Thursday, October 25, 2012

Failing a difficult student

I'm blessed with an awesome brother whose wisdom and judgement I trust. A little while ago, I had talked to him about a student who was a difficult nut to crack: every activity I tried to make music lessons creative, multifaceted, and relevant only seemed to dig the student (henceforth referred to as "Putney" as a tribute to a college professor who had to put-up with my own frustrating antics as a student) deeper into frustration and boredom. 

By day two of lessons with Putney, I knew I had a student was, as cliche as it sounds, talented but unmotivated. I also recognized that I needed to completely change my approach. Some of my teacher friends deduced that Putney was a lost cause, that I should do what I can and just take the money until the parents eventually gave-up. However, something about that didn't satisfy me, and it wasn't until I talked to my brother that the reason became clear.

Through our conversation, I came to realize that students like Putney are exactly the type of students that need the full attention of teachers. I feel that the greatest failing of the education system comes from teachers dismissing difficult students too quickly and defaulting the path of least resistance. To paraphrase my brother, "Sometimes, people who are more mature than their age feel demeaned to be treated like children. Treat [Putney] with integrity and respect for the intelligence you say you recognize within," (although my brother's true words didn't sound like a stale fortune cookie on steroids). Lessons with Putney continue to be difficult, but by increasing the challenge in spite of increased resistance and treating Putney with mature dignity has put us on a path to progress rather than prolonged resistance. 

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