Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bad tactics

I do not enjoy giving students a failing grade. It does not give me any sense of achievement. In fact it makes me get all snarly. Sometimes it is inevitable, however, because there are always a few students who force it on me. This post is for them. Of course they will never read it, because they don't like English and never wanted to learn it in the first place. I know that, which is why I make my classes easy and fun. The opportunity is there for them to learn something if they want to and get high grades, or to pass the course with minimum effort (and a minimum grade) if that is their preference. I try to make it easy.

But not easy enough, apparently. The following are details of some tactics that will not work in my classes, collected over the past week or so. I am still working on grades, and we still have a couple of weeks left in the new year, so some students might redeem themselves and scrape through, but not if they use the tactics listed below.

Here is what not to do.

#1. If you are having a conversation test, and have a few minutes to prepare with your partner before the test, try to chose topics you are interested in to talk about. If you are not interested in them it is highly likely that I will not be either, especially when you start your 'conversation' like this:

"Do you like sports?"

"No. How about you?"


And then freeze, flummoxed, into a long silence. THIS IS NOT A GOOD TACTIC. You have had TWELVE WEEKS to prepare for this. Why have you chosen a topic neither of you have any interest in?

#2. Also, complaining that the conversation topics were boring is NOT A GOOD TACTIC. I did not force any topics on you. Part of your class work every week was to choose topics you wanted to talk about and prepare the vocabulary you needed. I was there to help you. I did not give you any boring topics. You chose them yourself.

#3. At this time of year I leave ten minutes at the end of class to answer questions. I deal with the one or two that come up, ask if there are any more, wait, and when nobody has any and everybody starts leaving and I file away all my papers for your class and put them away (being careful not to mix them up with other classes' paperwork) and put everything into my bag, and start walking out of the classroom, well, THAT means the class is over. If you ask me a question at this point I will not be happy. It means I have to unpack my bag and mess up my careful filing, which I will then have to throw into my bag in no particular order when I have finished with your question because I will be late for my next class. I will not feel generous or helpful, and therefore THIS IS NOT A GOOD TACTIC.

Also, when this happens (in almost every class towards the end of semester - why? WHY?) your questions are almost always stupid ones, like the one in #4.

#4. When you approach me at the end of class (see #3) to ask if you will be able to pass, and when I show you the records that demonstrate that you have been absent six times, done no homework, missed all the tests, and have slept through the classes you did come to and will therefore fail the class, do not gaze at me with puppy-dog eyes and whine,

"Sensei, sensei, onegaishimasu! I'm sorry! What can I do?"

The only help you will get from me at this point is a grammar correction. I will tell you,

"You have used the wrong tense. Repeat after me: What have I done?"

Then I will hand you another copy of the same handout written in English AND Japanese that I gave you at the beginning of semester, which explained the requirements for the class. The handout explains that these rules are the same for everybody and will not be changed if you beg pathetically at the end of semester. I went to a lot of trouble to make sure you had every chance to understand this at the beginning of semester. Looking at the handout as if you have never seen it before will not impress me, particularly when I can see your old copy sticking out the corner of your textbook, where I told you to put it. And this is why begging pathetically at the end of semester is NOT A GOOD TACTIC.

#5. When you hand in the final homework at the end of semester, which you know you need points from in order to pass the course, giving it to me on a scrap of paper ripped from your notebook with class notes on the other side is NOT A GOOD TACTIC, especially when your handwriting is difficult to decipher. Did you write it on the back of a galloping horse? I will be particularly unimpressed when you write English words using katakana and add in parentheses, Sorry, I don't know spelling. If it is too much trouble for you to look up a word in the dictionary, I'm afraid it will also be too much trouble for me to give your homework a passing grade. If it is particularly bad, I will not give it any grade at all. You were told about that on the handout, too. It is a sad fact of life that for my classes, English homework needs to be written in English.

#6. Buying a textbook and bringing it to the third-to-last class of semester will not magically make up for all the other times you came to class with no textbook, no paper, and no writing implement and when I asked you why you were not doing anything you said you couldn't because you didn't have a textbook, paper, or writing implement. THOSE WERE NOT GOOD TACTICS.

I'm having trouble with this one deciding here which was the stupidest tactic - the one where you sat in class looking alert and cooperative but doing nothing (because you had no text or writing materials and therefore, "Sorry sensei! I can't!" I have no text!" (and I'm too stupid to think of sharing a text or asking someone for some paper, or...), the one where you used my class as nap time (because you had no text or writing materials and therefore 'couldn't' study), or the one where you paid all that money for a nice new textbook and a nice new notebook at the end of semester and expected it to make a difference. You showed me your new, blank notebook with such pride! Was I supposed to give you points for your fantastic academic achievement of buying a notebook and not writing anything in it? And was I supposed to give you points for keeping the seat warm the twelve weeks you came to class and did nothing?

