While my students were working on a graded exercise I gave after discussing a grammar point, I noticed that one of them was crying. It was apparent that the seatwork I gave was the reason.
The task was simple – from a set of paired sentences, they will write new sentences using the comparative form of adjectives (followed by than). In each pair of sentences, the same adjective is used to describe two different things.
I know I discussed the topic sufficiently. In addition, shown on screen while they were doing the exercise was the slide on my PPT that explains in detail what to do. There were examples too.
I wanted to approach her but I realized that it might unnecessarily draw the attention of the whole class to her which might make her uncomfortable. So, I asked them to stop writing for a while and allow me to give one more example. I noticed that the student seated nearest to her was trying to help her understand what I was explaining. Despite all those, she was unable to finish the exercise.
Knowing her level (A2), I was not surprised that she found that exercise difficult. What was surprising were those tears. It bothered me to say the least.
I love teaching. I do use humor in the classroom but I take my profession seriously. Teaching for me is more than just a means of livelihood. I have been doing this for the past 30 years. It has become an integral part of my life.
As a teacher, everything I do in the class is guided by one of the philosophies I subscribe to – “The student is the reason I am teacher.” Thus, I care about what the students say about the way I teach. I care whether my students learn or not. I care about how my students feel.
I was sure that I did not say or did anything to offend the student who cried. One of the things I tried so hard to avoid is to make my students feel disrespected. To ensure that, I studied their culture, especially during my first months here in South Korea. I kept in mind the tips given to me by my compatriots who have been teaching here longer than I do. I don’t like to offend my students either directly or indirectly. I’m particularly careful with my language and the kind of humor I use in the class. As a teacher, I know how important it is to establish a good rapport with my students and that begins with me acknowledging that they deserve respect.
So, I was wondering what triggered her to cry. It made me contemplate about my overall performance in the class. It made me think if I was performing as a teacher the way I ought to.
I asked myself – Am I an effective teacher? Am I doing the right things in the class? Am I using the proper strategies to motivate my students and help them learn? Are those tears caused by my inability to sufficiently differentiate instruction to cater to the different proficiency levels of my students?
Have I become a “mercenary expat teacher” who cares for nothing but run to the ATM during paydays?
The only consolation I had was the thought that the student seemed to care about whether she learns or not so much so that when she wasn’t able to do the exercise it made her so frustrated prompting those tears to well out of her eyes.
When the class ended, I sent that student a text message asking her, only if she was comfortable doing so, to visit me in my office anytime both of us are available so I could explain to her further the grammar point I discussed that day. I also promised to give her a chance to redo the exercise.
That’s the reason the university requires us to serve three hours of office a week. We use that in case students need help or they want to practice conversation.
The following day, the student came, with that classmate seated nearest to her and who happened to be her best friend (whose language level is B2). She asked her friend to accompany her just in case she needs a translator.
As soon as they got settled in my office, I ask my student why she cried. She explained in Korean and her classmate translated it to English.
She cried because she felt she was so stupid for she could hardly understand English. She thinks her IQ is very low because she could not speak English well.
I told her that the things she said are actually fallacies in language learning. A language learner should not be considered stupid just because she could hardly understand the new language that she is trying to learn. I pointed this out not because I wanted her to feel better but because it is what I believe.
I explained to her (and to her friend) that people who speak multiple languages could do so because they dedicated their time and resources to study the languages they know. Another possible reason they attained speaking and writing proficiency in a language or several languages is because since birth they were exposed to those languages.
I cited myself as an example. I could speak three dialects in my country (Tagalog, Ibanag, and Ilocano) because those are the languages of my parents. And how did I learn English? My parents used the language too when communicating and in my country (the Philippines), the medium of instruction in our schools (from Basic Education to Tertiary, even in Graduate School) is English. In addition, I told them I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.
As a clincher for my monologue, I asked my two visitors a question, “Am I stupid because I don’t speak Korean well?” I was happy they both said “no.”
Then I asked my student who cried how long has she been studying English and how serious were her efforts to learn the language. Her response – “Not too long and she was not serious with her efforts.”
I told her that that is the problem. I added that that is also the reason I could not speak Korean well – I was not serious with my efforts to learn the language. After hearing that she said something in Korean to her friend. I asked her friend what was it. This was what my student said – “I will teach sir Korean and he’ll teach me English.” Then we had a laugh.
I spent around 10 minutes in explaining to her the comparative form of adjectives and how to rewrite two sentences with the same adjective into one sentence using the comparative form of the said adjective. Then I gave her as much time she needed to finish the exercise – the exercise that made her cry. She finished the exercise with no tears but smiles.
Before they left I explained the other fallacy that my student who cried said – that her IQ is very low because she could not speak English well. I told her that the English language has nothing to do with a person’s intelligence quotient. IQ tests in a country are written in that country’s native language. Verbal comprehension is only one of the several aspects tested in IQ tests and that verbal comprehension is not verbal comprehension in English but in the language in which the IQ test is written.
I told my students that when people could speak English fluently it does not mean that their intelligence quotient is high. Proficiency in English has never been and will never be used as the sole basis in measuring a person’s intelligence. That people who could speak English are more intelligent than those who could not is a fallacy.