Sunday, July 15, 2007


On Friday I have a class of only two very high level students in a non-credit class, who are there to have discussions about various 'issues,' whatever that means. It is a free-floating sort of class. The issues are whatever we decide to talk about, and tend to be whatever pops up in conversation. The idea is for them to practice their English, basically, which gives us a lot of leeway.

Often I tell them about things that happen in my other classes, and quite frequently ask them to explain to me some aspects of Japanese student behaviour I do not understand. They are quite good at this, and are learning that I am not interested in the 'official' explanations for things. I want to know what is really going on, otherwise nothing makes sense. Sometimes they need a little encouragement to give me the real story. In return, I am frank with them.

I asked them on Friday what the story is with plagiarism. I have heard that in Asian societies, copying another person's work is considered a sort of compliment to that person, and therefore it is not uncommon for students to copy their professor's notes and hand it in as homework, or to copy something from a book, or whatever. It is not considered stealing. It is considered to be respectful, and to come from Confucian philosophy.

At least, that is the official explanation, parroted endlessly.

I asked the two guys what they thought of this explanation, and they laughed.

"No, I don't think so," one said. "If you copy someone's work it is stealing. Everybody knows that."

"Then why do my students do it so often?" I asked. "Do they think their teachers won't check? Do other teachers not check?"

"Oh, no," they said. "Teachers check homework."

I gazed at them for a moment, puzzled.

"Do you mean they ACTUALLY check homework, or that they check it IN THEORY?" I asked, carefully.

They grinned sheepishly.

"Actually they stamp the homework," said one. "I don't think most of them actually read it."

"So everybody assumes that I'm not going to read it, and that's why they give me any old thing," I said, "And that's why they're so shocked when I notice they copied it, or give them a low grade for it."

"Probably," they admitted.

A bit later I was telling them about the quiz I gave my classes to do while I was doing conversation tests in another room.

"Some of the answers are really funny," I said. "It's a mix of easy and hard questions, but I'm always surprised at the ones they get wrong."

I told them some of the funnier answers I'd been given. One of them frowned. He wants to be a high school teacher.

"Do you enjoy laughing at your students?" he asked me, and I detected a hint of disapproval.

"Of course I do," I said. "That's what students are for!" Then I added, "Of course, when I was eighteen I probably would have had trouble with some of these, too, and given my teachers a good laugh. I laugh because when my students try hard some of their guesses are wildly funny. I can't help it. You would, too, I'm sure."

He looked doubtful.

I asked them if they wanted to try the quiz, and they did. It was near the end of class, and when we were about halfway through the quiz (which they didn't find difficult at all) the bell rang. It was lunchtime.

What happens every week with that class is that after the bell goes, the girlfriend of one of these students turns up, to have lunch with them. On Friday she appeared a bit earlier than usual. I greeted her when she came in. Then I asked her the question I'd just asked the two guys.

"Can you name three countries in South America?" I asked. I knew her English was not good, but I was fairly sure she would understand that one.

"Eh?" she said.

I repeated the question, more slowly.

"South America," she said. "South ... " she turned to the guys. "Which direction is 'south'? I've forgotten."

"Minami," they said.

"Minami America . . . " she mused. "Minami America . . . I know! Mexico!"

"That's North America," I said.

"Kita? Oh. Minami America . . . er . . . Saudi Arabia!"

The two guys snorted, and I glared at them, particularly at the would-be high school teacher, whose girlfriend it was.

"It's not polite to laugh IN FRONT OF the student who gives a funny answer," I said, confident that the girl would not understand. "Laugh later." I turned back to the girl. "Name three deserts," I said, and she perked up confidently. She knew this one.

"Ice cream, cake - "

The guys lost it completely.

"See? I TOLD you it was funny!" I said, as I left the room, and the would-be high school teacher nodded vigorously, wiping his eyes. His girlfriend stared at him, puzzled.

Just now I was checking some of the answers I got from other classes on Friday, and came across one I liked a lot. The question was,

How many inches are there in a foot?

The two guys answering the questions had written,

Kenji is 10.4 inches. Tomoki is 10.3 inches.


Miz UV said...

Good stuff! Interesting about the plagiarism.

Radioactive Jam said...

Measured to one decimal place no less. Impressive!

Now I want ice cream cake.

Cheryl said...

Brilliant again.

That would be 10.3 inches of foot, then?


Lippy said...

How gorgeous! I'm sure your would-be high school teacher learned a valuable lesson - in the nicest possible way!

Lia said...

It IS funny, and I've always been of the opinion that it's better to laugh than to cry. What would they want you to do - go through your teaching career drearily ignoring all the highlights? Besides, what would we do without your stories?