“Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.” - Thomas Jefferson
As a trainer, have you ever had a class where you had issues with one or more of the students? Occasionally I’ll have that class clown that just doesn’t know when enough is enough. Or, I’ll have the know-it-all that has something to say about every topic and a comment for every story. I have found that my key concern is to maintain classroom control and preempt the problems before they begin. You can prepare ahead of time for the unique challenges that these students bring to the classroom. That way, when you recognize the situation, you’ll understand how to better handle the circumstance in the best possible way. Here are the seven types of challenging students you will encounter in the classroom, along with some suggestions on how to handle each situation.
The hesitant student is typically shy, reluctant, or silent much of the time, and is found in almost every class. Hesitant students are easy to overlook since they blend in and are not bothering anyone. Most trainers might not worry about the hesitant student, thinking they will participate when they are ready. However, if we look at a training program as a vehicle to help people grow, and if growth is dependent on one's opportunity to contribute (analyze ideas, present ideas, defend them), then we must figure out ways to foster an active communication and participation with the hesitant student.
- Use groups of two or three for discussion, for participation is certain in the very small group.
- Call on the silent student politely – “I don’t think we’ve heard from Hanna on this issue.”
- Socialize with the shy participant at the break. It gives them an ego boost and often has an encouraging impact thereafter.
A dominating participant is the big talker in the group and tries to absorb all the available air time by answering all the questions and sharing their personal stories. They like to parade their knowledge before everyone, using big words, fancy phrases, lots of statistics, name dropping, and describing their experiences. With a dominating student, respond by maintaining a respectful environment. By supporting other group members’ efforts, perhaps through humor or gentle persuasion, you can restore balance. Be careful not to put the dominating student down in any way, as other students may rally to their side.
- Identify and engage those students seen as leaders.
- In a polite but firm way, ask, “Would you mind if we got another opinion on this one?” or “Several students have not had a chance to respond yet.”
- Let the dominating student know you appreciate their help, but on a more selective basis.
The talker is that student who continually speaks to his neighbor while the training session is in progress. In some cases, a participant is excited about a concept that was introduced and is sharing an idea or thought with a fellow student. In any case, too much talking can disrupt the flow of the class.
- Call on the student by name and ask them an easy question or for their opinion about something that was just covered.
- Silence - you could pause until they finish chatting and they realize the group is waiting on them.
- Make direct eye contact with talking students.
- Direct a question to someone right next to the talking student.
- Speak to the students privately during a break.
The experienced student has seen it, read it, and done it all. They have nothing new to learn and yet have a tremendous need to be heard in the classroom. They may think they know more than the instructor and want other students to be aware of how much they know by sharing additional solutions based on their own experience.
- Treat politely, but communicate that there are many ways for reaching a desired result.
- In a polite but firm way, say, “Thank you for sharing." Then proceed to move on to the next topic.
- The first couple of times thank them for their input. Then, impress them with something they don’t know.
The arguer is the student that is constantly looking for opportunities to disagree or show up the other students and the instructor. While healthy disagreement is beneficial, continual arguing is disruptive. It is important to avoid getting trapped or baited into a debate with this type of student. The most important rule to remember is that no trainer ever won an argument with a student. Finesse and patience are expected from the facilitator.
- Ask other students if anyone can respond to a particular argument.
- In a polite but firm way, say, “I understand your position. See me at break and we’ll talk some more about it.”
- Understand your reaction to a student who argues, so you can be better prepared if it happens.
- Allow the student to complete their thought.
- There may be times when ignoring the student is best.
A negative student is the one who can be counted on to find the gloomy side of things; nothing will work, people are impossible, and it doesn’t work like that in the real world. They specialize in dredging up gripes, past grievances, and complaints.
- Acknowledge their position and ask the class if anyone can find anything positive from the situation.
- Sometimes it helps to respond merely by saying, “I understand.”
- Ask what other solutions they could propose, “What could we do to make this idea work?”
Class clowns come in all shapes and sizes, but their main characteristic is an abundance of ill-fitting and sometimes irritating humor. Sometimes they are just looking for attention. If the clown hinders group progress by annoying participants, his behavior must be curtailed. The best strategy is to tap into and reward his serious side.
- Show him that he can be heard on a more sophisticated and adult level.
- Compliment him (positive reinforcement) when he makes a worthwhile, serious contribution.
- Do not reward his attempts at humor.
- Ask them to relate their point to the discussion at hand.
Although planning for class is important – and necessary, sometimes the best laid plans do not work. There are many types of students that you encounter in the classroom. The longer you teach, the more situations you’ll experience. A great trainer understands that it is their job to impart knowledge, develop skills, and change attitudes. In order to ensure that happens, their goal must be to maintain classroom control and preempt as many problems and situations before they begin.
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