The one student

It was a normal class; as usual, we were checking homework at the beginning of the lesson. The students’ task was to answer questions including a new grammar point have to/ don’t have to.

Does your mother have to do the shopping every week? 

It was Kate’s turn to read her answer from the workbook. She said: ‘No, she doesn’t.‘ I nodded and wanted to go on but somewhere at the back of my mind I realized that the answer was a bit unusual – it was not what I would normally expect a girl to say about her mum. As I wanted my students to provide true answers, I decided to look into this discrepancy. My own daily routine ran through my mind and I listed the arguments; first of all, I definitely need to go shopping every day. I can’t imagine a situation when doing the shopping once a week would suffice provided I need fresh food. Maybe if I lived somewhere off the beaten track, I would only go shopping once a month, for example, and stuff the food into the freezer. Maybe if someone did the shopping for me, I could say that I don’t have to do the shopping every week. One way or another, I stubbornly expected Kate to say that her mum has to do the shopping at least once a week. So I asked her a few additional questions in English to cast doubt on her original answer. She answered patiently, but rather curtly. The interrogation had only taken a few seconds before someone shouted out gravely: She doesn’t have a mother. At that moment I realized how stupid I was. Of course, I knew Kate’s mum had died. Kate’s class teacher had informed us discreetly at a staff meeting. And only an idiot can forget such a thing! All I was capable of was: Oh, I’m very sorry, Kate. But I could see her eyes were already flooded with tears. And so were mine. She didn’t burst out crying, though. This 11-year-old managed to control her emotions. I think it’s because she’s so brave and never talks about her sorrow, one fails to remember its existence.

One tends to forget that Kate had lost her beloved mother because at first sight, Kate is a happy girl. She’s a self-motivated, enthusiastic and disciplined kid, never demanding extra attention. However, when observing her closely, one notices she is somewhat different. Although you can often see her smile, she’s more serious than other kids of her age. The other day we watched a cartoon in class. Shaun the Sheep is fun and the kids regularly burst into laughter. But Kate never did. She obediently watched the screen and whenever the kids laughed out loud, she just looked around, a little puzzled. At that moment it occurred to me that she simply doesn’t need fun to be happy – she needs love and care, something that the other kids have and take for granted and that’s why they can laugh, have fun and enjoy life so easily….


About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for almost 25 years and I still love my job. You can find out more about my passion here on my blog.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The one student

  1. eltfunatics says:

    Hi Hana,
    I've nominated your blog for the Liebster Awards:) Here is the link


  2. Hana Tichá says:

    Oh, thank you very much. What an honor!!! 🙂


  3. Hana, I like this post for quite a number of reasons. Perhaps 'like' is an interesting choice of word considering the topic, but nonetheless, it was a very interesting read.

    Firstly, your analysis of the situation, and how, as you say, you 'stubbornly” expected the student to provide an answer. I have found myself in this situation many a time, and in an effort to get a student to 'display' their knowledge, have pushed and pushed only to find out that they had a legitimate reason for giving the answer that they had given. Perhaps one of the dangers of elicitation?

    Then of course there was Kate's situation. One that perhaps many of us are never able to understand. I remember a slightly similar situation once, albeit with a co-worker. I had asked him something about his mother, only to find out that she had died. It was such a horrible, awkward moment – the silence that followed.

    In the 'tardiness' post that I recently put on my blog, I mention about students having legitimate reasons for turning up late to class, and can remember one time when I student (1:1) class arrived about 20 minutes late. I think I made a joke about his watch not working or something, only to find out h had been visiting his mother in hospital after she had been involved in a car crash. I've since learned to be a little more careful.

    And, I think the final point you make, about not needing fun to be happy is also extremely important. And I think from a bigger picture point of view, we can see this in many students. Sometimes what we think they need to be happy, is not always what they actually need. Understanding each individual students' needs is definitely not easy, but something that as teachers we should be aware of. It is something I will consider carefully next time I have a student who doesn't respond in a way that I expect.



  4. Hana Tichá says:

    I'm very happy to hear you like this post, David. I understand what you mean by your reluctance to use the word 'like' here. If you had a Facebook account, which I know you don't, I'm sure you would be outraged in some cases; people sometimes hit the 'like' button with posts showing authentic violence. I know (hope) that they don't really 'like' what's happing – they just want to show concern, sympathy or whatever. But still, I find this rather controversial.
    I imagine that now and then, most teachers find themselves in similar situations described in the post, even though not willingly and wittingly. This just happens. The thing is that we often hasten to react, respond, or simply do something at any costs instead of being patient listeners and wait a while before taking action. And you know how awkward one might feel afterwards, after having been impatient and insensitive, especially in situations like the one you mention in your comment.
    Yes, fun in the classroom has recently been a much debated subject. I used to believe that fun must be present in every lesson. But I’ve changed my opinion, not just based on this one incident. I believe that fun can sometimes even hinder learning. I remember a teacher trainer told me long ago something along these lines: There are two dangerous things in teaching which can spoil a lesson; if an activity is too boring or too interesting.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s