Who Owns The Problem?

There is a very interesting discussion going on right now, started by Robert Harrell, on Ben Slavic’s PLC for TPRS teachers. I highly recommend it as I have been a member since about October and have found some invaluable information and “met” some very supportive teachers there. That they also teach with TPRS is just a huge bonus!

Robert gave a great example of this so I am going to post it again below (with permission):

Imagine that you gave your students an assignment. Joe Cool comes into class without the assignment because he hasn’t done it. He has a problem, because he knows that this may take his grade down to the point that he becomes ineligible for the one thing he likes in school: the sports team. What does he do? He comes to you and “explains” that his printer wasn’t working; he didn’t really understand the assignment because *you* didn’t give him really good directions; there should have been more class time to work on this; the assignment wasn’t fair; will you accept the work late? You, being the kind-hearted soul that you are, take pity on Joe Cool and allow him to turn the assignment in late. When it does come in, you read it and find it pretty shoddy, but you search diligently for something – anything – that will allow you to give him a better grade. After all, Joe’s parents called and said that the teacher’s at Joe’s previous school had cared enough about students to work with them and understood that sometimes things beyond their control happen. And Joe really needs to be able to play on the team, and you don’t want to be the one to keep him from that, do you?

What happened here? Joe Cool just managed to turn his problem into your problem. You took possession of it, and now you own the problem, not Joe. He’s off the hook – again.

When Joe Cool comes in with his “sob story”, you should realize he will do or say nearly anything to turn his problem into your problem. Don’t let him. How? Don’t engage. The conversation goes like this:

  • Joe: I don’t have my paper because my printer broke.
  • You: Bummer.
  • Joe: Really. I couldn’t print it out.
  • You: Bummer.
  • Joe: I didn’t understand what to do.
  • You: Bummer. You could have asked.
  • Joe: But I had sports after school.
  • You: Bummer.
  • Joe: I didn’t have time.
  • You: Bummer.
  • Joe: You’re not being fair!
  • You: Real bummer.