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Friday, March 17, 2006

Polarity

Tuesday nite I gave my first test. Arriving a half hour before my 6:30 p.m. class I witnessed an interesting phenomenon: the back one-third of the classroom was already populated with boisterous students. Hum...changes in behaviors are always early warning signals I've found.

While I speak no Chinese, it wasn't hard for me to detect a palpable atmosphere descend upon the classroom of 122 souls. I saw photocopied notes of my PowerPoint presentations making the rounds. What struck me funny were the faces I'd not seen since the first day of class weren't studying them with desperation. These pieces of paper, rather, looked as if they would be used as tools.

Clearly, they thought I had no clue; clearly they were wrong.

Culturally speaking, seeking assistance during tests is a generally accepted practice here. However, I was resolved to enforce a paradigm shift. My rationale was my whole reason for being here: introduce American teaching differences to prepare many of these students who will go to Western cultures to study. This lesson began immediately.

I stepped to the back of the room and informed everyone that all notes were being passed in to me and that they could collect the material after the test. Looks of disbelief followed my every movement as I explored areas under the desk cavities and added misplaced material to my growing pile. As I did this I noticed several students' faces in what I can only describe as glee at my activities.

After I distributed the tests I took my perch behind the last row of male students, the ones who had fought so hard for this status. Clearly, they hadn't anticipated this; their faces betrayed disappointment. Within 15 minutes I took two cell phones...the digital version of writing on the desk before class.

As the test taking wore on I confiscated a test with a crib sheet and asked a student to move, since he had wandering eye syndrome. The different responses between the two boys were nothing short of polarity.

The one boy whose exam I scooped up with a crib sheet was clearly repentant. Just a half hour into the exam I wondered if he would stay. He did. And, his body language told an insightful story.

He took some small pieces of paper from a notebook and began to write his answers to the essay questions he recalled. Fascinating. I let him proceed to see where this would go. After he filled the papers he sat still and I could see him contemplate his transgression. He knew it was wrong and his body language went from total disgust with himself to a prayer-like state. I knew he was definitely worthy of grace and further consideration. As I watched this play out I turned my eyes to the other student.

After watching five occasions of wandering eye syndrome with the girl sitting next to him who clearly had studied, I stopped by this boy's desk and asked him to move...three times. After the third request I transported his exam to the desk I had indicated and moved to the other end of the room to let him sort it out. Ten minutes later he stood beside the desk, so I returned to ask him to sit and finish taking the exam there. Apparently he preferred to stand and did so for the next hour. Then, he left.

As students completed their exams and exited the room I watched the penitent crib sheet student. He remained. With only one other student in the classroom I took a seat next to him and asked a simple question: "Why?" Profuse apologies bubbled forth. I had judged him, based solely on his response to the situation, as a good student. His answer confirmed it.

He had been studying for the GRE next month since he was making application for graduate school at none other than Seattle's University of Washington. He confessed that he had known the answers, but just didn't want to take the chance of not doing well. I checked my watch; it was 9:00 p.m. I retrieved his paper and told him he had until 9:30 to complete as much of it as he could. He raced through the exam and turned it back to me at 9:25.

We walked out together and rode the elevator down from the 8th floor. I told him I understood his issue and I believed he understood mine. He said, "Yes!" Patting him on the back and looking directly into his eyes I said, "See you tomorrow night." Smiling he said yes. Last night we talked and he contributed well in class discussions. I haven't seen the other student since test night.

Polarity. It's all a matter of attitude.

1 Comments:

At 4:26 PM, Skip said...

Well Dorothy, At least you had no challenges with Flying Monkeys, Talking Trees, or Singing Munchkins..Cody, Toto, and Skip

 

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