Saturday, January 19, 2008

Mad, mad, mad

On Wednesday at work my loopy boss came to the part-time teachers' room and the room magically became emptier. It is amazing how many people suddenly find urgent business elsewhere when she turns up. Also, it's just as well there are two exits, because people leave so quickly they would jam in the doorway if they all tried to leave by the same route.

I was feeling stupidly complacent enough to stay. I should have known she had a message for me. She usually does.

"Oh, Badaunt-sensei!" she warbled. "I wanted to talk to you about the tests next week."

"Yes . . . ?" I said, somewhat doubtful but smiling nicely. I always smile nicely at her, but I was fairly sure I would not like what was coming next.

A couple of weeks ago she had told me she needed to see both classes at once on the last day (we usually teach them alternate weeks), and could I do my tests the same day? I had planned to test the classes separately, but apparently she thought it would be perfectly feasible for me to test the speaking proficiency of forty-five or -six students in ninety minutes.

I agreed, of course (she hires me) and adjusted my tests accordingly, making them so short they are useless.

But of course I can manage. I perform miracles on a daily basis. Besides, I already know the speaking proficiency of most of my students, and their 'test grade' will reflect what they have done during semester rather than what they do in the 'test,' particularly because I am fairly sure it is the only grade the professor is going to accept from me. The test is PAPERWORK. I am doing it because she told me to. Preparing for the test is more valuable to the students than the actual test will be.

I could not imagine how she could make the situation worse than it was already, but she did.

"I'd like you to test them in groups of four or five," she told me. "They will have a discussion, and you should grade them on that. It's very important that they know how to have discussions."

I don't quite know how I managed not to hit her. Perhaps it's because I have extraordinary patience when I deal with crazy people, due to the phenomenal amount of practice I get. Or perhaps I was just too boggled by what she'd said. Whatever the reason, I just sat there, grinning at her. I opened my mouth. I shut my mouth. Then I opened it again. This went on for a few seconds as I wondered why she thought it was suddenly a good idea to test the students on something that wasn't in the syllabus or the textbook, that neither of us had taught them, and that they were incapable of anyway. Most of these students are the sort who, when you breeze into the class and say, cheerfully, "Hello! How are you today?" smile happily back at you, then turn to each other and say, "Eh? What did she say?" "I don't know. Did she change her hairstyle? I liked it better before."

I stopped wondering what the professor was thinking. You cannot read the mind of a crazy person. You can only respond as if they are sensible and did not mean exactly what they said. (And if they hire you, the best tactic is to agree with everything and hope you can wiggle out of it later.)

"Well," I said, diplomatically, hoping I hadn't stared at her for too long gaping like a demented fish, "I already told the students last week how the test will be conducted so that they could prepare for it. I can't really change it now, but . . . " I got thoughtful, mostly about the fact that she is notorious for suddenly turning on people she decides she doesn't like, and remembering that I had just heard that morning about the Japanese part-time teacher who is looking for new classes elsewhere next year because she got on the wrong side of this woman OVER THE ISSUE OF TESTING and suddenly found herself jobless.

I pretended to be thinking about her idea.

"Groups of four or five . . . groups of four or five . . . Actually, YES! It IS possible!" I said. "Groups of four or five will be no problem! It will be FINE! In fact, it should work out VERY WELL! What a GOOD IDEA!"

She beamed at me.

But it is NOT a good idea, so I will NOT test them in groups of four or five.

She will not know that, however. She will be testing them on whatever she has been teaching them (or, more likely, on something completely different), in the other room. She will send the students through to me in groups of four or five. I will then test them individually, the way I told them I would, and the way they have prepared for. They will sit in groups, so that if she pops her head around the door she will see that I am 'testing them in groups,' but I actually I will test them one by one on the test questions I gave them to prepare for last week BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT I TOLD THEM I WOULD DO, AND I WILL NOT SUDDENLY CHANGE THEIR TEST BECAUSE A MADWOMAN HAD A WHIM. What kind of teacher tests students on something they never learned?

But I understand that it will go down in the records that I tested them on 'discussion,' and that they passed. I have already learned – from another of my 'team teaching' teachers, a Japanese woman who is a part-timer like myself – that we are not allowed to fail students any more at this particular university. They are too afraid of losing students. The foreign teachers are not being told this, however. Instead, we are to give the grades for our half of the classes to the Japanese half of the team-teaching teams, who will fill in the actual grade sheets, and 'adjust' those grades that need adjusting because of the unreasonable gaijin who insist on failing students who sleep through classes. The other teacher told me about this because she thought I should know, and because she is concerned about the effect this will have on student motivation, which is already low. (I like this woman, a lot. She cares about the students.)

But this is the school where I have given up completely on the university ever doing anything sensible for the students' education. There I have learned to do my best for the students, and everything else has to go into the 'irrelevant' basket OR ELSE I WOULD GO CRAZY.

While the loopy professor was wittering on about what a wonderful teacher I am and how good my classes are for the students because they NEED to learn how to have 'discussions' in English (SLAP!) and how much the students enjoy their English classes and are learning such a lot with this marvelous team-teaching system (SLAP!), I decided I should warn her about how the students are using translation software for all their homework. I wrote about this before, and have been worrying about it ever since. I had already told the other teacher (the nice part-timer, who got it right away and was FURIOUS because she'd spent hours correcting machine English) and thought I should tell the professor as well. It didn't seem fair not to.

"It's a shame the students often use translation software to write their homework," I said.

"Yeees!" she cried, happily. "And that's why they need a native speaker like you to teach them! They only learn translation at high school, not real English!"

"Um, I mean, I've noticed that some of them don't use English AT ALL when they write their homework," I interrupted desperately. "They write it in Japanese and then use a computer to translate it."

"Yeeees, that's right!" she warbled. "They really want to learn! And it REALLY helps them to have a native English teacher! Otherwise they don't know how what real English is like! Their homework is VERY GOOD! I am very happy with the way this team-teaching is working out. We work so well together!"

After a couple more tries I gave up. The loopy professor can speak English very well but she has never learned how to listen, in any language.


Keera Ann Fox said...

Nice save! I've done that goldfish impersonation thing once. Caught me totally by surprise, it did.

Badaunt said...

Talking with this woman leaves me gaping quite often. It's like negotiating a minefield. All the time I'm calculating how much I can agree with without compromising myself as a teacher, but on Wednesday I came VERY close to losing it. What she was asking me to do was totally unprofessional and unfair to the students, but she quite clearly had NO IDEA. It was only when I reminded myself that agreeing and actually doing it were not the same things that I managed to rescue myself.

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

You did so well controlling yourself!

I have one teacher like that at school and have found it easier to either tell him that I will "take that into consideration" or use the "wall of English" (give all my reasons why not to do what he has just suggested, but speak really fast and waffle on until he gives up). Luckily, he's not technically above me and the other Japanese teachers think he's an idiot as well, so I get to do what I believe is best for the student.