#onething that happened after class a few weeks ago

It was a very casual scene after class had officially ended. There I was chatting with two students (future translators/interpreters) as we prepared to gather our belongings and head on home. We had just talked about the value of extensive reading (maybe I am slowly but surely being drawn into the cult). I recommended some podcasts I thought might be useful and interesting for them (mostly Freakonomics and This American Lifeand mentioned some books I thought might be interesting and useful (including Native Speaker by Chang-Rae Lee, Drifting House by Krys Lee and Korea: The Impossible Country by Daniel Tudor).

One student was interested in my recommendations and seemed surprised I had so many things to suggest as I was a bit slow at first to get started. She also seemed surprised to note I’d been reading Please Look After Mom and that I’m a fan of Kim Young-Ha. Maybe she was doubly surprised by my interest in Kim Young-Ha’s work in the New York Times and how his writing is appearing so frequently there. When I mentioned my interest in the great blog Subject Object Verb perhaps my status as as a curator or sharer of resources was cemented. It is hard to say what they were thinking or feeling but it read to me like something of being impressed.

The next question was if I had ever shared books with students like them or given reading assignments or suchlike. I said I’d done so over the winter with their “seniors” (predecessors). They asked how it went and I said it was ok but maybe not a resounding success (I probably didn’t exactly say “resounding”). I mentioned how I just lent out books and didn’t require anything else. I expressed my perception that most of the students didn’t do much reading. Then the comment came out, “You are a teacher. You need to push students.”

In that moment the statement hit me quite hard. We had a potentially juicy case of perceptual mismatches. I mean, I thought I was doing pretty well to haul a bunch of carefully selected texts from my potentially impressive collection and let students borrow them for the winter. You know, the winter, when I am on vacation. But here was this very kind, appreciative, and keen student telling me perhaps I had not met my responsibilities as a teacher.

I did my best to respond appropriately, mumbling, “Yeah, I know what you mean. I do. I just thought since it was vacation people could choose to read as they want. It wasn’t an assignment or anything. You know, everyone is an adult and I didn’t want to overload  people.” She nodded in agreement but came back to the role of the teacher being to push, apparently even during vacations. I saw this as a nice glimpse into her (and probably others’) thoughts on the role of teachers. It immediately got me thinking about things like cultural differences and how expectations play such a big role in perceptions.

Now, a few weeks later I appreciate conversation even more because it helped me see yet again how differences in concepts about roles and responsibilities can cause actions to come across differently to different people. Once again looking at #onething helped provide some insight into some bigger issues.


(random additions)  

  • This is the 2nd of ?? posts in response to Anne Hendler’s  One Thing Blog Challenge .Here is my first.
  • I think writing about one thing is a nice way to ease back into blogging (or get started) for those who feel like writing something but don’t know where to start.
  • You’ll note there is no action plan above. That’s partially because I have no idea what I’d do differently or if I’d even do the whole “haul books into class and set up a mobile lending library” thing again.
  • I thought this post on Extensive Reading from Kevin Stein was fab.
  • I have been pretty crappy with blog comment responses lately. Sorry to those that have been personally effected. I will be better from now, starting with this post.
  • In all the books Korean books mentioned above I am talking about English translations.


  1. ltllblog

    Interesting post which raises the issue of how much we need to fulfill the role that others create for us, or to mould that role for ourselves. It’s probably somewhere in the middle for most of us, but perhaps some folk disagree.

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for the comments and thoughts. I like your point about molding the roles for ourselves. Along the same lines, I also think there is something about negotiation between the parties. What is most interesting for me is that without the input from the student in this case I might never even know it is an issue. Thanks very much for reading and commenting!

  2. Chewie (Gangwon Dispatches)

    Exactly right. You need to push. I need to push, too. I apologize if this comment seems unorganized–your post brought a few things to mind, things I’ve neglected to post about…

    *Informal bantering is all well and good. It’s especially useful for bolstering the confidence of some of the students. I do it whenever possible. But, there comes a point where they don’t need any more “easy” talk because they have the brainpower and the drive to handle it. That’s where we come in.

    *Have you ever read The Perks of Being a Wallflower? There’s an English teacher in there who gives Charlie, the protagonist, “extra” or “special” assignments. He sees some potential for Charlie and begins giving him books to read and asking him to write essays about them. The essay grades are off the books, but the teacher still gives grades and feedback. This is, of course, in addition to Charlie’s regular schoolwork. No matter–Charlie gamely does the readings (Kerouac, Salinger, even Burroughs) and, in the end, goes on quite the literary journey. Maybe those students of yours can be like Charlie. They want you to assign stuff. They want to be pushed.

    The students who want to work will work. We can help make it happen. Recommending literature is one of the best things we can do over here. I don’t, in fact, do that enough…though I’m blessed with a few diehard music fans. I remember one instance where I told an HS senior to listen to Drive-By Truckers because not only do they “rock” sonically, but their songs are about America and life in the South. I named a few songs and a couple albums and told him to listen. He delivered an oral report a week later. I thanked him and recommended some more tunes.

    By the way, I spoke to you at the KOTESOL conference a few days ago. My site is linked; you can see what’s going on ’round the DMZ.

    • mikecorea

      Hi! Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Nice to make the post conference connection!

      I think you make some nice points here about students wanting to be pushed
      (and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”is a new one for me, thanks).

      I think what I am still struggling with in terms of extra assingments and the like is the fear of overburdening my already super burdened students. This is partially why I wanted the “Here borrow a book” program to be as relaxed and chilled out as possible.

      I guess I need to keep trying to find those that want to be pushed. Thanks again for reading and commenting.

      • Chewie (Gangwon Dispatches)

        We’re of the same mind in thinking the kids are already overburdened. Holy Moses Malone are they weighted down with work. And yet, some still find the time to not only seek our advice, but actually carry it out.

        You have the right idea with the “borrow a book if you’d like” program. I’d do the same thing! It should be as relaxed and informal as possible because the idea is to supplement their studies. Besides, reading is supposed to be fun. I’m a voracious reader and I’d bet you are too. I’m sure neither of us would like having to write detailed essays on everything we read. If I were in your shoes, I’d be more interested in asking, “What did you think of it? What parts were good? Tell me about the story…”

        Kelly Gallagher, a HS teacher in California, wrote an excellent book about how he does reading in his classroom. His students read the “hard” academic stuff as well as the lighter fare. The lighter fare’s in there to remind students that reading’s supposed to be enjoyed and that not every book is Hamlet or Moby Dick. You might find his book interesting. Enjoy!


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