Sunday, March 25, 2007
The Center of Attention
One of my private students has been attending college at a U.S. military base for a few terms now. She has only taken two classes so far because her English ability isn't sufficient to take multiple classes simultaneously. Both of her classes have been taught by the same instructor and have been composed of largely the same relatively small number students so they have gotten to know her through the two courses they've shared.
In her most recent lesson with me, my student told me of a rather unnerving experience she's been having in her lessons. When the teacher asks her a question in class, all the other students turn around so as to face her. This is something that only occurs when she is being addressed so it's not a class-wide phenomenon.
The other students are all African American, male and belong to the military so she already feels very different from everyone else. She believes that they have developed this habit because she often does not understand the questions as the teacher asks them and they are standing ready to "translate" into simpler English for her. While she appreciates their good intentions, she's very embarrassed when this happens and wanted me to advise her on a way to make it stop without alienating her fellow students.
Unfortunately, I could not come up with a means by which she could discourage their turning around en masse to look at her while encouraging them to continue to be helpful and friendly. Any attempt to address their behavior would probably be viewed as a rebuff of their attempts to assist her.
It occurs to me that a little cultural awareness on the part of her classmates would go a long way in this situation. Japanese people want to blend in. The last thing they want to do is to be singled out in such an obvious manner, even when it is done so with the kindest regard.