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The unacceptable excuse..
Posted 4/16/14 , edited 4/17/14
Being an ESL teacher, there is one thing that never fails to frustrate me: the use of "I don't understand" or "I don't know" as an excuse by my students to not have to the do any form of thinking or thought processing that I'm asking them to do.

And really, it's not just my ESL students who do this, even my brother and other people have done this before. Heck, my parents have done this before! I even remember being like this when I was much younger...

My question is, why do you think people use not knowing/understanding as an excuse to not do anything? Should it really be accepted as an excuse for people to act helpless?

The way I see it now, it should really never be an excuse. It should be a challenge. Instead of saying "I don't understand, I can't..." we should be saying "I don't understand, please explain it to me." If you don't know how something works, then instead of admitting that lack of knowledge as an excuse to not use it, you should instead just learn how it works.

I don't know.. Sometimes I think most people are just too lazy to think...
Posted 4/16/14 , edited 4/17/14
That frustrates me as well, and I'm a student! I have in the past done this, but I always ask my teachers for help; even if it has to be outside of class. I just roll my eyes at the kids who don't even make an effort. I detest school, too, but I'm just there to pass and get at least something out of the education given.
Posted 4/16/14 , edited 4/17/14
God did it.
I would prefer to say the sun rises because it's magic.
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20 / F / texas
Posted 4/16/14 , edited 4/17/14
I fall victim to this.

Though when I say "I don't know" I really should say "Can you explain it more" and I think you should drill that into your students heads.

The reason why I say "I don't know" , and i'll use the Algebra 2 class I'm in as an example, is the test I was taking today was difficult for me considering how I'm such a slow learner when it comes to anything that has to do with math. I asked my teacher for help and she helped me out by showing me how to start the problem then left me to do the rest.

This is when the "I don't know" kicks in, because I really, do not know what to do next.

And that's my mistake. So the "I don't know" went on for a while, until FINALLY, I asked to explain more and she did. And that was more helpful than saying "I don't know" because the rest of the test was a breeze since I got more information on how to solve an equation.

So pretty much the solution is, make your students use something other than "I don't know" , make banners and posters and post them all over the room and point at them when somebody says "I don't know". Trust me, it will really help break the habit and it's a win-win situation.

Posted 4/16/14 , edited 4/17/14
I would feel "I don't understand and therefore I will not try at all" is a defense if told to a teacher. It is kind of putting the blame on them - it is the failure of the teacher for not instilling what they should know. I think it is childish.
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27 / M / Nova Scotia, Canada
Posted 4/16/14 , edited 4/17/14
"What the hell are you talking about?" is my goto reaction to knowledge or wisdom I'm unfamiliar with. I prefer to exhaust the number of questions I can pose to someone about a subject before I reflect on it.
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27 / F / New Jersey, USA
Posted 4/16/14 , edited 4/17/14
To be honest, if I really don't know something then I really don't know something. I say "I don't know" because I obviously do not know.
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22 / M / Toronto
Posted 4/16/14 , edited 4/17/14
It's kind of hard for me to see that kind of annoyance as a reoccurring occurrence as I've been studying at international private school's in 8 different countries my whole life, and no one would normally dare to say, "I don't understand, therefore I can't".
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31 / M / Tim Allen's belly...
Posted 4/16/14 , edited 4/17/14
Once upon a time, a multinational education think-tank ran a study, finding the United States declining in academic intelligence as a whole.

In response to this, the youth of the United States declared "Challenge accepted", lowered their pants, replaced the spoken and written word with the "meme", weaponized YOLO, and made certain, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that they were indeed the least intelligent.

You go, little helmet-wearing monkeys; give 'em hell.

...and now you all know why video clips of people walking face first into glass doors are becoming more commonplace.

~The End~
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28 / M
Posted 4/16/14 , edited 4/17/14
What is really going on is you are asking them to put forth an amount of effort that they as students aren't willing to put forth.

I'm not one for spoon feeding kids answers at all.

But assuming you're a high school teacher, the kids didn't pay to take your class.
They didn't even select you as their teacher, likely.
So they are in a class that's a requirement likely.
Basically they just want to pass and get on with life.
Much like an adult who has a job they hate.
So.. What you're asking seems unreasonable to them.
They feel institutionalized.

So unless you're just a genuinely amazing/interesting/passionate person.. (all of those things ARE work related, much easier to work for a happy boss vs a boss who hates life. lol)
They aren't going to take the torch to seek out knowledge on their own unless the torch you carry for that (or those) subject is the brightest thing they have ever seen.

I'm not picking on you. Teaching is such a difficult and honorable occupation and SHOULD be the highest paid. And A LOT of tax money should be poured into hiring and screening BETTER teachers vs buying nicer institutions.
And I'm sure you're a fine teacher.
But get this. You're NOT the best at everything. And that's what the school/institution is asking of these children and ultimately what YOU are asking of them. You cant teach a choir how to sing. Know why? You didn't pay money to go to a music school to learn to read music to learn to conduct in order to be able to.. You didn't care to do that. It wasn't even on your bucket list. How are you going to expect a child to come to class every day being forced to learn something that they didn't pay for, work for, care about, or even choose to do or who they are learning it from (in most cases). How are you going to expect THEM to care about what you have to say and teach?
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Posted 4/16/14 , edited 4/17/14

demongurrl13 wrote:
I don't know.. Sometimes I think most people are just too lazy to think...

Objection your honor. OP is making a speculation.

When you say "most people," is that also lazy on your part not to describe which actual people you considered lazy?

You're an ESL teacher. You have to have patience. They are struggling to learn a foreign language.
You have to approach things different. I don't have a degree in teaching but I believe they tell you that there are many ways to teach, aren't they? It's your job to know what teaching method works with your students.

