Finger-Pointing

One of my adult students has been in the beginning ESL class for a long time.  He’s getting really frustrated that he’s still there.  The problem is that he’s not ready for intermediate.  I can tell from his tests, from talking to him, and from the fact that he had a little kid translate what I was saying to him.

Point! by a2gemma on Flickr
"Point!" by a2gemma on Flickr

The thing is, he has it in his head that the only thing that will help him is to move to the intermediate class.  He seems to think that the problem is with the beginning level class.  I asked him what he needs more of, he said he didn’t know, and he wouldn’t talk about improving the class.  This makes me less inclined to accept his finger-pointing, though improving classes is always on my mind.  He has just decided that he’s going to move up into a harder class even though he can’t pass the easier one.

And since I won’t move him up a level, he has stopped coming to beginning classes, thus ensuring that he will not be ready for intermediate any time soon.  He is also about to lose his spot in the class because of poor attendance – I have a wait list full of students who want to attend class.

I’m just seeing some basically self-defeating behavior, and my questions are:

  1. does he know it’s self-defeating?
  2. would understanding that it’s self-defeating stop the behavior?
  3. what could help him stop finger-pointing and start thinking about how he can achieve?
  4. how can I redirect competent adults from willfully shooting themselves in the foot?
  5. what cultural nuances am I missing that would help me understand the situation more fully?
  6. how can the beginning class be improved?

Regarding this particular situation, we’ll work through it and it will be resolved.  It probably won’t resolve quickly, but that’s ok.

I also see a more universal situation though.  We all do the self-defeating thing to ourselves at some point by insisting on the wrong goals, stubbornly blaming things on external factors and accepting no responsibility, doggedly pursuing paths that aren’t working, expressing frustration by breaking or ignoring our tools for success, and basically doing exactly what I see this man doing.  How can we notice this behavior in ourselves, and what could we do to redirect ourselves back to being constructive?

Maybe if I figure that out about myself, it will help me work more effectively with frustrated students.