Monday, November 16, 2009

The Unteachables

As I've mentioned before, I am teaching a legal writing class this semester. I also occasionally teach a class about how to pass the Law School Admissions Test.

In both settings, I've found a small minority of students who are "unteachable."

I sometimes wonder how they got through college and how they think they will get through law school with their bad attitudes about learning.

I'm not complaining about students who are slow learners, or who need things explained more than once or more than one way. I've been told I'm very good at explaining things clearly, and I'm careful always to explain each concept more than once to make sure it sinks in, and I'm capable of explaining things several different ways if necessary, so that most anyone who tries will understand the concepts by the time class is over.

I do not get impatient with the students who genuinely want to learn but who have trouble understanding. If all the students came in understanding and knowing everything already, I wouldn't have a job, right? And it's fun to watch as a student tries and tries and then finally "gets" a new concept. So, as long as they are still trying, I too will keep trying, until they get it. I figure if I'm doing my job right, and they are sticking with it, eventually they will understand. And most of my students learn pretty quickly, either because they're quick learners or because I'm a good teacher.

No, I'm not complaining about the average student, the slow learners, or even the really slow learners.

No, the students I'm complaining about are the ones who come into the class with pre-conceived ideas about how to do things, how things should be, and how to learn, and who are unwilling to consider a new way to approach a topic, a new way of thinking about things, or a new way to learn.

This makes no sense to me. Why would you sign up for a class if you are unwilling to hear and apply what the teacher has to say? I'm not saying that students should accept everything I say without questioning it. But I am saying that they should at least consider whether it might be true, or a good idea, before rejecting it out of hand.

As an example, in my LSAT class, occasionally a student will literally argue with me in class about how my method of approaching a certain type of question doesn't make sense to them because "it's too complicated." Then they'll tell me that their method of understanding it is simpler and makes more sense. They will then explain their method and try to convince me that it is better than my method.

Meanwhile, however, their method is logically flawed and although it might work on a few questions purely by chance, it will lead to the wrong results in most cases.

So I'll explain the flaw in their reasoning and explain my method again, possibly in a new way, hoping to show them the correct logic that will lead to success on the LSAT.

They don't want to hear it. "But that doesn't make sense," they'll say, "My way makes sense to me!"

After several attempts to show them the flaw in their reasoning and explain the correct analysis, the unteachables will respond, "Well, I kind of see what you're saying [i.e., they do understand and are capable of learning the material!], but I still think my way makes more sense so I think I'll just do it my way [i.e., they are choosing not to learn it]."

Sometimes the only thing I can do is to ask them, point blank, "And what did you score on your practice test?"

They will generally give a vague answer like, "not all that well," or they will admit to a poor to middling score. (Why else would they sign up for the LSAT prep class, right?)

Then I'll say, "So you'll admit, then, that your way isn't working for you so well, right? Because if your way were working, you would have scored higher and you wouldn't be here, right?"

"Uh ... I guess so."

And then I ask, "Why don't you just try this new way of looking at the problem? Just try it my way, ok? If you really try and it doesn't work, then you can go back to doing it your way."

Usually that at least shuts them up so I can teach the rest of the class how to excel on the LSAT.

The unteachables. Aaarrgh.


Silliyak said...

But they're PAYING for this class so they should get what they want, right? I wouldn't be surprised if they turned around and sued you.

Green said...

It sounds like you've been watching Dr. Phil, with your "and how's that working for you?" question.

As someone who often has a really hard time learning, from what you described it DOES sound like you're a really good teacher. Your students are lucky to have you.

Bella said...

sounds like some think they're smarter than teacher?! wonder what kind of lawyers they'll make...or will they make it?

Lawfrog said...

Your frustration is warranted. These people are incapable of understanding logical argument, which means they will do poorly in law school, if they even get in at all.

People can learn how to do well on the LSAT. They can learn methods for the games section, they can learn what to look for on reading comp, and how to analyze the logical reasoning section. You are doing these students a valuable service by trying to teach them these things and yet, some just don't appreciate it.

I say let them do it "their way" and fail to get into law school because their score was so dismal. Some people just have to learn the hard way.

LOLA said...

Do the unteachables tend to be men? Women? Either or both? haha I'm just wondering if men think that a woman doesn't problem solve logically.

LegalMist said...

Lola: I've had both men and women with this attitude. Thankfully they are few and far between. Most of my students are very willing to learn, especially after they see how hard I will try to teach them if they try to learn. But a small percent of students, both sexes, just think they know it all already.