Monday, December 04, 2006


Yesterday I was marking homework again. This homework was the first assignment I gave this semester at one of the universities where I work. It took so long to mark because, um, I was busy? Well, no. First it was because I lost it. Then when I found it I kept leaving it at school because I thought I'd find time to mark it there. Finally I brought it home and decided to JUST DO IT. I've already marked two other assignments since then, and it was getting ridiculous.

In the classes I teach at this university there is a very wide range of English ability. This post started off as an extended (VERY extended) complaint about the worst results I got from the homework, from the lowest level class, but I deleted it. You've heard it all before. Those results were even worse than I expected, and I was baffled and upset. When you've had a class for a whole semester you expect them to improve a little, or at least not get worse. This lot had become worse. They seemed to have forgotten everything they learned in the first semester and then some. Was it me? I wondered, and worried about it.

But I've decided to blame the teachers of the OTHER two English courses that class had in the first semester, who were supposed to be teaching them grammar and writing. After all, I teach 'conversation,' right? I am only a lowly foreigner who is not trusted to teach something as important as grammar. The fact that their grammar got worse has NOTHING TO DO WITH ME.

Instead, for this post, I have decided to focus on the better results I got from another class. With this other class I had asked them to choose one incident in their summer vacation and write about it. I said it could be something small or something big. I explained that I would have a lot of homework to read, so it would be good if they could make it interesting, because when I get to the fifteenth (or fiftieth) paper that starts off, I had a very good summer vacation. I went to my hometown. I met my family. I met my friends. I went shopping, I get bored. And while I try to be fair, when I'm bored it becomes more likely that I'll give lower grades.

"Tell me some detail!" I said. "Tell me something that will make your story different from all the others."

They are not a very high level class, but they all tried hard.

I am very happy with the results. These students stretched their English to its limits and did not bore me. So instead of quoting some of the bad results from the disaster class, I'm going to quote something from my good class.

This story comes from a guy who told me that he didn't do anything during the summer vacation. He just worked at his part-time job and nothing interesting happened. It was boring, he said. What could he write about?

Write about something SMALL, I said, and he thought about it. Then he nodded.

I think he has proved that you don't need something exciting to happen in order to write a good story.

In this summer vacation I was being bitten by mosquitoes. I live close to a ditch. My house (a bit of house) is the back of the ditch. Mosquito larva breed in the ditch. Ah, horrifying! Thanks to them, I feeled itchy every night in this summer.

Problem was lack of sleep. Boom of them interrupted my sleep. Every morning, lack of sleep reduced my energy. I had to make up the sleep at all costs. Sleep is necessary for good health!

One day, I eventually bought a mosquito coil of incence at Loft in Umeda. The goods was expensive...

Night fell. It was a still night. I prepared the same item. I had to cross them for myself. Business is business. At last I burned a mosquito coil of incence. To kill them.

The following morning, I felt refreshment of mind and body. Since I have slept soundly. Sound sleep freshened me up. I felt better after a sound sleep.

And, I found the carcass of them on tatami.

Then, somehow, I felt lonely. Somehow, I regretted having killed them. I have a temperamental dislike for sentiment, but, I still was something lonesome...

All right, there are a couple of things I don't quite understand. Mosquitoes that go boom? And why did he buy expensive mosquito coils at Loft when you can get cheap ones at any supermarket or drugstore? I think I know where 'cross' comes from. (Everybody gets let down by their dictionary now and again.)

But I understood everything else. The story may be short, but it has structure. It is a vivid story of conflict and drama (with carcasses, even), and I can picture the whole situation - the open stormwater drain, the whine of mosquitoes, the broken nights, the frustration, the lack of sleep, the determination to do something about it, and the final ruthless massacre. I can understand everything he felt.

Except the regret. I must admit I don't quite understand the regret.


Wiccachicky said...

That's a great story! I hope you gave him an A. :)

Carrie said...

Wow. He must be one heckuva writer in his native language. I never thought killing buggers would be poetic.

Anonymous said...

wow, sounds like teaching in uni can be just as frustrating as the private eikaiwa. great mossie story, though. slightly profound. must've been a fun read.

melanie said...

Ah.. the joys of those rare good pieces of homework. I work in a private high school and also teach only "communication". For my kids summer homework, I gave them a reading on the differences in American teachers and students and ones in Japan. Most of the essays I recieved in reply were boring dribble (often copied from a classmate) but also got the occasional insightful one that has actually made a difference in class!

It's those students that we put in the effort for isn't it?

Badaunt said...

Wiccachicky: Yes, of COURSE I gave him an A. He had me gripped from beginning to end. (Also, he made me laugh.)

Carrie: I never thought mosquito carcasses could be poetic, either!

aimlessincanada: Are you kidding? Sometimes I LONG for the old eikaiwa days. MOTIVATED STUDENTS!!! (Unless their parents were paying for it, in which case ... same old thing.)

Melanie: High school? You ARE brave. Unless it's a really GOOD high school... in which case, may I envy you?

And yes, it's the occasional bright spark we do all this for.

Anonymous said...

That's a great, well thought out story! And since you're not responsible for grammar, it's totally awesome and A-worthy! Such a good subject for "What I Did On My Summer Vacation": I killed mosquitos!