It’s Like Speaking Another Language

There are times in teaching when I look at my students and wonder how we can be so entirely different. It’s not because they come from wildly different cultural backgrounds, or maybe it is. I consider it a totally different type of speaking another language because I don’t just teach English, I teach culture.

American culture, in particular, is one of enormous differences from the cultures of most of my students. They come from backgrounds of patriarchal societies with heavy overtones of male dominance, female submission (in some cases female abuse), extreme religious views that color the lenses with which they see the world, and an adherence to traditional values that have been long abandoned by current American culture.

This is why there are times when I wonder if I’m speaking another language to my students entirely.

I have certain groups of students who are rather loathe to accept instruction from a woman. The fact they’re male is only a part of the equation. The rest of the equation is very much decided by their country of origin and background. They tolerate the teachers but are hard pressed to understand why they fail tests when they refuse to do homework or participate in class activities.

I have other groups of students that are determined to speak in their native language to ask questions about my teaching. I would understand that if they’d already asked my assistance with their question, but they, by and large, ignore me and speak to one another to try to understand whatever grammar topic we are covering. The result is usually lackluster writing and a number of raised hands asking for help to write their sentences.

There are other students who come to class with one purpose and one purpose alone: to have me sign a piece of paper so that they can continue receiving public assistance. These are some of the most entitled, privileged students I’ve come across. And while I would never assume this to be the case for the majority of my fellow Americans on public assistance, especially as I’ve had to rely on unemployment before, I’m seeing that for some of these students it’s no problem to come to class and demand that I sign a paper to verify their class time daily. It is a problem, however, for them to be asked to do homework, come to class regularly, or even participate in class like normal students.

This is the student I want to speak to in this post.

The student who comes only to fulfill credit for public assistance is the student who should find another program. It’s not to say that they have no business being in our program. It’s simply saying they take advantage of a program that other students rely on to help them advance in their education.

I have seen several students who have very little desire to be in the classes come simply to have a paper signed. They sometimes ask me to sign their papers at the beginning of class, but I refuse and only sign at the end. I’m not stupid enough to believe they would stay to the end of class with the paper already signed.

One student came to me and said she would no longer come to our classes because she no longer needed to get the paper signed. I said it was her choice to come or not to come, and she never returned. Another student asked me to fill out her paper but said she couldn’t stay for class that day. She needed the entire previous month filled out and hadn’t bothered to bring the paper to class for me to sign before, so I had to pull up my records and fill in the days she’d attended. She tried arguing with me that she attended more days than I signed.

But my greatest one happened last week.

A student who has apparently never brought in paper or pencil for class moved to my class. He’d been told by our tester she expected him to have his materials for class that day. He came in and brought nothing with him except the paper he’d need signed for public assistance. When we asked about his materials, the same excuse of having forgotten them came to his lips.

The tester called him out and told him it was an expectation. Now this particular student isn’t fond of the women who teach him and the authority they carry as teachers. He’s less fond of a little old lady calling him out for not being prepared. Essentially she angered him so much he skipped the next class.

I have no idea if he’ll be back this week.

If he comes back, I doubt he’ll bring his materials.

And really, if he can’t understand why it’s important to bring a paper and pencil to class, it really is like I’m speaking another language to him.

– RaeNezL


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