Crying game

Had a better day yesterday; made a student cry in my class.

It’d been a Javascript class and it had gone fairly well. I asked my students if they had any questions for me. Of course they did not, so I said I’d ask them questions (I like to do something at the end of a class to re-visit the material we have covered). I asked one simple question and, while I waited for the answer, I thought of four more. As there were five students in the class, and since their refusal to answer that simple question was annoying me, I told them to stand up and that I’d ask them each one question.

We’ve done this before: I ask a question and they raise their hands to answer. The first to raise gets to answer first and whoever gets it right gets to sit down. To cut a long story short there was one student left standing (as is always the way with that exercise) and the unanswered question was the first one I had asked. I know she knows how to get to the right answer even if she doesn’t have it on the tip of her tongue so I was not going to let her avoid answering by looking sad and hurt, which was her strategy.

While I waited for her to answer I calculated that after the break I was teaching the same class and after that it would be lunch time so I could, if I chose to, stand with her and wait for her answer for up to four hours. But I took pity on her: when she told me that she had already given me her answer I asked leading questions to get something like the right answer from her which, of course, she gave.

But after she finaly sat down and I started to explain how the way to get out of such a situation is to play the game and answer the questions not to look hurt and hope I will have mercy, she started to sob.

I feel that these students are afraid to participate in their own education and use emotional blackmail to manipulate us teachers to avoid having to think in class. In case it remains to be said, this pisses me off.

Having said that, the next class went better. I did it last term too: gave the Unix students (the same ladies I had just had this fight with) a floppy formatted for the Unix operating system and told them the instructions for the lab are on that disk. With the minimum of help from me they managed to figure out how to mount the disk, read the file, copy the contents to the server, reformat the disk as a Windows compatible disk and copy the instruction file back on to it. When they demonstrated to me that they were able to open the instruction file on Windows they were through and won a packet of glucose biscuites each.

Perhaps bribery is the answer…?


  1. MB Says:

    "Had a better day yesterday; made a student cry in my class."

    Is that really better?

    woooo, boy. You need a holiday mate.


  2. Mark Says:

    Despite the crying incident, it had in fact been a better day.
    Here I am on saturday with a class full of students doing labs for Cisco: connecting routers and pcs…

  3. Sophia Says:

    I do not thibk it is easy to convince students to participate more than they want to. For instance, the first year I taught at IC, on my first tutorial nobody volunteered an answer, so I called one student to come to the board and do thje exercise with me. (He was my tutee, I knew that he could do it, and he did do it). The outcome? I lost half the class.

    So, I believe these ladies are frustrating, but no worse than students anywhere else in the world. They are not used to that, and so they do not want to do it.


  4. Mark Says:

    "They are not used to that and so they do not want to do it."

    Thanks for that Sophia.
    I think this is part of the human condition., we never want to do things we are not used to. Pushingh the boundaries of our comfort zone: I am not used to jumping out of an aeroplane and so it took a lot of determination for me to do it. Perhaps one can be come "used to" doing things that scare the shit out of us.

    My perception of the students here is that they are afraid. They could do this — perhaps if they were used to it, but they do not know it and so they will fight using their psychological methods not to participate. This just makes me mad. Im not proud of that and Im working on just accepting it. Maybe I shouldn’t have done The ISA Experience

  5. Tyg Says:

    Oh NO! Not all the ISA-speak again! In my humble opinion that was one of the worst experiences in my life… Sorry Mark – that’s just how it is. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

  6. Mark Says:

    Sokay honey. I know you didnt like it.

    As for me, I have found it to be a vital part of growing up. Its not ISA talk again for me, its ISA talk continuously, every time I remind myself that I am here by choice. I can’t imagine I would ever have coped out here so well had I not done it and learned from it. The down side is that I see these students failing to take responsibility for their own lives and just surviving and it makes me angry.

    I’m fairly sure now that what makes me angry is my students not participating: not taking part in whatever goes on. When they do that they use various psychological gambits to make me have mercy on them and let them off without putting in any effort. It has annoyed me so much to hear people being congratulated for having **tried** something here. The ISA says a lot about how that word can be used as a cop-out for those who have, for whatever reason, decided not to succeed. But for these classes, I’d like to see my students trying.

