The moral dilemmas i go through everyday at school

I made a student cry today.  She didn’t cry in front of me, but her friend later came to me in the office and told me about it.

I know it’s hard for them to ask me questions and admit that they don’t understand things.  It’s just the culture.  But these girls are so economically disadvantaged already that i feel obligated as their teacher to train them so they can become more responsible.  That way, they’ll at least have a chance at getting a job after they graduate.  There is so little disciplinary action in this school; the students are in very bad shape, both in terms of attitude and work ethic.  I don’t know how they are in other classes, but in my classes, they don’t listen.  For some reason, they think that if they can’t understand what i’m saying, they might as well ignore me and chit chat.  The ones who try ask the high-level students to translate, but most give up.  I don’t have a problem with them giving up.  That’s their right, and i can’t force them to learn if they don’t want to.  But when they talk, other students who want to try can’t hear me, and as a result, most of the class gets things wrong and loses points.  And i don’t give second chances, because they should know my rules already.

This student didn’t know my policy of never accepting late work because she either didn’t listen or didn’t understand but neglected to ask for clarification.  When i refused to accept her late timed writing, she quietly walked away.  It would be unfair for me to accept her work, because i’ve been refusing all late submissions.  When her friend came to plead with me to accept it, i took it and told her i’d correct it but that i’d have to give it a zero.  I later caved and gave the student who submitted her work late a letter explaining that i’ll only take 5 points off and that she shouldn’t take it personally, because i can’t veer from my rules if i’m to be fair to everybody.  I had to mull it over for a good hour, but i eventually decided that i’m not being too unfair because this class is a bit behind, and i did accept late work the first few weeks.

I want these kids to succeed.  I really do.  They want so many things in life—they tell me these things in their journals—and if no one helps them now to become responsible citizens, they’re never gonna get those things.  I don’t understand why the teachers here protect them so much.  These girls don’t need protection; they need training.  I feel like everyone here thinks God is the answer to everything.  ‘These girls might be irresponsible and unmotivated but God will somehow help them in the end, so let’s just pray.’  I wish somebody would cooperate with me.


Filed under culture, korea, teaching

22 responses to “The moral dilemmas i go through everyday at school

  1. Rachel

    You should watch Stand and Deliver.

    I hope you’re a fun and motivating teacher. Not some strict, uptight teacher who doesn’t know how to feel. To be honest, from what I read so far from your previous entries, you don’t come across as a teacher I’d like. I know it’s probably because I don’t know the whole story and I don’t know what it’s like to teach all those girls, but you sound like a teacher I wouldn’t have liked as a kid. =/

    • n

      I feel, Rachel… I feel a lot! I’m a compassionate person. I’m also uptight and picky, but only because i know these girls well. I know they have a lot of potential, so i hold them to high standards. But maybe you’re right; maybe i am just an anal bitch nobody likes. Although i can tell a lot of my girls love me. They cheer and hug me when i visit them at lunch! And they write me love letters in their journals, which are just the greatest thing ever. I actually welled up two nights ago in a subway station at the thought of leaving this school next year or the year after.

  2. Keith

    Hey Nayoung,

    Not to come off like a know it all (cause this is all certainly pretty new to me) I do think I have one really useful piece of advice. And I will relay it with a story. When I used to teach after school classes at Korean academy back in the states, I used to make my rules CLEAR, and think “hey now that my rules are clear, they should understand and know what wrong is and what right is…” I used to say X many outbursts in class and you lose your break as a group. I also initially told students that they needed assignments in by X time without exception, for fear that students would eventually abuse the power.

    The reality of the situation is there are a few bad seeds that will abuse your flexibility if you give them that. But nearly all of the students really want a chance to do right. After many problems where everyone felt they were being unfaily victimized by the evil punishment crazy teacher, I asked them what they thought was fair and one student suggested finding a way of making them more individually accountable. I felt incredibly stupid and mean. It was so simple.

