I have been working as a CELTA tutor for over eight years now and I am pleased to say that I can still, just about, count my bad experiences with trainees on one hand. That’s not to say there has only been five trainees who have annoyed me, there have been many more of those but they were all likeable in their own way.
A CELTA tutor’s first encounter with a difficult trainee/situation will always be remembered because it’s not something one can forget easily. If my memory serves me correctly, Trainee X had not really stood out as anyone who might be difficult up until the day in question. Now that I have had more experience of tutoring on CELTA courses I am able to rationalise this particular trainee’s outburst but at the time I found it really hard to accept. It was the end of the day, I had given the Teaching Practice (TP) group their feedback and had been very positive about all of the lessons but also focused on areas to work on like any good tutor should. I am the sort of person who avoids confrontation wherever possible so I know that my delivery of feedback will have been anything but negative and critical. Up til this point I was completely unaware of Trainee X’s disappointment in his grade for that lesson. I had awarded him “to standard” but he had apparently been expecting “above standard”. He waited until the other trainees had left then asked to talk to me, I still had no idea at this point that he was upset with his grade. Alone with him in my office, I was not prepared for his aggressive outburst, at one stage I thought he was going to hit me. I found it hard to keep my emotions in check and the more he shouted, the louder I became.
His anger eventually turned to tears and I felt awful, what had I done to his man? I realise now that this was week 3 of an intensive course and week 3 is notorious for being tough, Trainee X had probably had little or no sleep, staying up to write a (probably ridiculously long) lesson plan, delivered a good (to standard) lesson but felt he deserved more. Of course I understand his frustrations and I have since learned that it is best not to give a trainee time immediately after feedback to talk to the tutor, instead to ask them to go away and read the feedback when they are calm. If they still have questions or grievances then of course they should approach the tutor again but when they are calm and collected.
This encounter kept me awake for quite some time, I just couldn’t understand how someone can get so aggressive about a grade. Some trainees seem to get so hung up on their grades that they forget to see the bigger picture. In my experience, it is the trainees who are doing the course because they want to learn how to be a good teacher who do go on to get a higher than average grade, those that get too fixated on grades tend to start ignoring tutor suggestions of areas to work on to spite him/her!
How would you have reacted as Trainee X? How would you have reacted if you were me?