    But instead its the same old wearysome classroom experience with them waiting for me to get bored with talking to myself and get on with dictating the notes. Mind numbing for all parties.

  7. Tyg Says:

    Ola Piggie …

    I agree with you – and most of what was taught in ISA, its the delivery that upset me. Anyways, have you ever thought of doing a "self actualisation" class? I don’t know – maybe show them the techniques you’re using to teach them – ie why you’re doing things the way you are. And then also showing them that the way they respond to you or to the rest of their lives in general are not really helping them much in the long run. If you can show them how doing things your way will improve their lives … well then ….

    You can’t always expect people to respond to you the way you want them to, especially if its something alien to them. Show them the benefits, and then maybe you’ll get some converts. And if you even get a couple of converts, it might make the rest realise what they’re missing out on and convert to …


  8. Mark Says:

    Well that’s a great challenge. Its hard to give someone the experience of being in control of their own lives. I believe we as humans develop ways of avoiding that condition. The psychological games I’v been describing are part of that. Being in control, rather than being a victime to circumstance, means making choices that challenge us, push our comfort zones, and then sticking with them. But we are all experts at not sticking with such: at finding ways out and then making ourselves victims so we don’t have to face up to the responsibility of letting ourselves down.

    In a way I have been trying to do that in the classe this term by making the choices plain and enforcing them veheremently. For example this week I had a student return after several days absence while she was sent home to bring her school fees. One morning I was told she had returned though she didn’t turn up until the lesson had been on for quarter of an hour. The first activity of the morning involved small groups working together at the board and she sad down after a while. I let this go because she’d been away and might not have been able to contribute like the others. But the next one involved merely making a choice: raise your hand for options a, b or c (these were exhaustive options so not raising a hand was not an option). After 2 out of the 6 raised their hands I explained that we would do it again and that anyone who did not raise their hand for any option would be sent out of the class. As I suspected, that student chose to be ejected.

    Sadly, however, this made me angry and I slammed the door after she left. I’m not proud of this. At the end of the class the other students asked to speak to me. They said they like the way I teach but that they don’t like what’s happening in the class now: that I shout and swear.

    My resolve is to try and avoid anger. Or if I get angry, to avoid shouting and swearing. But I will continute having no mercy on them and perhaps use ejection from the classroom as a more regular threat for non participation.

    There are several reasons why I find this job frustrating. I’ll try and explain them on the upcoming days. The teaching is one of them. But the whole situation makes me have to reconsider what kind of goals I might have in being here for another year.

  9. Chris Says:

    Angry… "no mercy"… Mark this doesn’t sound like you’re being how you would choose to be?

    I’m still not understanding why you’re so angry with the students. From what I can gather, the girls don’t have a particularly easy life, and they probably haven’t had many males/teachers as positive role models. Shouldn’t their educational environment be somewhere they can experience understanding and support?

    To learn from you they have to trust you. How are you earning their trust?

    How about doing an experiment for 1 week, whereby everytime you get angry you remember to be compassionate? I seriously doubt you will get people to participate by threatening them. And even if you do, what have you achieved?

    Obviously I’m not there, and I’m not you, but you are all in this together, so why not get through it together?

    Love, Chris

  10. Tyg Says:

    Piggie, Chris has a point there, Drew, Marge and I have had long drawn out conversations about this. You know how Cookie’s classes often do my head in becuase I’ve felt really demoralised sometimes at what she’s said or not being able to keep up with her?- but we get there in the end, more because of my stubborness, rather than any good teaching on her part. She calls is tough love, but I’ve come to realise in working with Drew and working with my own LSE students with Tom that this "Tough Love" business is completely unneccessary. Encouragement and trust and respect is really what you want to cultivate – THEN its much easier to get them to learn how take control of their own lives. Anger only alienates them.

    The skill of a good teacher is not only in how to teach well, but to understand how different groups of students function and to adjust their teaching to bring out the best in their students. I know you can do it – don’t get angry and give up on them – instead work out work out how you can expose their strengths and make them feel proud and confidant about themselves.


