Monday, June 29, 2009

A Big Bully

In a previous post, I mentioned an issue with one of my students who is going to college on a military base. At the end, I said that I would work out what this teacher wanted and was going to be like with a little time. Well, I have, and it's not good.

There area few ways I can figure out what the teacher is like and wants. One is through their comments, syllabus, and what the student tells me. The other is by listening to recordings of the class. Obviously, the latter is the best way to know what is going on, but I can't listen to all of each class she takes. That being said, I can scan through what is going on at key points.

First of all, the teacher is a bully, but a crafty one. He's the sort who you could easily imagine beating his wife in his private time. In the classes and in written correspondence, he criticizes, berates, and pushes the students on the one hand and then offers to have lunch with them, take them on tours of the base, and is nice to them on the other. The "carrot" and the "stick" approach really smacks of the man who gives his wife a black eye and then brings her flowers the next day.

Second, he will brook no explanation or argument which can be (mis)construed in any way to be what he imagines to be a challenge to his authority. If you say anything, he'll go off on an attack. For instance, he said some things which made it sound like my student had been drawing her ideas and information from external sources rather than offering up her aggregate knowledge based on being 45 years old and having taken a lot of other classes and insisted that she reference her ideas. When she explained that the source of her ideas was not from somewhere else per se, but from a body of accumulated knowledge, he got pissed off and wrote back a highly defensive letter saying that even he (and he must be the authority, after all) references 90% of what he writes.

She went out of her way to say that she'd be happy to find references after the fact and do what he wanted, but he seemed to completely ignore that part. Rather than see what she said as an explanation that she was not plagiarizing or lifting ideas without giving proper credit, he read it as a challenge to his authority to dictate how papers were to be written. This is the behavior of a bully who is insecure with any opinion other than his own.

My student was quite upset by his reaction, of course, and is going to write an apology. One thing about the vast majority of Japanese people, particularly women, is that you don't have to bully them to get them to study or cooperate. This guy doesn't seem to know the difference between teaching children (which he did in the past) and adults who are studying of their own volition and don't need to be pushed hard to do the work.

What is more, this teacher's way of explaining himself is not very clear and his requirements for weekly papers is absurd. Every week, the students must write two essays, but he expects them to reference them like term papers, even when part of the content they're answering questions for contains opinion questions. It's ridiculous for someone to expect you to provide references for their opinions. You get the feeling this guy is more in love with the letter of the law rather than the spirit when it comes to education. He's more interested in students following form than showing they have learned and digested the material.

Finally, he follows in the footsteps of a long line of teachers my student has encountered at this particular school on the base who does not actually know how to lecture. He spent the class I listened to relating old war stories of when he worked as a cop, criticizing other students, bragging about himself, and offering up his opinions on anecdotal cases. A structured, informative academic lecture was nowhere in the room. While I would definitely say that discussion of prominent anecdotal cases can be very effective in teaching material, this is not what he was doing. This is mostly finding a way to bullshit one's way through the time.

I told my student that, if she is ever hassled by the school in any way, I am going to fight for her like nobody's business because she has forked over a lot of money to go to that college and has never had a proper face-to-face lesson or teacher. The teachers, when they are qualified, are only so on paper. None of them seems to know how to conduct a real lesson or prepare and present material. They just hang out and chatter about opinions one way or another and make the students learn from the book.

At any rate, I'm actually responsible for my student getting in Dutch with the bully teacher because I advised her to explain things to him and helped her write the letter. This was a mistake on my part because I should have seen the carrot and stick thing as a bullying tactic, but I was viewing it rather personally instead. That is, I thought he was being nice to try and get her on as a private student (that is, steal her from me) since he says he teaches Japanese people privately. The truth is that this was an egotistical way of looking at it. It had nothing to do with what I might lose and everything to do with this guy's personality.


emily said...

I sympathise with your student. Good diagnosis of the teacher himself - you may have mentioned this before, but is he from the States?

As a westerner I'm amazed that your student felt she had to write an apology letter, but as you say it's very easy to make Japanese people, especially women, feel like they're the ones in the wrong.

A bad teacher can put you off for life. I never felt confident in my German class because the teacher didn't understand that I found some things difficult. She simply thought I was being lazy. I found after I left school I could manage perfectly well though!

I hate bullies! Someone - anyone - should level with them about the pathetic failures in life they really are.

Orchid64 said...

My student didn't have to write an apology. She wanted to write one because the e-mail he got from her seemed so angry and she wanted to smooth over the situation. She doesn't want to have a bad relationship with her teacher (quite understandable). She just wants to do a good job in the class and cooperate, but she also didn't want him to think she stole her work or copied other people's ideas. It turns out that it might have been better if she had copied other people's ideas because he wants her to always say someone else thought up what she wrote rather than she came up with the conclusions and thoughts on her own.

The thing that annoys me is that, while I doubt there are many absolutely unique thoughts out there, it is possible (and even likely) that someone who studies a topic for awhile can take what they've learned and reach a conclusion without having it spoonfed to them via an external source. Hell, I do this all the time! I find it pointless for someone to work something out in their own head and then be told they must have gotten it elsewhere or even if they didn't, they are now obliged to find someone else who said it. It's just a waste of time and seems to undermine the whole idea of applied learning or analytical thinking.

One thing about language learning in particular is that it's important to know that people don't all take to languages. Some people are good at them and some people are not. Language learning is no different than math ability in that way. For some reason, people accept that there are some people who find math hard to fathom, but they don't accept that not everyone has the best cognitive capability for languages. People always thing that anyone can manage as well as everyone else as long as they make an effort. That's simply not true!

Thanks for your comment!

Wally Wood said...

I feel for your student, and, in another entirely, for the teacher who is in over his head and doesn't know it. As someone remarked (and I am afraid I cannot give the exact citation), "Steal from one person and it's plagiarism; steal from many and it's research."

Unless your student has copied other people's work word-by-word, she has stolen nothing. And the air is full of ideas, and the last I heard you cannot copyright an idea per se.

Orchid64 said...

Hi, Wally. Long time, no see. :-) I hope you're doing well!

I would probably have more empathy for the teacher if he weren't so pushy and didn't brag so much. I realize that these things are just as much a manifestation of insecurity, but he's the one with the power. Since she is powerless, I feel very bad for her.

I can guarantee that she is not plagiarizing or copying since I help her cultivate her ideas and I have tutored her all along. If she's "copying" anyone, she's copying (at least in part) my lectures as I'm interpreting the text for her and discussing ideas with her. But I see that as no different than a student digesting a teacher's lectures and using the content based on notes to help write papers. It's what is supposed to happen. And it is what would happen if she ever had a teacher who actually taught her!

Thanks for commenting and for coming by. :-)