    So I created a strike system for each student(or if they were in a small group), If I caught that student being a distraction more than once, they would then get their break taken away. This way I at least gave them the benefit of the doubt–sometimes there is a good excuse, sometimes they are actually talking about the assignment, or were only answering someone who was talking to them. So they can get that taken away…but they’re awake now, they’re alert and on their toes. They will probably not slip again. The students that will, they are special cases, but..I guess that’s a whole other discussion for another time.

    I was surprised how incredibly effective this method was–just seeing strikes on a board next to their name, group, whatever… It also plays into their competitive spirit. No one wants to be the group kept 5 minutes after class or whatever the punishment may be.

    So yeah I definitely think it’s important to lay the hammer down (especially where an example is made to the class as with the aformentioned staying after class example). But if a student asks you, begs you to accept her late assignment…to me this is a sign they care more than a sign that they don’t. I think taking some, but not all points is important, but communicating that as subtely as possible is very important. Your arrangement need not be advertised to the rest of class. But if she makes a habit of it, zero credit, obviously. The moment their excuses run out–It’s hammer time.

    I think it’s important to have these sort of… “planned exceptions” or “flexibility” or whatever built in, whether it’s three strikes or however you implement it. Students respect you more if they see that you will give them a break when they need one, will discipline them when they’re not following your instructions, and especially when they are rewarded and encouraged heartily when they’re kicking butt and doing well.

    Ramble complete. I really have NOTHING to do right now. And now I have 55 minutes left of nothing…….yarg.

    • n

      I don’t have planned exceptions because i’m not a planner, but i am flexible. I listen to every individual situation and judge accordingly. A strike system is too much planning for me, too, and i find it easier to just take away participation points (though this has been difficult, too, because students won’t wear their goddamn name tags!). I know that the ones who chase me into the office to submit their timed writing care and want to do well, and i truly appreciate that, but i also want to train them to manage their time better. When i start the timer for the rewrite session, they need to return their partner’s essays to their partners and start rewriting. When they don’t listen to my instructions, they run out of time. And even if they do run out of time and can’t finish their final draft, i tell them to just hand in whatever they have because i collect the rough drafts anyway and i can assume that they would’ve written whatever they had on the rough draft with the corrections. So when i correct the essay, i can just finish reading it on the rough draft. But they don’t trust that, or they’re just paranoid of failure, or they don’t understand what i said and don’t bother to ask, so they finish the rewrite and come running after me. I’ve been staying behind for an extra five to ten minutes because students won’t let me go. And this frustrates me to no end.

  3. Daniel

    I am happy and excited to see you maturing nicely as a teacher. Keep doing what you do… with a grain of salt (have in mind the world is built with each grain of salt). If the teachers give you guff and make it difficult for you to work, just play their game do their dance (remember you have to weigh up to fight the fight!) , smile and say this with your best sincerity, “I am sorry you feel that way.” Trust me there are ways you can advance your educational agenda with out anyone being the wiser! You got your work cut out for you cookie! Now lets see how imaginative and ingenious you can be, I can tell your stubborn as hell.

    • n

      Many of the co-teachers definitely hated me at first for being so strict, but ever since giving my students a letter explaining why i’m so strict and what i hope they’ll learn by the end of the year, they’ve been more cooperative. There’s this one teacher i couldn’t work with at all and is always babying the students, but today, she actually scolded one of them for doing other work in class. It felt good. I think a lot of them thought that i was being strict for the sake of being strict, but now that they know that i only do it because i care about the students, they’ve been really good to me. That doesn’t mean they don’t still baby the students, but they just no longer resent me when i’m not as lenient.

  4. Matt H.

    I hear ya, nothing bothers me more than having to talk over students that are just fooling around. For guidance though, I just recall the days of my high school days and how the teachers managed their classes.