  11. daisy Says:

    that crying game to you was funny en?
    to me it was just a mere torture to that student of yours.
    if you see someone cry realy things have gone far so
    try another punishment to your student in future

  12. Raj Says:

    From what I know of you Mark, I would not say that you intended the student to cry, maybe you are right that is is emotional blackmail on behalf of the student, however you could also look at it being social conditioning on the student which is causing problems with the relationship which they have with you.

    For example they have probably been brought up to be in awe of teachers, because teachers are the font of all knowledge, and with your teaching style which causes the student to think, which is causing them problems in adapting their mental models between what they need to do, and what they expect to do.

    I’m not trying to critisise but in certain cultures who, or what people are makes them fit into certain stereotypes and if you don’t fit the sterotype (which you don’t :P) then it can cause "differences".

    eg. somebody else has said in this Blog that it is difficult to the teacher to get eye-contact with the student, however teacher-student eye-contact is a western thing, in Eastern/far-eastern cultures (of which parts of africa might fit) the teacher is treated with deference and the students are taught from an early age not to look directly at the teacher and to always have their heads bowed when being spoken to or speaking to the teacher. – This is either one of the things you have to live with, or to try to change.

  13. Mark Says:


    Thank you for your comment. I hope I have not misrepresented myself here. No, I didn’t think it was funny that a student cried in my class. I think it’s very sad that it happened and I did not want it to happen. I was not trying to make her cry, that’s not why I persisted with her, it was not punnishment because she had not actually done anythying wrong. My intention was not to give in to her emotional blackmail. I see her eventual crying as part of that blackmail too, to make me feel remorse after the event so that I might have mercy next time. I will not.

    Since that day those students have asked me to change what happens in class, they have told me that they like the way I teach but that they do not likie what has been happening this term. They say it was better last term. I agree and, together with the very good advice I have received here, I have been making an effort to change things. I am trying to use fun as my weapon, but I am making it very clear that I will have no mercy on those who wish to not participate. Their choice is clear, either they participate or they do not attend class.

    Another example happened this mornin. I asked a student to answer my questions. She did not seem to know the answer. I invited her to guess, she stared fixedly at the desk for a while and then looked up at me and shook her head. I explained that I did not want the correct answer from her but that I required that she make up a guess. I invited the other students (some of whom were the ones involved in the incident on this page) to tell her whether I would let her off without making a guess. I explained to theo whole class that the guess was not supposed to be correct. Finally she made a good guess and class resumed.

    Earlier in the same class this morning I made the whole class stand up and shake their shoulders (shimmey) for me (whiuch I demonstrated) because, I told them, they were taking things too seriously and being too afraid. They sood with their backs to me clutiching the desks for support. I told them to let go and shake. I shook and made a real fool of myself and Sister Pauline came in because she heard the comotion. I asked her to give me a shake and she obliged. The students laughed and joined in. They let go of their desks and to me it seemed like letting go of the side of a swimming pool and pushing off into the deep end.

  14. zorka Says:

    hello! i’m soo behind on reading your blog. you should be like mithi who never updates and then i’m always up to date. hAA

    anyway, it sucks because when i was a a student and there was a deadly silence when nobody wanted to answer, it was always ME ME ME.

    And in singapore there is always a deadly silence so i was known as the loud ass in the class but really it was to save the embarressment of the poor teacher and i hate uncomfortable silences. Somehow i always thought that it was ‘up to me’ that i was responsible for the class. ‘Never in my class!’ i would think when there was deathly silences.

    Yeah enough about me. i’ll read somemore and add more comments. the only irritating thing is that i wouldn’t know when you responded.

  15. Mark Says:

    Z! Thanks for that insight from the other side of the teacher’s desk. I Just wish I had a loud ass like you in my class (wouldn’t mind having your ass in my class) to take responsibility and save me from embarrasement. But what were the **other** students thinking?

    I’m slowly learning about RSS and might get a couple of feeds defined for this blog one day, one for entries and one for comments. Then you’d be able to know when I’ve responded. Keep nagging me though as Im busy here…

  16. zorka Says:

    no it’s fine! there is a ‘recent comments’ page which i just discovered.

    By the way, happy birthday! i know that i am late. i also know that i was commenting on your blog during your birthday but forgot to say the words.

    already 40? or nearing it?

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