I had the goshdarn papers in my freakin’ hands! It was unbelievable, in the sense that I could not believe or compute what was happening. It didn’t seem real. I almost thought it was a joke or a set up or something. I wondered for a moment if I was being filmed in some sort of bizarre teacher training candid camera. The papers with the student work were right there in my hands, inches away from her as she kept talking and trying to persuade me. No amount of talk was going to persuade me, though. I had more than enough proof in my hands. I had more than that, too. Not only did I have the papers, but she’s also seen the lesson. She was there! She’d seen the students do the work. And there she was, trying to convince me.
I couldn’t believe my ears. She was telling me that Korean students (or maybe it was Korean students of that age) were not capable of that sort of writing. She had been teaching for 22 years and clearly had decided what students could do at certain ages and levels. She mentioned something about the national curriculum but I am not sure how relevant this was to her overall point of the sheer impossibility of Korean students doing the exact thing they had just done. If the proof of the puddin in in the eatin’ then surely the proof of the teachin’ is in the students doin’. Right?
There was at least one serious disconnect, obviously. I mean, I had the goshdarn papers in my hand, the proof students could do the task. To my eyes and to my mind this was irrefutable proof that Korean students could handle that sort of task. The students in the room we were all in, the room I did the sample lesson, were all Korean. These Korean students did the simple writing task I’d asked them to do and I had the proof they could do it in my hands.
For a moment I thought it was the same old crap about “this wouldn’t work with the large classes I have at school” or “this wouldn’t work because we have to much stuff to ‘cover'” and “This wouldn’t work because my students are too high-level/low-level/motivated/unmotivated/tired/energetic/lazy/cool/industrious/pessimistic/placid” and thus could never do such things in our classes. I say this is crap, but at least I can understand it. I realize teachers need to make choices and prioritize and sometimes simply need to follow the expectations and orders of others. This case seemed different to me, though. She was discussing the sheer impossibility of the thing she had just seen.
What was behind this? Was I being accused of sorcery? Being a warlock is pretty cool and all, but I think I’d prefer the teachers to believe what they have see and to believe their students are capable of great things.
When I think about this incident, two main questions come to mind. The first is, I really don’t know what her motivation could possibly have been for telling me Korean students couldn’t do such tasks. And second, how did she possibly not see that students could do it by seeing that they uhm had done it?
I don’t want to be harsh on her. I don’t want to be too critical, but I’d like to understand how this sort of thing could happen. I’d like to do my best to make sure it doesn’t happen to me again. Ideally, I’d prefer not to be in the position of explaining to a professional teacher how we can know something is possible on account of seeing it happen.
MG notes and thoughts:
This actually didn’t happen to me. I wrote it roughly based on a story a friend told me a while back. I tried to add some confusion, emotion, and drama along with the not so subtle hint of a rant. Comments calling me a jerk and an inept trainer might be true but won’t actually be based on this story above as I was not at all involved in it.
I am not trying to put words into my friend’s brain though. I made up lots of stuff and the tone is all me playing around.
Something about this story reads to me like it happened in Korea. Well, in fact, it did. I am wondering if this type of story could and would happen elsewhere. I’d love to know what readers from around the world think about this.
My current thought is that we all have our blindspots. In this case maybe the teacher/training course participant was so thoroughly convinced students were incapable of doing certain things she couldn’t really believe what her own eyes had seen.
I was reminded of the idea of perceptual blindness when I thought about this story.
Writing this post also reminded me of some thoughts I had about teacher training a while back. I tend to be a strong believer in modeling and demos and things like this but this story helped me see some reasons such demos might not always be as great as usually think. It is a separate point from the above story but sometimes I have felt a bit of push-back with participants saying things like, “It (only) worked because you are a native speaker” and “It (only) worked because you have done this before” and “It (only) worked because you are so freakin’ awesome, Mike.” I thought these were interesting points and issues but I never faced someone saying what I had just done would be impossible.
As I have mentioned here on my blog before, I once met the horrified look of The Director when it was discovered I had been sharing (well actually writing and then sharing) material featuring the past tense when students had not been taught the past tense yet. I did not apologize.
I also remember another time when a public school teacher in Korea told me with a great amount of assurance that students what students would and wouldn’t “know” at certain parts of their 3rd year in middle school. I remember wishing I had more time to discuss how what has been “covered” by the teacher doesn’t always equate to learning and how maybe students could have learned some English outside of the confines of the middle school curriculum.
I had some hope that this could be used in teacher training but by the end I thought it was too “on the nose” to be useful.
Thanks for reading and I hope it was worth the time and effort.