Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Sensei! Sensei!

On Tuesdays last semester I had a rather weird student who came to all my classes instead of just the one he was enrolled in. On Tuesdays this semester I have a NEW weird student. Is a trend emerging? Will I always have a weird student on Tuesdays from now on?

The new student is weird in a different, and rather more irritating way. He does not worry me quite so much as my last semester student, but he has his own little quirk, and is potentially far more annoying. His quirk manifested itself in the first class.

I was explaining the rules of the course to the students. These rules are also written in the handout I had just given them, and I was writing the very important bits on the board as well, and telling them to read the handout. I have found that quite frequently my students do not read handouts. This does not bother me until towards the end of semester when I am explaining to a student why they are failing, and point to the relevant parts of the handout.

"What's that?" they ask, and I explain that it is the handout that I gave them at the beginning of semester, which is written in both English and Japanese.

"I don't have it!" they say, and I point to where it is stuck in the front of their notebook, where I had told them to put it on the first day. They stare at it blankly.

"But I didn't read it!" they say, and seem to think I should pass them because HOW COULD THEY POSSIBLY KNOW that being absent for a majority of classes and not doing any homework would cause them to fail the course? They hadn't read the handout! It's not their fault!

Convincing them that ignorance is no excuse can be time-consuming, so I try to avoid it. This is why I make a big production of the handout on the first day.

This new weird student, however, whenever I opened my mouth to speak, started speaking as well, raising his hand slightly and looking confused. This is what he said:

"Sensei! Sensei! Wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai. Sensei! Wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai."

Wakaranai means, in case you didn't know, I do not understand.

He did not say it very loudly, but he continued to say it every time I said anything AT ALL, even when I pointed to the Japanese on the handout. He responded to my helpfulness by staring at me pathetically and saying:

"Sensei! Sensei! Wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, Sensei! Sensei! Wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai. Sensei! Wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai."

Somewhat baffled, I smiled at him sweetly and carried on around the class. After a while he stopped Sensei! Wakaranai-ing and stared at the handout instead of at me. Then he was quiet for a while. Perhaps he had noticed it was in Japanese.

The next week he was pretty much the same. I give very simple instructions in low-level classes, and supplement my instructions by writing the gist on the board as well. Even if students cannot understand what I say, they understand what I write on the board, and they understand my gestures. In fact students who do not understand a word of English are surprised to discover that they do, in fact, understand my instructions. I have become very good at giving instructions that require no English at all, but which make my students think WELL FOR GOODNESS SAKE I JUST UNDERSTOOD SOMETHING IN ENGLISH! It makes them feel clever, and that is a good thing.

My weird student, however, the moment I opened my mouth and before I had completed a five-word sentence, raised his hand and started with his little chant.

"Sensei! Sensei! Wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, Sensei! Sensei! Wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai. Sensei! Wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai."

His chant is not a very loud one, but it is irritating. However, instead of ripping off the arm he had raised and beating him around the head with the soggy end, which is what I felt inclined to do, I did what any sensible teacher would do. I smiled at him encouragingly.

"Don't worry," I said, soothingly, and thereafter ignored him. Eventually he stopped, and along with everybody else copied what I had written on the board. This is what I had just instructed them to do, and which he had wakaranai-ed.

Then he stared at what he had written, and his hand went up again.

"Sensei! Sensei! Wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, Sensei! Sensei! Wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai. Sensei! Wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai, wakaranai." he said.

I pretended not to notice. I answered another student's question, set them to work, and eventually he settled down and did the work, too, with no more difficulty than any of the others as far as I could see. He behaved himself, more or less, for the rest of the class, with only a couple more fairly quiet outbursts, which I ignored.

This week was the third time this class has met, and I am happy to find that my policy of ignoring his pleas is working. He is actually starting to use some English. Today, when I issued some new instructions and then wrote them on the board, he raised his hand and said,

"Sensei! Difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult! Sensei! Sensei! Difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult! Sensei! Difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult!"

I smiled understandingly at him. Then I carried on around the class, making sure the other students understood what they were supposed to do. They did, and got on with the work. So did he. I continued to perambulate around the classroom, helping out where needed. Every time I passed him he raised his hand and said,

"Sensei! Difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult! Sensei! Difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult! Sensei! Sensei! Difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult!"

"Yes, and you're doing VERY WELL," I replied, and carried on.

This happened several times.

What a fabulous teacher I am. I now have a student who can be weird and annoying in two languages instead of only one!

The GOOD news is that the rest of his class of science majors, my only very low-level English class at that university this semester (not because they are science majors but because I happened to end up with the low-level English end of that bunch), have decided collectively that they will cooperate with me and speak English all the time – but in silly voices. It started with two or three of the more extroverted students, but has spread to almost the entire class, so that it sounds at times as though I've had them all sucking on helium balloons. This makes me very happy because it means they might actually learn something.

So although the sounds that emerge from my classroom in the third period are utterly, utterly bizarre, I am pretending that it is perfectly normal to speak English in a silly voice and interrupt every five minutes with,

"Sensei! Sensei! Difficult, difficult difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult, difficult!"

Today, amazingly, the whole class used only English for the entire ninety minutes of class, something none of my supposedly higher-level classes ever manage. I was solemnly professional. They were overcome with hilarity most of the time, making wonderful and ridiculous progress in horribly mangled English.

I am hoping that this trend continues, because if it does there is a chance that some of their English will become unmangled. When I can hear what problems they are having, I can do something about preparing lessons that address those problems.

In that class, at least, it looks like it will be an interesting semester.

3 comments:

Contamination said...

How could you cope with such a wierd student in your class?

I'd tell such a wierdo to leave my class and only come back if they were prepared to be quiet and do their work. Maybe a simple Urusai would suffice?

I had a Caffeine free weekend, and survived! Read about it at jDonuts.

Badaunt said...

I'm afraid I cannot do that. It's more than my job is worth. He obviously has a sort of verbal 'tic' (as opposed to an eye tic) which is a sort of mental problem, and when you have a mental problem in your classroom you are ESPECIALLY careful. With falling student numbers, anyone who can write their name at the top of the entrance test is admitted, more or less, and nobody will thank me if I upset a fee-paying student.

Besides, he does the work, and he seems to be settling down a bit. The other students are too busy being silly (and using English!) to take too much notice, and are treating him with some distance but politely, so I think he'll be all right eventually.

Contamination said...

I know that feeling. At the university where I have an out service the quality of the students drastically dropped from last year to this year. They too have said (privately) that it's not so much of an entrance exam any more as more of an interview.

Either way if you flash some cash, you're in!

It's funny to see H.S kids cramming like hell for university exams, not knowing how easy it is. These are the ones who are "doing it for a bit of paper". Not the Tokyo or Waseda candidates.