Thursday, October 19, 2006


When you have a classroom that is longer than it is wide, and the whiteboard is so small you have to write small, and there are not many students in the class so there is plenty of space at the front, why do students who have forgotten to bring their glasses SIT AT THE BACK OF THE ROOM?

I gave a little test today in the first half hour of one of my classes, and for that had to write some questions on the board. Two students sat right in the back row, squinting and leaning forward and trying to see what was written up the front. There were several rows of empty seats in front of them, as well as some space at the front, so I went back and suggested that they move forward. After all, it was a test, right? It was important, right? And the board was so small I couldn't write bigger because not everything would fit. I could read it, but they were having trouble.

They assured me they were fine where they were.

"Don't you have your glasses?" I asked.

"Forgot," they told me.

"But you can't see the questions, so you can't do the test," I said. "It's worth ten points. Why don't you move forward a bit?"

"No, no!" they assured me. "No problem!"

They tried to squint less conspicuously.

I was about to TELL them to move instead of merely suggesting, but out of curiosity decided to leave them alone and see what happened. Why were they insisting they could see the board when they obviously couldn't?

I shrugged. "Oh, well. If you change your mind, you can move," I said. "You don't need to ask."

They stayed where they were, squinting painfully.

It was an easy test. It was supposed to be. That class hasn't been doing well, and I wanted to lift their confidence and raise the grades a little.

Most of the other students picked up an easy ten points towards their final grade, but those two students did extremely badly. Well, OF COURSE they did extremely badly. They couldn't see the test questions.

I concluded that I had inadvertently given a test for common sense.

But I am mystified by this behaviour. There is no point in sitting at the back in my classes, ever, because everybody has to move eventually in any case. I have them changing partners and moving into groups, EVERY WEEK, and for that I count them off at random and then tell them where to sit. And these particular students are not troublemakers, or particularly bad students. Nor were they trying to cheat.

In the past when this has happened (more often than I like to think about) I have insisted on students at least giving themselves a chance by moving to where they can see the board. I've always wondered what they'd do if I left it up to them, and now I know.

But ... WHY?


shelly itoh said...

Hello! A fellow English teacher here. Answer to your question, the students are Japanese. Wish I could shed more light on their mysterious behaviors. Seems Japanese students like to do this sort of thing.
Anyway, I like your blog. Should start my own. Hope to relocate to Okayama. Im now living in Kanagawa, with 3 kids and my Japanese husband.

tinyhands said...

Wouldn't a Japanese teacher just demand (without using demanding language, I assume) that they move? I don't mean to belittle your students, but they don't seem to be able to think for themselves most of the time anyway.

Kay said...

You're asking for it, Badaunt---you know to make the rules in advance--Test Day: Everybody Front and Center. As Shelly said, they are Japanese, and all the _New York Times_ articles on the new, Westernized, decisive Japanese to the contrary, well, they still are. Yes, despite my rant, I ALWAYS did what you did.....ALWAYS, and with the same results. Plus ca change....

Anonymous said...

p.s. Why has your delightful picture of the two crows gossiping been gone for low these many many days?

Julie said...

There should be an entire branch of science dedicated to the bizarre behavior of student seating. I teach in a big classroom this semester -- it probably seats 100 -- and I have 40 students. Inevitably, they spread out all over the place and then complain that they can't hear each other's comments. From my perspective they look like electrons in their orbital shells. Can't. get. too. close.

I love your line about inadvertantly giving a test on common sense. You say things beautifully.