    Cheer up 😀

  5. Jingjing

    Try writing your rules on a giant board and that way they are reminded of your rules and you have a fail safe way of repeating yourself. Looking at text will probably make your students more comfortable. Writing is a more passive way to speaking so for the students who don’t understand your rules or are lagging behind, they have something in front of them to remind them what the boundaries are. It’s elementary, but I think it may even help them to improve their English.

    • n

      I already gave them a hand-out with my rules and the grading system. I even went over it with them in class, but i don’t think anyone read it. And almost everything i say, i say with the text projected on the screen. All they have to do is listen or read or ask a classmate for translation! I’m giving them three options, damn it!

      • Ra

        Seriously, people don’t look at handouts. Do what Jingjing suggested and see if there are any changes. I used to never listen to teachers. Thinking about it now I think I maybe have had attention issues, but I also just couldn’t understand them for the life of me. They would speak to me but all I ever heard were my thoughts. I used to just observe whatever my classmates were doing and try to do what they were doing. That’s how I survived. Just imagine yourself in France and think about how fucking frustrating it was not being able to understand the language. When you don’t understand, you just automatically feel inferior and that is reason enough to not try because even if you try, if your teacher is preoccupied with rules and not the actual effort, what’s the point in trying?

        Of course, being there with your girls and actually living the situation is much different from what I imagine. I don’t think you’re an uptight anal bitch. I know I am an anal bitch when it comes to my brother, but I know I need to relax and try to be more accepting. I’m still working on it.

        • n

          Everything i give them, they’re supposed to read. I’m not going to be flexible about that. I took the time to write it, so they should take the time to read it. If they don’t want to read it, that’s fine; they’ll just get points off for not following any rules i mention in the hand-outs. And i weigh effort and responsibility equally, because in the real world, if you’re not responsible, your work is worthless. Late work is worthless.

          • Jingjing

            You need to step back from the situation and take a deep breath. It’s fine that you give them rules and that they need to follow them, but its your job to give them the information through the best way possible. If giving them handouts doesn’t work and if giving directions in front of class doesn’t work, try something else. You can be rigid in your rules, but still experiment with your teaching. Don’t repeat your rules, but try giving those rules through a different format…perhaps through a short movie, perhaps through LARGE writing on a giant board so they always have short reminders to be respectful, to listen, and to not talk during timed writing. Perhaps even try an exercise where the behind students try to give a lesson themselves. Give them OPTIONS. That is the best thing you can do as a teacher. You are still sticking to your rules if you give your rules through a different format.

            Put yourself in their shoes. Do you listen when older people give you unwanted advice? Do you become angry? Do you seemingly lose reason?

            I disagree with your last statement: “Late work is worthless.” No work is worthless. Late work may be worthless to someone who is strict about deadlines, but it isn’t to the person doing it. I may turn in something late, but at the end of the day, I learned from doing it and maybe the next time I do it, it won’t be late, and it won’t take me as long. Americans are obsessed with deadlines and deliveries but the truth is, at the end of the day, what does it matter that a report doesn’t get turned in at the right time? Do worlds explode, do we die, do we think ourselves as worthless? If we do, then our priorities are at the wrong place. Turning in things at the right time creates good habit, but don’t forget why you are trying to form good habits and how you can form good habits. The how, when, and why constantly change depending on different people, different environments.

            I like the way you teach, and I personally like teachers who have high expectations because I think most people today have low expectations and expect people to do a bad job and it in turn makes me want to try less. But don’t forget that having high expectations and being so rigid with rules are two different things.

            Also, you need to tell those girls not to bring blankets to school. That is just ridiculous. If they say something, take it from one of them and do not give it back until the end of the year.

      • Jingjing

        I am not trying to say that you haven’t clearly explained your rules to them. It’s obvious that you’ve tried a lot of methods and care a lot about them and try to give them opportunity to ask you questions, but I don’t think there is any harm in trying other methods. If what you’re doing right now doesn’t work, but your students love you, try something else. Three options is a lot and its great, but having five options, or event ten options doesn’t hurt right? It may even make you less frustrated and direct your frustration towards work that might eventually help your students.

