In the Trenches

For some reason, sidewalks in China are long stretches of square brick pavers rather than a solid block of concrete. They’re also usually quite “busted” and coming up at odd angles here and there. When it rains, stepping casually from one to the next becomes a feat fit for a Global GUTS challenge (90’s Nickelodeon, anyone?). One wrong step and you’ve splashed mud (and likely baby poop and spit) all over your new white sneakers and will be staring at your feet in dismay saying “f*ckf*ckf*ck” in front of the eight-year-olds you were just teaching. Fun!

Earlier in the day I had my last SAT Basic class with the one student who showed up (the class, which ran for six weeks, only got one or two students after the first meeting. It only had four on the roster.) We got to talking about the practice test she’d taken and her questions. One of the most frustrating things about some students, and not this one in particular, is that they nod and say, ‘yes’ when you ask them if they understand something, but are unable to rephrase anything you’ve said or give any real sign of comprehending something. I asked her, “What are some reasons this character might want to do something like this?” and after a long pause she said, “I forget.” “But it’s not something you can forget! I’m asking you your thoughts.” A story, and the characters in it, are still grounded in human experience, I explained. I asked her again and got a little more, but it seemed I wouldn’t be getting no satisfaction. Most of the students seem to interact with the material this way – they don’t stop and smell the roses, so to speak. One word confusing? Then the whole sentence must be for nought. Can’t pronounce someone’s name? Well then you necessarily won’t be able to understand their dialogue, either.

I can’t speak for too many other teachers, just my friends, and well, I don’t want to do that anyway. All I know is that I hope my students take my advice seriously. They seem to enroll in these course just because they exist. If you made 100 SAT courses they would sign up for all of them because taking things in sequence is just so exciting, don’t you think? The same thing goes for my TOEFL students. Partly I think this phenomenon is due to the education level of the parents – most of them aren’t fluent in English and don’t know how to gauge their student’s ability or the level of success they’re having in any given course. But they’re paying for this, and that’s what gets me. I guess they see all they need to see. I finished the class by reminding my student to think about her interests, find schools that suited her and look at their requirements, e-mail their international department coordinators. The idea of being proactive in such a way seems uncomfortably foreign to them and I can’t say I expect my words to have much resonance, but I do hope they think twice before blindly signing up for SAT Advanced 2 Session 2.2 Part A. Except I think their parents usually sign them up without asking about how the last class went, so…

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