Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Pulling Teeth
To be honest, the election was not the only thing making me cry last week. It was just the last thing, the proverbial straw. This semester is, in general, rather stressful. Many factors contribute to this, not the least of which by any means is my ELC class.

I started off the semester quite chipper. I had ideas for teaching reading and writing, I was organized, I had plans, I had more advanced students who would be ripe for learning new stuff! Yay! And yet, slowly, over the course of the semester, those students have drained all of my energy, enthusiasm, and desire to do anything remotely creative in the classroom. They don't seem to be progressing, as a group they don't respond to anything I do, and in general, they just don't try anymore. Of the 14 students on my roll, only 9-10 of them show up to class on any given day. 3 of them have well and truly dropped out of the class, though not officially, as that would be in violation of their visas. One guy came only to the first week, but oh well, there's always someone like that. One guy quit when he missed the mid-term, saying instead that he'd rather take the TOEFL "to pass the class," despite the fact that doing so is not an option. The third guy told us earlier in the semester that he would be going home at Thanksgiving and not coming back, so could he take his final 3 weeks early? Apparently, two weeks ago he realized that since he was going to fail his classes anyway, he might as well not come at all. The rest of them come, but only a core group of about 5 can be relied upon to be on time and consistently in class, while the rest of them float around the edges of attendence and punctuality. One student this week has come in 3/4 of the way through class 2 days in a row. The class is two hours long. It's not like missing an hour and a half isn't noticeable.

The thing is, this is not unique to my class. In fact, my class is actually better taken as a whole than the other level 3 class. Level 4 is in a similar position. Program-wide, regardless of level, we have a 50% failure rate at the moment. It's ridiculous, especially because almost none of the failing students are failing for any other reason than laziness and poor attendence.

I understand that many of the students in our program are here on semester-abroad programs. I understand that many of these students are looking more for an "American experience" than they are to really become excellent English speakers/users. But I really have to ask, why go on an academic semester abroad if you don't intend to learn anything? Why not try to fulfil both social and academic goals? It's not like the ELC classes are hard. They're only in class 4 hrs/day, 4 days/week. Okay, maybe these classes aren't going to have any effect on their real college transcript. It is perhaps an overly idealistic hope that such students actually really want to learn.

The odd thing is, though, that the students with the biggest motivation problems are not the semester-abroad students, but the provisionally admitted MSU students. These are students who have applied and been accepted to an academic program at MSU, but do not have sufficient English skills to begin regular academic work. By university policy, they have 1 academic year to make enough progress to get out of the Intensive English Program (all English classes, all the time.) If they do not make enough progress, they are no longer admitted to MSU and must apply again later. These are the students that, by rights, should be hell-bent on learning as much English as possible. And yet, invariably, they are the ones who decide English classes aren't worth their time or effort. These classes will directly affect their futures, and they don't care. I don't understand it.

Facing such incredible apathy 4 mornings a week, I was starting to think it was my fault. However, I now also teach at LCC, and the difference could not be greater. There, I teach low-level grammar directly out of the textbook with no original activities, and the students are happy to see me. I'm not kidding. They were even enthusiastic and cheerful about taking a quiz last week. Those students are happy to be in English classes, they understand why they are there and why their placement is what it is, and they have goals they are progressing towards. If I can just figure out what the difference is, I would happily try to change my MSU students.

As it stands now, I'm just ready for this semester to be over, and I'm praying that I don't have to teach level 3 again next semester, so I don't get my failed students.

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