        Remember how in elementary school all the teachers put up these huge signs, calenders, and alphabets to teach us? Since you are coming into a new environment and these kids are really behind, they are essentially ELEMENTARY kids. Remember the way your teachers shaped your habit and shaped the way your learned. None of us miraculously learned to read or write proficiently overnight…it took years of shaping…so go back to your youngest days and remember how those teacher began to instill good habits.

        Consider recording your rules on tape or CD’s or even the internet so they can listen to it. Make a website for them or have a box in your classroom for questions so it can be anonymous and they won’t be embarrassed.

        • n

          I can’t treat these students as elementary kids because they’re not elementary. They may not act it at times, but they’re fully matured young women who’re smarter than they let on. I’m not going to drill things into their heads or treat them with any less respect than i would a typical responsible adult. Just because their English isn’t so good doesn’t mean they’re immature.

          I’m not giving them unwanted advice. In fact, i’m not giving them any advice at all (unless they come to me asking for advice, which some do). I’m just laying out the rules: if you do this, you’ll get this grade, and if you don’t do this, you’ll get some other grade. I leave everything up to them. I don’t force them to do anything. I value freedom too much to force anyone to do anything. This is why i also can’t take things away from them or stop them from doing anything unless they’re making it difficult for other students to learn.

          No, of course late work is never worthless to the person who did it. My refusing to accept it doesn’t diminish the value of their work; they still practiced writing, which is all that i am required to have my students do. Practice writing and build fluency. The only thing that changes is their grade, my measurement of the worth of their work. My job as their teacher is not only to help them learn English but also to prepare them for work life, so my grading has to take responsibility into account. They’re being irresponsible when they don’t follow rules, which are designed to help them become more responsible. I also want them to be responsible for their learning, which is why i don’t force them to do anything. I let them do whatever they want with the understanding that i will accept certain things and not accept certain things.

          I really like your idea of having an anonymous question box. I will work on that! Thanks for the suggestion.

  6. Keith

    Yeah I hear ya sister. It sounds like a crowd that needs a lot of repetition and reinforcement and and you being in their face… You have a lot of training on your hands. Question–do you give directions from the head of the class? Moving around…standing near those who aren’t listening, and dead staring at them, keeps them on their toes usually. Hell I’m not averse to crouching down and taking a knee to broadcast my directions to the entire class while staring at the one student five 3 feet away from me while staring at the two students who are talking. Awkwardness is a super power.

    • n

      Yeah, i give directions from the front of the class. The classrooms are cluttered; the desks are pretty close to each other, and the students have all sorts of stuff in the aisles, like bookbags, umbrellas, even blankets. So i don’t move around unless a student needs help during timed writing. And i’m not comfortable with getting in their face or using awkwardness cos that’s very condescending. I used to hate teachers like that.

  7. Keith

    Yeah, that’s tricky. I guess I’m spoiled by my group desk / one room scenerio. Being forward doesn’t necessarily have to be condescending. I’m always smiling, getting students attention, although it makes them feel initially awkward, they’re not being condescended to. I have a coteacher who comes up behind students and massages their shoulders and whispers for them to wake up. For obvious reasons, I can’t do that working at an all girls school, but there are ways to put pressure on students to assert expectations. without the drama.

    • n

      When someone forces me to listen, i feel they’re abusing their power. It’s up to them whether to listen or not; i just grade according to what they do. I wish my co-teachers would stop waking up my students or telling them, “Don’t do this,” “Don’t do that.” But that’s not the kind of thing i can stop them from doing…

  8. njs

    This is the most provoking thing I’ve read in a long time … While I don’t have any conclusions, thanks for sharing.

  9. D. Liu

    poor girl! Stop bullying your students Nayoung! 😡

    (probably not a helpful post. ^_^)

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