Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Plot Thickens

I mentioned in a previous post that the referral company that sends private students my way had an inexplicable change in policy. That is, they now want reports on the content of each lesson for each student. Yesterday, I got another e-mail message addressed to all teachers which hints at the probable motivation for that change in policy.

This message directed the teachers to a web site which contained short videos of a teacher teaching a lesson. The video we were supposed to watch in particular was about offering correction while also offering encouragement in a polite way. I'm guessing that the complaint or problem that may have motivated the change in policy must have been about a teacher who was too harsh in his correction or somehow managed to undermine the student's confidence.

It is quite easy though to upset students in conversation lessons if the student possesses a sufficiently fragile ego about his English abilities. When I worked for one of the big chain language schools, one of my coworkers at that time remarked that she felt that we shouldn't be constantly bundling the students up in "cotton wool" (that's British for what Americans simply call "cotton") when they were learning. She felt that we were constantly pandering to the students and having to treat them as fragile children to ensure that they never had cause for complaint.

While I never had a problem with being overly solicitous with students, I do believe she had a point. Some students took advantage of the situation and would be overtly rude to teachers or say the types of things they'd never say to another Japanese person. Additionally, I had several experiences where I was as polite and friendly as possible as well as pushed as much energy into my lessons as I could and some random student would still complain.

Part of the problem is that English conversation study is more about business than education. Those who study in academic institutions adopt the posture of someone who is learning and attaining a goal. Many of those who study at conversation schools have the attitude of customers receiving a service much as one might at a restaurant.

Another part of the problem is many Japanese people study English out of obligation rather than a desire to communicate in English and they are irritated at having to be in lessons at all. Even though they are doing very little to advance their ability and are often passive in the extreme, they still blame the teacher if they do not advance, are bored, or feel they are getting nothing out of the class. Such people are going to have little better to do than complain. It's part of taking out their frustration at being coerced into studying by their company, parents, or some external need on someone who is more powerless than they are.

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