Today was pretty uneventful. I tested two class groups on the first 7 weeks’ worth of study. For some of the students, this was a moment in which they could show how hard they’d worked. There were a few, especially one student named In-Soon (who bears a shocking resemblance to my friend Joleen in Canada) who did amazingly well. In-Soon’s responses to questions were not only grammatically perfect, but also very polite. I was shocked and pleasantly surprised, and I told her so; I also showed her the perfect score she got on the test.
But of course, for every kid who rocks my world during the exam, there are ten who didn’t study, or whose study was of the kind involving memorization of a strict dialogue and didn’t involve the comprehension of even the simplest of the fifteen stock questions we’ve worked on this half of the semester. And when it comes down to it, knowing how to ask and answer fifteen stock questions is pretty easy. It’s something anyone can do, if they try even a little, especially when two hours a week are spent in class working on three or four questions at a time.
Last night’s most pathetic excuse for a student was this guy whom I’d found it necessary to tell off in class, using my Korean, on the second class meeting, in week two. I corrected some sentence or other, and he said, “Oh, thank you, Teacher!” with a tone of voice and a look on his face that was simply dripping with “Fuck you, asshole.” At the time, I launched into him in Korean that I was his teacher and he ought to get out and never come back if he felt that way about me, English, or English class. I warned him that if he ever spoke again that way he’d be out of the class, and he sheepishly apologized in English.
But did he try? Even a little? No. He showed up for the exam last night with his poor partner, who seems like the kind of student who would try hard and do alright if he’d been bright enough to hook up with a partner who wasn’t a jerk. The students’ test dialogue went something like this:
Eager Fellow: Where am you study?
Smartass: I night.
Eager Fellow: Is you many time these day?
Smartass: Yes, much time.
Eager Fellow: You weekend what?
Smartass: I’m soju.
Eager Fellow: What do you live. Yes-eu?
Smartass: I’m a house.
Eager Fellow: Yes-eu.
Smartass: When do you is studying?
Eager Fellow: I’m study every times. Every days.
After I repeated what these guys had said, to the best approximation I can, in Korean, I asked them whether they’d studied at all. They said they hadn’t, because they have jobs and are only night students. I told them that if they lacked the time to study, they ought not to take the class, and that they would be getting F-grades on the exam. I told them, furthermore, that if they cannot study they ought to immediately drop the class because a true F-grade would be worse than a dropped class. Their other option, which was to begin studying from now on, and practice together outside of class on occasion, didn’t seem all that appealing to them, but I suspect they’ll just stay in the class, working as little as they did before, and then they’ll just bitch and whine when they fail. Maybe not, though.
If nothing, this week, I have learned (again) that sometimes, just sometimes, a student will really surprise you, and that those who do so may not be the most gifted students, but they are rather like gifts to a teacher. But I’ve also been reminded that plenty of students will, when they stand out, often do it simply by showing a level of apathy that, in the end, is less than surprising, not worth one’s attention, and finally, a little pathetic.
But to hell with all that. In-Soon and the students like herstudents, I say, in the pluralare still out there, and it’s for them that we work, to them that we teach. Now, the trick is just effectively running triage in a class so that one’s energies, when they are spent, get spent aiding those who want (and thus can use) the help.