The absence of something


In my previous post, I mentioned that I had completed a four-semester course in prevention of drug abuse at schools. One of the things that has stuck with me is that it’s very hard to notice the absence of something. For instance, if a student suddenly starts misbehaving, your attention is immediately drawn to it. You may find out that the student’s misbehaviour has deeper roots and you start acting in one way or another. You may try to talk to the student, give them advice, point them to a specialist, etc. However, in a group of boisterous teenagers, you may fail to notice that one of them is quieter than usual. In other words, the absence of misbehaviour of one particular student is harder to clock. If you think about it, this absence may, in the end, indicate something much more serious than if the majority of the class are mere troublemakers.

paper-109277_1280I realize I myself tend to overlook something in class just because I’m forced to focus on the salient aspects of what’s happening there. Somebody’s missing homework immediately captures my attention. Then, in an attempt to fix a thing which is deemed unacceptable, I may easily miss something equally undesirable going on right under my nose (for example that the rest of the class have their homework just because they copied it from one another during the break).

Even in a communicative language classroom, it’s likely that at some point, you’ll create an environment in which you’ll miss important things. For example, during a mingling activity, you may be under the impression that everything’s perfect. The kids chat and laugh and thus you believe they are learning. Running dictations are certainly fun but do all students benefit from them? What about slower or introverted kids? However, this doesn’t only apply to language teaching. My ten-year-old son once told me that it distracts him a lot when his classmates shout ‘finished’ one by one when they solve a math problem. He needs more time and the fact that the others start shouting prevents him from concentrating. Does his teacher notice this? My other son told me that in PE lessons, he used to be the one to be picked last by the team captains. He gradually got used to it. Did the teacher?

Another thing I learned during the course was that even the nicest kids can be the worst bullies. What’s more, even the worst forms of bullying can easily go undetected because the whole group has already accepted and complies to the norms of the bullies so to an outsider, everything may appear in order at first sight. It’only when you go deeper and start looking for things which are out of your sight, i.e. which are absent, that you realize something’s not quite right.

Ironically, we, teachers, are sometimes as cruel as the kids – without even realizing it. When dividing the class into two teams, it’s us who ask two students to pick their team members and we do it again and again even though we know the same kids will be ‘picked’ last. We prevent kids from concentrating in the name of communicativeness. We fail to notice things because, for some reason, they are not salient to our mind. Or is it because it’s sometimes convenient and more comfortable for us to leave things as they are?


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.
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5 Responses to The absence of something

  1. TaniaRina Perry says:

    In regards to choosing teams, what tools have found to be a fair replacement to having students choose each other? Do you prefer online or the lower-tech?


    • Hana Tichá says:

      I like using various online random name generators or I just hand out coloured paper clips. The easiest way is to give students numbers (1,2,3,1,2,3) if you want to make three teams, for example.


  2. yehudit Gabay says:

    I am a student currently studying to become an EFL teacher. Just this past week we were discussing classroom management and discipline in our didactics course. Thank you for the wonderful insight – the absence of something. This is certainly an angle of classroom management that did not come up in our discussions. Specifically, the really quiet kid in the back. How do you amend those sort of situations? There is a student in one of the classes that I sit in on every week who never participates, does not do any of the classwork (but sits and reads his own books), and when he does turn in homework, like a writing composition, for instance, he has specifically and pointedly ignored the instructions and written his own thing. He is failing the course and I ask myself, is it my host teachers job to try and reach out to him or should she try and make her higher-ups aware of the problem? Unfortunately, he gets very little attention from the teacher because he is always just sitting quietly in the back of the class, while his louder and more disruptive classmates take the heat. Do you think that there is maybe something that I might be able to do? The few times I’ve tried to approach him, he humors me with answers but they are generally dripping with sarcasm with a hint of eye-rolling, and are offered in the vain attempt to shake me off. What do you suggest can be done?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Wow. That’s a very interesting comment and a tough question. I believe the teacher should definitely encourage the student to participate. But first, she should do her best to find out what the real problem is. The student might think the class is a waste of time. Maybe he thinks it’s all too easy for him so he prefers to do what he’s interested in. Is he failing the course just because he’s not participating or because he hasn’t passed some standardized tests? Maybe he doesn’t even care that he’s failing the course. When there’s a lack of motivation, the teacher can do very little, I think. Many questions remain unanswered for me to say what to do. Maybe the readers of my blog could help. 🙂 Anyway, good luck with your teaching qualifications!


  3. irismarx says:

    This is quite thought provoking. It’s challenging enough to manage the class, work on the curriculum, stay on top of the class and the individual students, and then on top of it to notice, as you put it, the absence of something. I would think that a teacher needs to know the students and the class as a whole to be able to discern this. As a teacher who may only be with the students for a few hours a week at most, how is it possible to know them well enough to notice this? I can understand when a student does something to draw attention to the fact that something isn’t right with them, but if they’re simply withdrawn (“I’m just tired”), or distracted (with a tech device or in conversation with another student), how can we know if it’s simply an “off day” or if there is more going on?

    Liked by 1 person

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