Saturday, March 31, 2007
As I've mentioned previously, one of my private students is currently attending college on a military base. She's just finished her second class and received an "A" in it (as well as the first one). She had the same teacher for both classes and was considering taking her third from the same instructor.
The instructor has had a rather spotty term this year. He's had a lot of personal issues and commitments and canceled a little over half of the lessons in the past term. Due to some other priorities in his life and the expectation that he'll probably have insufficient time to teach a full number of face-to-face classes, he announced that his next class would be carried out as a distance course next term.
Unfortunately, the teacher hadn't confirmed his ability to do this before telling the class about it and it turned out that he couldn't do it. My student had e-mailed him to confirm the situation but he didn't respond to her. She waited some time then tried again and still got no response. Finally, as the deadline for registration drew near, she had to contact someone else at the school to see what the situation was.
The third party contacted her teacher and then got back to her. It turned out the teacher was essentially recommending she not take his (now face-to-face) class because he anticipated having to cancel a lot of classes again and knew she had to drive a few hours to reach the base. If she attended, he would feel uncomfortable about what he was sure would be the necessity of canceling lessons. Since all the other students are part of the military, a cancellation wouldn't inconvenience them in the manner in which it would her.
My student overheard her teacher discussing a replacement for himself during one of her lessons and she learned that the salary for teaching positions at colleges on military campuses are relatively low and it is difficult to find replacement teachers. This is probably why the teacher is continuing to cover the class knowing cancellations are inevitable.
The entire situation is regrettable because it appears it's not the best situation for anyone concerned. The most unfortunate aspect of it is that the teacher's failure to reply to my student's e-mail has lead her to the conclusion that all of this is simply because he doesn't want to teach her because of her 'inadequate' English ability. I am certain, however, that this is all about the teacher's personal schedule and a desire to have maximum flexibility without any nagging concerns about how it'll cause one student trouble.
I spent quite a bit of time in my student's lesson laboring to make her believe this but I'm not sure that I was 100% successful. I believe that her teacher didn't write back to her because he was either too busy or uncertain of his ability to explain the situation in a manner that she wouldn't interpret as a rejection of her personally. That's no excuse for not writing her back and I think there's a decreased chance she'd feel rejected had he actually replied.
One thing that has come up with my student throughout the playing out of this situation (it has been over a week in coming) is that there are serious cultural differences in the roles and responsibilities of teachers and how they look after their students. In Japan, teachers are expected to a far greater extent to look after their students' well-being academically (and sometimes otherwise). It's not unusual for high school teachers, for example, to visit their students' homes to discuss problems or assist students. In the U.S., the responsibility to cope with problems is mainly on the shoulders of the students (and their parents if the students are young).
My student has expressed on two occasions now that she is very frustrated by what she feels is a certain callous disregard for her on the part of her teacher and some of the people who she is dealing with at the college. While I believe she hasn't been treated as well as she deserves (at least in regard to having her e-mail replied to), I don't think that she's been particularly ill-treated or dealt with with malicious intent. Hopefully, part of her experiences as she continues to go to school on the base will be the ability to find some cross-cultural understanding and not to think poorly of herself when such things happen.