When students tell you how to teach

Does anyone else have this problem? Because I have this problem all the time.  Students often think it’s appropriate in the middle of class to tell me how much they dislike an activity.  They like to suggest “better” activities.  “Teacher, we should do this in class instead.  Your activity is confusing and difficult.”

Here’s how I generally address this problem:

  1. I preempt the problem by explaining the purpose of each activity before we do it.  If I think the activity might be confusing, I demonstrate it first before I ask the students to do it.
  2. That’s it. I don’t know how else to address this problem.

And yet the problem persists. I’ve noticed it’s always male students who make these comments. I’ve never had a female student tell me how to teach.  I’m also young, younger than some of the students I teach (though age doesn’t seem to be a factor – both young and older students have told me what to do before).  I think it’s also fair to say that it is mostly my Arabic-speaking and Eastern European students who make the comments. Could be a cultural thing, though I don’t get the impression they tell teachers in their countries how to run the classroom.

I sometimes wonder if it’s a misunderstanding of American culture.  My students always remark on how outspoken Americans are.  Do they think this extends to criticism of my teaching in the classroom?  I don’t know many Americans who would think they could get away with that.

Honestly, it doesn’t bother me when I know I’ve screwed up.  I’m not a perfect teacher, and sometimes I don’t explain an activity well or justify my lesson plan enough.  I’m not offended by criticism when it’s fair.

But, here’s what happened to me last Friday: I reminded my listening/speaking students that they need to be making appointments with me to make their video presentations.  This session, they’re making videos on Jing and we’re posting them to YouTube as an alternative to the traditional (boring) presentations they usually give.  One of my students spoke up: “Can we just do a regular presentation?  This is too complicated. No one likes this assignment.” He says this, despite the fact that I spent an entire class period explaining and discussing the assignment at the beginning of the session, and everyone seemed enthusiastic.

What is my response supposed to be? It’s Friday, I’m tired, and I’m not going to justify this assignment again.  When I snapped, he responded, hands in the air, “It was just a suggestion.”  But it wasn’t just a suggestion, even if that’s what he meant it to be.  When they question and criticize me in class like that, they undermine my authority.  When they catch me when I’m tired, I come off like the teacher who overreacted, and they’re the students who made a reasonable suggestion.

I honestly don’t know how to address this issue or if it even can be addressed.  I don’t know how to respond most of the time when a student calls me out in class.  I don’t understand what gave him the impression that was acceptable behavior in the classroom.  I can never tell if I’m under- or overreacting to the situation. Most of the time, I feel like saying (and sometimes I do), “You’re doing it because I’m the teacher, and I said so.”  Yes, the response mothers give to their children to shut them up. Because, though they may legally be adults, my students act like children more often than not.

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