In the Adventures in TEFL series, I will be recounting stories from my year in Thailand Teaching English As A Foreign Language (TEFL) to students age 11-16. Applied philosophy is used to take these lessons for utilization outside the classroom.
Handling Dominant Personalities
A strong personality is common in any group dynamic. This can manifest itself in a variety of ways:
- A leader/ambassador of a group
- The bossy type where the rest listen to
- A dominant personality where the other members come to resent or despise
In this article, I am referring to the 3rd archetype. And to 2 specific instances, one with a 7th grade girl and another with a 9th grade boy.
With the 7th grader, she was very enthusiastic learner is a challenging class. Whenever I asked a question in class, she would almost always have her hand up and squeal,
“TEACHER ME, PLEASE!”
It was quite adorable and made moving on with the lesson a lot easier when someone was consistently engaging.
With the 7th grade class, there was a growing resentment as I disproportionately called on that one girl. A group of the other students complained to their homeroom teacher.
In my foolishness I didn’t recognize any problem at the time, but I obliged.
By the end of the school year, when the students in this group thought the class was more fair, many still didn’t like me much. I wasn’t very fond of them neither but that’s besides the point. It doesn’t matter that this class didn’t have any stellar students.
Poor First Impressions Aren’t Forgiven
Once you set a poor first impression, whether it being a poor facilitator like me or being perceived as incompetent/not trying hard enough etc. it’s very hard to recover from. It’s a challenge, especially when you are new in a group and expected to lead.
Mistakes will be made and those under your command won’t always be forgiving. All I can say is to focus on them, no matter how many balls you may be juggling, this one is necessary to add.
And it goes beyond their motivations and what they want. It includes what is expected of them (ie. do well in school) and how you can help them succeed in meeting and exceeding those expectations with the resources you have available even if they don’t want to.
As for the 9th grade boy, he was naturally gifted and excelled academically in a school setting which led to arrogance. With this class, no one really liked to raise their hands it was a matter of who could find the answer the fastest and shout it out. Naturally with this boy being quick to pick things up, dominated much of the student response.
With this 9th grade class, they were teenagers that didn’t care so there was no resentment towards me for allowing one student to dominate.
The problem was, I’m sure many students that wanted to learn got lost because of the quick pace of the class and many others became discouraged and “checked out. “
Setting A Pace & Finding Lieutenants
I myself was challenged because of how fast the class had to be to keep up with one boy. This was a mistake on my part. With any group dynamic, you don’t set the pace with the fastest member, nor the slowest, but somewhere in the middle.
It challenges the slower ones to pick up the pace and the faster ones to gain a deeper understanding and maybe even be your lieutenant in assisting moving the group forward.
I was lucky these were indifferent adolescents so they didn’t harbor resentment towards me. Of course the teenage phase is short lived. Very few adults have the arms folded, “whatever” attitude while rolling their eyes.
Eventually I got these 9th Graders to raise their hands by pointing water guns at them (not that you should do this with adults.) This allowed slower students a chance to participate and engaged a larger body of the group.
And with some individual attention outside the classroom, I got this 9th grade boy to behave better (that and other methods beyond the scope of this discussion). I knew his strong personality meant a lot of the other students would look to him for guidance.
And at the very tail end of the school year and this boy began to respect my authority more, the others (especially the boys) fell in line.
The Dangers of Inequitable Distribution
In both instances, one with the bubbly 7th grade girl and the other with the arrogant 9th grade boy, both group dynamics (and into adulthood) respond strongly to a sense of fairness.
People respond strongly to a sense of fairness. People react when their voice is heard or not. Large sections of your group will disengage or actively oppose your leadership if they feel they are not getting a proportional amount of representation.
So the solution is to get more people involved.
With any group, there is going to be an objective, trying to move from point A to point B. Whether it’s learning course material to get good grades, building a bridge, hitting revenue numbers, winning games. It’s all the same. It’s a bunch of people coming together to meet a goal.
And that’s why they have you (presumably the leader) to get them there.
You don’t reach that objective by going as hard as you can, you are the leader likely because you are the most competent. You want everyone to keep up (within reason). This is done by moving the group at a speed where the slower ones are challenged but not discouraged and the faster ones assist as sub commanders with added responsibilities of either moving the ball forward directly or assisting others depending on personality.
Dear Young Person: Why You Need To Be An English Teacher In Thailand (Adventures in TEFL Thailand #1)