When I was working on the grades yesterday, in your case I was strongly tempted to deduct points for gross stupidity, but I discovered that if I did that you ended up with a negative grade. So you will get a far higher grade than you actually deserve: 26%. That is amazingly high considering how much work you did. I am a generous person.

#7. You were a really good student. You were alert, cooperative, funny, and studied hard. You were a real asset in the classroom, and I enjoyed having you in my class.

But when I had to tell you last week that you had failed and there was no point coming to the last two classes, WHY WERE YOU SURPRISED? Hadn't you noticed that you had missed seven weeks of classes, not taken any of the tests, and 'forgotten' all the homework? Those were NOT GOOD TACTICS. Incidentally, when it came time to collect homework and you apologized sweetly and said you didn't know about it because you had been absent, did you really think that was a valid reason? And when I told you to bring it next time, and next time you apologized charmingly and told me you'd 'forgotten,' did you think you'd get the points for it anyway because you had a winning smile?

Yes, you are a charming and sweet guy. I like you a lot. I could do with more like you in my classes. I gave you maximum points for the work you did, because you did it so well. That means your grade will be, as I told you, 27%.

"Can I do extra homework?" you asked hopefully.

"Yes, of course," I said. (I am always helpful.) You looked ecstatic. "The extra homework is worth ten points," I went on. "That will bring your grade to 37%, if you do a really good job."

Why were you shocked at my 'meanness'? That was written on the handout, too. You know, the one you were holding in your hand while I was talking to you. The one I gave you on the first day of semester.

To all the other students who will pass with flying colours, get average points, or squeak through with extra points if you do the extra homework well, congratulations. You passed a brain-dead course. Mine.

Some of you might have even learned something.


Kay said...

Badaunt, I laugh, I cry, I remember, I love your blog!!! Kay

Cheryl said...

Bloody ditto!

Oh but poor you, I do feel your intense frustration.

Anonymous said...

I don't think they seem to behave like the adults that you are treating them as.

Some whipping is in order here. *Cracks whip*

Who's first?

Anonymous said...

These young adults Bad Aunt is failing are members of a national culture which is afraid of losing its identity by taking on too much of any other culture - learning a foreign language is dangerous, we mustn't do it well.

Their university system passes them for just attending classes, rewards them for what we'd call plagierism, and gives them prizes for conforming. If/when they get jobs, their organisations will train them, and they'll become the world's best workers, most of them. Bad Aunt's standards implicit here are those of another culture, another place and even, another time.

BadAunt, the students you're not passing aren't failures, and the tactics you're so frustrated by work well in other courses offered by the same university. These guys are not gormless, as you seem to think: they're demonstrating loyalty and 'membership' in their own ways; and these qualities are key values in their culture. Such values haven't gotten any Japanese to the moon yet, but they have built safe cities and a rail systems which work. And I wouldn't drive a car designed in any other country.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you've said but I can't remember: is this a required or elective course?

Badaunt said...

Most of the grading I've been doing the past few days has been for classes that are required, but there are a couple of elective ones in there, too. (These classes are all at the same university.)

The student attitudes seem to be a reflection more of their majors than of whether the class is required or elective. The class I've enjoyed the most this year is a law major class. The law dept at this place has decided to take English seriously, and last year they hired Japanese professors of English who are fluent speakers and have studied TEFL or linguistics abroad. This year the first year students are a complete contrast to the other department students - they're keen, they study hard, and they are a joy to teach. I've had NO students in that class who would fit into any of the types I wrote about here. The contrast is amazing.

It is very interesting to see how the attitudes of the professors trickle down to the students, and it makes me wonder what kind of attitudes the economics and business professors have!

Anonymous said...

I so sympathize with your frustration, and I admire your commitment to sticking to your principles. It's not just frustrating to the professors to have lazy students beg to pass, it's unfair to the students who work hard to have their achievements minimized. I know too many professors who just pass people because they don't want to see them again next semester.

I tend to agree that student attitude reflects their major; people who have a use for what they're learning tend to be more keen than people who don't. But it's also personality. (Fragment)

Anyhow, your love of your job still comes through.

Pearl said...

Good for you for keeping the hard line. These students can be funny and trying.

melanie said...

Ahhh.. I've just been going through some of your old posts. Just love this one. It sounds like your university students are using the same tactics that my high school students are. They don't work in my classroom either.