I have a student who is very hard on himself. Some days, his impatience can be very disruptive and appears to make other students uneasy when he has short outbursts or slams his fists on his desk. Some days, I let him work through it; but today, I could feel the shift in the room and the discomfort of my other students. And so, calmly, I approached the student.
“Can I help you, <enter name of student> ?” I ask gently, standing to his side without peering at his screen intrusively. I don’t want him to feel judged or under a microscope for having strong emotions, because I know how that feels.
“I just can’t get <enter programming terms> working!” he says with heavy breathing in a frustrated splutter. He points at his screen, so I feel I’ve been given permission to help him. I purposely slow my breathing and bend down to kneel by his desk so that we’re at the same height where he sits and I don’t come off as superior to him by standing over him.
I let the student walk me through his frustrations, and then promptly help him resolve the issues with his code. Once we get the code working, I laugh about the casual output he’s used for his code (the code outputs “nah” if the user doesn’t enter something right) just as he sighs in relief that the issue has been resolved. Then I remind him, as I’ve done a few times before:
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re usually just an inch away from the solution.”
Then I move on to help another student who had their hand raised. The classroom feels much more relaxed, and there are no further outbursts.
It’s important, as the instructor of a classroom, to assume the role as conductor. The students follow your lead, and if you don’t address all members of your orchestra, the music derails quickly. You might not think that it’s your job to handhold and coax when you teach at a college. But one of the foundational rules to educate another is to meet them where they are, even if it’s not somewhere you’d like to go.
Find the light, stand in it, and help to guide others into it.