Monday, March 7, 2011

Chin up, nose to the grindstone, head in the clouds

In the West, we all think that Asian students work immeasurably harder than our kids do. After two and a half years in the Mysterious East, I can say that that's definitely a case of selective perception; we see the ones who've gotten into American universities, who are the best of the best. Very much as in American schools, some kids here work hard and some don't give a rat's clavicle.

Incidentally, so far this year our kids have been admitted to Illinois, Tulane, Michigan State, SUNY Stony Brook, UNLV, Cal Irvine, three Japanese universities, and Yonsei, which is one of the three schools in Korea's "Ivy League". So I guess we're doing okay.

Once, not too long ago, I would have said that it's the Asian parents who care more. That would certainly seem to be borne out here in Korea by the huge number of families who send their kids to hagwons in the evenings for additional study; some kids go to school from 8 a.m. to midnight. Certainly the parents who spend big bucks to have their kids attend our school, and the much pricier international schools, care enough to pay for their daughters and sons to get a valuable introduction to Western education.

But they don't always put their mouths where their money is.

Eww... that wouldn't be good, actually; you never know where your money's been.


We have a ninth-grade student, let's call him Cole, who's a very pleasant guy, popular with the ladies, but just doesn't give a damn about school. If we let him, he'd sleep through every class. He will admit to going to bed around midnight, so it's probably 2 a.m. or so. I suspect video games and handepones-- cell phones-- as the culprits. He has a "C" in my class-- probably because I'm a brilliant teacher, although conceivably not-- and is okay in art and phys ed. He's failing everything else, generally with averages in the 30s.

Last week we had an SST-- Student Success Team-- meeting to talk with his mom and him about how to improve his performance. It was a an hour-long, awkward meeting, with Cathleen Won, our teacher who is Korean, translating back and forth throughout.

About ten minutes in, Cole's mom started crying quietly and kept it up for the next 45 minutes or so. It was positively the most embarrassing meeting I've ever been in, if you don't count my first marriage. She said she knew he was doing badly, but she had no idea just how badly. This is despite the fact that all the parents know that the kids' grades are posted 24/7 on our Gradebook Wizard site.

It was painful for me, and I'm sure for her and all the adults, to sit through her crying. What I'm wondering is whether it was equally painful for Cole. I don't know how he could sit through a long session of watching his mother cry in front of his teachers, knowing that he's the one who caused it, and not feel humiliated and determined to do better.

In his first class with me afterward, he positively did not put his head down on his desk.

He only practically snapped his neck as he sat up with his face pointing straight at the floor.

For about five seconds, till I got to his desk.
I'm so happy! I know I have a weakness in my writing style: I use parentheses far too often. But in this entry I didn't use them even once! (Isn't that great?)

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