Youtubers Simon and Martina from the Youtube channel "Eat Your Kimchi" were English teachers in South Korean school.
Here's a link on how Simon engages his native Korean students:

Not to mention, we don't know the integrity [or the ways] of your teaching.
We don't know how do you teach.
We don't even know what kind of credentials you obtained your teaching degree.
How many years of teaching experience do you have?
What references do you have to vouch that you are a good teacher?
What is your lesson plan?
Did you earn any awards or recognition about your services as a teacher?
What field of studies that you excel to teach?

You might be probably boring [teaching] in real life but I won't know because I don't have the evidences to prove it.
Posted 4/16/14 , edited 4/17/14
Most high school students are reluctant to ask questions because they either don't feel comfortable around the teacher, or they prefer explanations from their peers.
That's why it's important to build a rapport with students before anything else; to let them know you're not going to eat them up if they ask something... it's important to make them feel comfortable... present yourself as a non-judgmental person.

As for adult students, it's to do with embarrassment and shyness. Most people are like that. They won't ask questions in lectures, they wait for everyone to leave, and then ask the questions later.
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31 / M / Lake Michigan
Posted 4/16/14 , edited 4/17/14
I'll go with... making generalizations about all people:
-people want to use an excuse that works. "I don't know" works better than a lot of other excuses
-people are too lazy to think: there's not enough time to give everything full attention. Granted, we should pay attention to what we're taught in school (or should we...?)

Edit: I'm not saying this is a good thing by the way.
Posted 4/16/14 , edited 4/17/14
I usually use it as a response to impatient people pestering me for direct answers on the spot. I'm often not good with coming up with lighting-fast answers, and some people expect others to be as quick-thinking as themselves. Occasionally, I also interact with individuals who give the impression that they will react badly if I give them an undesired answer (which may overlap with them also being impatient), so my "I don't know" is actually an expression of frustration and/or irritation. In those cases, however, I never say "I don't understand." If I were to do so, it means just that; "I don't understand." "I don't know," is sometimes used as a cop-out, but never "I don't understand." When I don't "get it," I simply don't. Things just don't always click. At least, not for a while.

Before I became an adult, if I were to ask for in-depth help, teachers and other adults tended to make me feel that I was bothersome or of less worth by doing so. I've associated wanting/needing help with being a burden. I happen to prefer working out problems on my own, too. Naturally, I still have some trouble with that, but it has significantly lessened. It's nice that me being an adult came with a boost in self-assurance, "grown-ups" being far more relateable, and "grown-ups" no longer being particularly intimidating (normally).

"My question is, why do you think people use not knowing/understanding as an excuse to not do anything? Should it really be accepted as an excuse for people to act helpless?"

You seem to assume that it's always a cop-out. When it's actually used that way, then I see it as a poor excuse.
Posted 4/17/14 , edited 4/17/14

unravelsslowly wrote:

Unfortunately, my students are not being forced to come to school and learn English. I work for a non-profit school that offers free English classes to people in the community. I don't even force them to be in school because I know how I felt being forced to endure through college. The thing that frustrates me is that they came to us. We didn't hunt them down and force them to apply, they came willingly (supposedly) with the intention to learn English. And don't get me wrong, I love my students and I have quite a good group who are really dedicated and are showing progress, but there are always those who don't take it seriously and find each and every excuse they could get their hands on to hold themselves back. "Oh, I can't come to school because I need to go to the bank." or "I need to leave early because I need to send mail." or the one thing that somehow decreases my enthusiasm in teaching, "I don't know. I don't understand anything." Now, if everyone in the class was like this then I guess I'm just a bad teacher and I can't really blame them. However, I do have a bunch of students who ARE very much dedicated to learning an do the work and put in the practice time that I ask of them. The students who seem to not care about learning English are very disruptive and tend to distract the other students. They also lower the morale of the entire class because by them constantly giving up and refusing to put in effort, they are discouraging the others.

Maybe I'm not the best teacher, but I am passionate about what I do. I make it point to always be cheerful and enthusiastic, to find different ways to help them learn. I just wish that people would stop being their own barriers. I have patience, but there's only so much I can do to help if people constantly keep holding themselves back by being that voice in their head that's telling them they can't do it.

onibrotonel wrote:

That statement was an example of what I meant when people use "I don't know" as a means to stop the process of understanding from taking place. Instead of waiting for answers, I just posted a general assumption.

Anyway, I'm not just talking about my ESL students here, I'm asking this question about anyone. I also work at a store part-time and there's a machine for people to put in their orders. Even with that, when some people are asked to put their order in through the machine, the immediate answer is "I don't know how to use this thing, can't you just do it?" My brother for example, when asked to do something by my parents, would say he doesn't know how to do it and just go ahead and pass the task on to me... My parents do they same thing. Things they have to do, when they can't figure out on their own how to do them, immediately become my responsibility because I'm the one who knows. My mother didn't learn how to upload pictures or do much on Facebook until after I refused to run her Facebook for her. People I've met usually show no natural inclination to asking questions to try and understand things they don't know or understand. Not knowing or not understanding is where things end. When my students say something I don't understand or give me information that's totally new to me, I always ask them for an explanation so I could understand things better. I don't go "Oh, I don't understand you, sorry.."

My question was a general question and not just about my being an ESL teacher or my class. I have encountered this behavior in others and even myself. I was merely curious to know what others think of why many people often prefer to just say "I don't know" as an excuse. Do I still need to give you my credentials in order to keep this discussion open?

aeb0717 wrote:

I'm specifically talking about when it's being used as a cop-out, when people use their lack of knowledge as a way to get themselves out of having to do certain things.
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