I was conducting a lesson in which the students were asked to analyze cultural differences they perceive between Korean and Western (more like American/British realistically) culture. One of the tasks asked the students to work in pairs and imagine they were a native English teacher just arriving in Korea, what difficulties do they think they might encounter in their first month in Korea?
All of the students accepted this really quite difficult challenge, except one girl (let’s call her May), who simply wrote ‘nothing’. When I asked May about why she had only written ‘nothing’ she replied ‘because Korea is perfect’. At this point I should have questioned May more about this, perhaps I could have personalised the situation, asked May what things she thinks I might find difficult, ask her if there is anything at school I might find difficult, explained that doesn’t mean it is a bad aspect of Korean culture, but just something I might find difficult, I should have supported and assisted her. But I didn’t do that, instead I told May that I was extremely disappointed she had that attitude, that every other group had handled the task very maturely and that she might be a bit embarrassed when she hears the feedback from the other groups. I’m sure you now understand why I am very disappointed and surprised by my reaction.
Why Did This Happen?
This is something I’ve thought long and hard about, as it is just not like me. There are two things I think I need to consider here, first of all why didn’t she deal with the task maturely, and secondly why didn’t I handle the situation with more empathy? I think in order to understand this I need to share a bit more context. May is in a class I have a particularly good rapport with, not only this, but May and her friend come to see me and chat with me almost every day, they often bring a small snack for us all to eat together, or sometimes I have a snack we all share. May and her friend are always very mature in the things we discuss, she lived in a native English speaking for a large part of her life, and we like to discuss the differences in the education system and in life in general. Over the 7 months period I have been May’s teacher I have therefore got to know her very well, and she has got to know me very well. Despite this I both hope and believe I have never treated May or her friend with any special consideration or differently to any other student, until this incident.
So why, if May has always been so mature, did she not handle this task maturely? Well, there are a huge number of reasons. She’s a 17 year old girl, she may have argued with her friends and so was feeling down (in retrospect I noticed she wasn’t sitting with her usual friends), she might have had a hard time at home, she might be feeling stressed about mid-terms, it might have been for attention as she knows I don’t like it when students aren’t trying, perhaps other students had teased her about the fact her and her friend often come to see me outside of class, perhaps she didn’t properly understand the task, maybe she really believed there was nothing difficult, the list is endless.
Why didn’t I handle the situation with empathy and understanding, as I normally would have? I think because of how well I know May, and the rapport I have with her, I had higher expectations. I remember when I saw that she had written ‘nothing’ feeling quite shocked and taken aback. When she then repeated this sentiment to me verbally I think I felt both disappointed and let down, I felt let down because of all students to handle the task in this way it was her. Normally I would always give the students the benefit of the doubt, I would presume that they really were just struggling with the concept of the task, but because of how well I know May I knew this wasn’t the case. In other words, because of my relationship with her I treated her differently, more negatively, than I would another student.
I guess this is where I would really welcome any suggestions. I really feel like I have let May down. Of course, she may have just gotten over it, she could be upset about it, she could be feeling let down, I’m really not sure. I haven’t seen her since Friday and this week is mid-term exams so I won’t be seeing her class until next Friday. Perhaps I should just let it blow over and learn from my mistake? Perhaps I should speak with May about what happened? Perhaps I should apologise to her? In the past 3 years this is a situation I haven’t found myself in before; it would just be such a shame to allow what happened to affect my rapport with May in the future.
first of all thank you so much for all the wonderful comments, support, advice and general positivity!
I was going to replay to each comment indivudally but I figured there was no point writing the same thing over and over, but I really do appreciate all your comments so much.
Anyway, to the point! I decided to speak with the students concerned on Friday after she had finished her last exam. I explained to her I was sorry for the way I reacted and that I felt I should have helped her with the task rather than saying what I did. At first she seemed a little bit shocked, I’m not sure how often she has been apologised to by a teacher in the past! She accepted my apology and told me she was relieved as she thought I was upset with her. We then had a good chat about her exams and other stuff and that was that! Everyone concerned was happy 🙂
Thankyou again for taking the time to read and comment on my blog!
thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my blog, I’ve updated the blog with the outcome of the situation.