:

Me: Let’s begin class. Today we’re going to talk about –

DS: Teacher! Did Reception tell you about me?!?

Me: …no, they didn’t.

DS: Well. Three weeks ago, I had a very bad cold, so I stayed home. Then the next week I missed class because I had to have some polyps removed from my rectum…

Me: [turns to face the board so as not to burst out laughing. He did not just say that in front of six classmates…!]

DS: …but fortunately they were not malignant. Then last week was my birthday. So I missed class because of two bad reasons and one good!

Me: Well, happy birthday, and welcome back.

Why, oh why couldn’t he have dropped the course???

  • Lori McHugh