Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Fire Your Students

by AJ

Obviously, Ive had a difficult week at work. Still struggling to reach the right level of difficulty with my students (they're complaining that Im too difficult). Also Im broke at the moment, and that makes me a bit more risk-averse when it comes to work. I generally don't fear being fired, but now would not be a good time!

And so, feeling uncharacteristically risk averse, I stumbled across a recent post by Kathy Sierra on this exact topic. The timing was perfect... a slap on the face, a pep talk, and a sermon just when I needed one.

I was particularly encouraged by Ms. Sierra's confession that she too succumbs to the "play it safe" cop-out at times:

"Today at lunch I had one of those conversations with a co-author about the cover of the next Head First book, and there I was suggesting a "safer" cover model than the one he wanted (complete with all the logical reasons why people could complain about his choice). I still can't believe the words that were coming out of my mouth.

Blogging has not made this easier... if anything, the idea that a gazillion bloggers and commenters (or even ONE loud one) will seize any opportunity to find fault with your ideas and attempts can dampen one's willingness to be brave. So here's my quarterly reminder to all (me included) that if you're not doing something that someone hates, it's probably mediocre."

Yes indeed. If you're not doing something that someone hates, its probably mediocre. I may print that in large letters above my whiteboard, as a daily reminder. The "safest" approach, from one perspective, is to do what everyone else is doing.. don't rock the boat, follow procedure, don't stand out, cover your ass. In short, mediocrity. Few bosses will criticize an average teacher/tutor. Students will generally sleep walk through a "typical" class with no complaints. No one is passionate, no one is challenged, no one becomes enthusiastic or gung-ho. But no one complains either. No one hates your class (or you).

The trouble with this approach is that it goes nowhere. You end up doing the same goddam thing for 20 years. If you own your own private school, it may be decently successful... but probably not wildly successful. As a teacher, mediocrity may "cover your ass" at your current job.. but it won't help much when looking for a new one.

You can't please everyone... and shouldnt try. If you aim to be extraordinary.. you will piss some people off. Some students will absolutely hate your class. Ive got one or two of them now. Truth be told, Ive let them inhibit and worry me. But while I care for them, I realize Im selling out the whole class if I play it safe.

Some tech companies these days talk about "firing their customers". In other words, they identify customers who don't fit their mission and they encourage them to find competitors that better fit their needs. They focus on the customers they serve best, and they go to extremes to serve them.

Perhaps this is a wise choice for education. Fire some of your students..... the ones who dont fit with your personality. The ones you can't reach. The ones who are not served by your class. Rather than torture them and yourself, help them find another teacher or school that better fits them.

Finally, another social work/counseling example. This is common practice in the social work field. If a counselor and client don't seem to fit, it's considered an ETHICAL RESPONSIBILITY to help the client find another counselor who can better serve them. To hold onto them for ego, pride, or profit is considered unethical. You give it an honest shot, of course.. but when it becomes obvious that the relationship isnt working... you refer them to someone else.