Tuesday, June 02, 2015

"Wealthy Kids Who Cheat"

No, that's not my school's motto. It's not even from my school's letterhead. It's a quotation from this article about Chinese students being expelled from American universities.

Before arriving here, I had some discussions with the man who turned out to be my boss. (It was sort of weird that this wasn't made clear in the interview process, don't you think?) Anyway, he was just over the moon about these students. They were fantastic and so mature and could do no wrong and were performing on the level of college juniors. Yadda yadda et cetera.

Now that I'm here, I disagree. Strongly. But that's not to say they are all terrible. Much of the issue is a bunch of 16-year-olds acting like 16-year-olds. Another major problem is their contempt for English, even though they have entered an English-language high school to prepare for English-language instruction at an American or Canadian university. My first week here, I was given a stamp to use for awarding students who "go above and beyond what's expected." An example of what would qualify was using English outside the classroom. When I heard that, I thought, "Really? That's worthy of a stamp?" And now, nine months later, I have never had reason to use the stamp even once.

I feel like I have four types of students. Type 1 is studying economics because his parents want him to. That's about 20% of my students. Type 2 is studying economics because he's been told he'll make a lot of money that way. That's about 40% of my students. Type 3 is studying economics because he's been told that's how he should signal that he's really smart. That's about 40% of my students. Type 4 is studying economics because he wants to learn economics. That's about, well, let's see, what's left over?

My boss has made the argument, "A Random Stranger, you're a bad teacher. All my students love economics and get 5s on the AP exams. Your students don't." Which is true, they don't (although my average student has above-average scores), so it's hard to argue with the conclusion that I'm a bad teacher. But in all the practice exams we did in class, 25% of what the students missed came from a lack of English proficiency. I've been telling my students for months that they need to commit to English, that the ship has sailed on this argument and they need to embrace the reality of their English-language education. They continually ignore me. My boss says his students don't have a problem with it. Why do his students study in English and mine refuse to? His actual answer was, "They know I care about them and I'd be disappointed in them."

I've been using Greg Mankiw's textbook because it's what the school already had and it's not terrible. One of my best students has been reading exclusively from a Mandarin translation of Mankiw's book (probability that Mankiw is seeing any money from the sales of this translation: p less than zero). I continually tell my students to study in English. However, this student brought his book to me to tell me that Mankiw got something wrong. I said, "We'd need to look to see what Mankiw actually wrote." He said, "This is it right here." I asked, "Mankiw writes his textbooks in Mandarin?" It was then that he realized that he had the Mandarin book, not the English one.

The biggest change I'm going to make for next year is to clearly and forcefully, from the first day, specify acceptable behavior. I had been told these students were great. The reality is that they are very skilled at rote memorization and consequently perform extremely well on standardized tests. But they have been raised in a system that does not value academic integrity or curiosity. I must remove every chance of cheating, because they will all take it if it's available, and I must set stringent requirements because they are not self-motivated learners.

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