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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Good Friday

This isn't really about the Christian events of Good Friday, but about how this Friday was a Good Friday for me.

My last class of the week is a night class on Friday night, meets from 8:40 until 10:20.  The students are English Tourism majors, and you can tell this is a frighteningly popular time for class, because I usually have five out of the six students enrolled.  The class is supposed to be an extra conversation class, in addition to their regular conversation class, so these students have two-hour classes twice a week, with a different foreign teacher each time.

The third week of class I had a student show up for the first time.  This is not at all unusual for my university, though this class was regular enough that we had gotten into a rhythm, in which the students were comfortable with my speaking speed, and I felt like they were understanding a reasonable amount of what I was saying.

But this new student, I will use her initials: EK, was working at a different level.  A much lower level.  Much.  Lower.

She was the kind of low that required translation.  I couldn't speak English slowly, simply or clearly enough for her to understand it.  And if you've never met me, please believe that I can do slow and simple, though the jury is still out on clear.

She was literally afraid of me; she said so.  (In Korean, of course.)  I tried to gear the class down to her level, but it was like hitting the interstate in 1st gear, including the loud whining sound and the smell of burning oil.  (That smell may have been in my imagination.)

I did find out about her situation: like the other students, she is in her sophomore year.  However, she was a freshman six years ago, so it's safe to say she didn't remember much from her previous English classes.  Frankly, I wonder how she passed back then.  Probably a combination of cuteness and persistence.  Currently she is not working, just taking some night classes to finish her degree.

I told her the painful truth: I'm a pretty decent teacher, but my class and one other two-hour class per week just aren't going to boost her (or anyone else's) English level significantly.  Not without some significant participation from the student, anyway.  I suggested that she should enroll in an English conversation institute (hagwon) that has classes every day for an hour, maybe even two.  I guaranteed that if she did so the improvements would be quick and noticeable.

She has been in class since then, but I've mostly left her to her own devices, occasionally startling her with a "Boo!" because how awesome is it that someone in the world is actually afraid of me?

This past week was my midterm.  One other student was absent, but EK showed up.  I was feeling pretty pessimistic, and so was she.  She finished last, and I tried to reassure her that just glancing over it, it seemed very likely that she passed.  I offered to grade it on the spot, and she stayed.

She got an 89, which surprised the heck out of me.  And her!  (It turns out she had the lowest grade in the class, though the absent student may give her some competition in that respect.  I believe the others scored 93, 96, 99 and 100.  But there is no student I am more proud of this semester than EK.)

She told me she had taken my advice, and was attending a 3-month course at a popular English conversation institute. (Jeong-Cheol, if you are interested.)  She had also spent the past week preparing for my exam.  So far it is working.

This made me (perhaps) unreasonably happy.  Seeing someone improve at my direction, even if I am not the main tool to evoke that change made me happy, almost giddy.

When she left, I stayed to grade the rest of the papers.  After she closed the door behind her I heard her footsteps as she ran down the hall.  I imagine she was proud, perhaps still a bit nervous, and maybe as giddy as I was.

That was my Good Friday.  I got one of those rare moments in teaching: evidence that I am effective.

Happy Easter to you all.  American culture has it all wrong: Christmas is not really about giving, it's about hope.  The biggest gift ever was given on the cross, and Christians are called to give of their own lives, (though seldom in as dramatically) as Jesus did.  I could have encouraged EK to go home, settle for a C.  I could have even promised her a B if I never had to see her again, and believe me, the thought did cross my mind.  Instead, I went past the easy way out, the cruel and simple option of telling her to give up.  I gave her my attention.  I gave her the best advice I could.  I gave her encouragement whenever she came to class.  So even though this story came to fruition on Good Friday, it's appropriate that I am posting it on Easter, a day of new life and some serious giving.

A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.