Friday, July 12, 2013

The Sophomore's Test Results

 Teacher Joko is explaining something in class…

“Wash the dishes…  Go to the store… Open the bottle…  What kinds of verbs are  ‘wash’, ‘go’ and ‘open’ in these sentences?”

Two or three voices from the front of the class: “Imperatives!”

Teacher Joko:  Good!”

This is like the third or fourth time I have gone over imperatives in class over the last few weeks.  

“Who is the subject of this sentence?”  Teacher Joko writes ‘Mix the eggs into the bowl’ (a connection to a recent reading) on the whiteboard.  

This time, 4 or 5 voices shout out ‘YOU!’.

“Right!” says Teacher Joko as writes an unspoken ‘You’ in parenthesis in front of the sentence on the whiteboard.  

Based on the results of today’s midterm, many more of my 10th grade students understood that there was a missing ‘you’ in a sentence using an imperative than remembered what the word ‘imperative’ meant.  I kinda chalk that up to the mysterious nature of imperative sentences.  A sentence with an unspoken subject? Cool.  Interesting. Understanding the names of various parts of speech in the English language?  Not so interesting. 

Today’s midterm for the 10th graders was a disaster.  A third of them flunked it. The middle third got between 50 and 60% of the answers correct.  The high score was a 16 out of 20. 

Am I disappointed in them?  A little.

Two of the best English speakers sit up in the front.  One is always going on about how he ‘understands everything’ and how ‘he is a genius’.  The other is half Caucasian and although I don’t know the details, probably grew up with a lot of English around the house.  He’s forgotten most of it.

The ‘genius’ had the balls to ask three times during the midterm today, “What is an imperative?”.

Jesus Christ, Mr Understands-Everything., we only went over and over this!
His buddy the half-white guy asked, “What is a compound word?”

OH MY FREEKIN GOD!  We only spent a whole freeking two weeks on compound words!  Most of your classmates know what it is, but you who’ve relied on some fading toddler language skills can’t remember! 

To both guys, I said no.  In the midst of the midterm is not the time to ask these questions, particularly when I spent a whole bunch of my personal time making you all a study guide that detailed all this stuff.

I worry about my 10th graders.  The sophomores.  I remember my sophomore year.  I got into big trouble. I ran away from home.  I got into drugs, booze and girls.  It was a time when I started to feel the pull of manhood without any recognition from the outside world that I was anything more than a big kid.  I think rebelliousness is about as natural to 10th graders as anything

Perhaps the best English speaker in the class scored a whopping 10 out of 20 on today’s midterm  Again, his English skills come from his background being half-farang, not through any hard work or studying.  I had to bang on his desk twice during the exam because he had actually fallen asleep. 

That’s where the drug stuff worries me.

People think of drugs and Thailand and they think of Thai stick marijuana.  I can’t say from first hand experience here, but from what I’ve heard, the drug of choice nowadays in Thailand is yaba, methamphetamines. 

I’m not going to go into details, suffice to say that I know what meth can do.  It can make you do stupid shit like fall asleep twice in the middle of your midterm exams. 

So, as I go forward into the second half of my first term as a high school teacher, I have learned  three  important lessons:

  •     Don’t assume that because a few kids in the front of the class can spout out the answer to my question that there is a general understanding of the knowledge I am are trying to impart.  I have to drill deeper.  I have to ask direct questions to the students in the back regarding the lesson content. Dialog style.  “Give me an example of an imperative” I have to ask this of the back row kids, even whilst using an imperative to ask it.

  • .       Don’t assume that the front row kids understand it either, even if they are vocal in class.  In this one class, the 10th graders, there are several guys whom I suspect have skated through their English Language studies up to this point via outside experiences.  Seems like skating by time has passed.
  • .       I have a unique opportunity to make a difference in a few lives. I haven’t engaged the one kid in my class who is perhaps the best English speaker (the one who fell asleep).    I have to reach this kid.  How do I mix a sense of concern with a genuine feeling of disappointment over today’s midterm?  I can’t just accuse him of using meth, but I really want to understand why he fell asleep in class today.  I spent a year studying how to be a drug and alcohol counselor.  Perhaps this is when those skills were meant to be used.

        I think as English teachers, we feel we don’t have to work so hard with our best students, but in reality, they’re the ones most at risk of losing it all. 


  1. Do the kids choose where they sit? Maybe you should mix them up once in awhile, When I was in High school my homeroom teacher assigned new seats every grading period base on our grade average. The best students got to sit closest to the door so we got a out few seconds earlier. In a crowded hall with busy bathrooms that is important.

    Maybe you could do a relevant quiz once in awhile and change seats by who does the best. Might be interesting. Just a thought.

  2. Great post... but drug problem, what drug problem? I thought Taksin sorted that out with a 60 day eradication plan a few years back... But seriously the drug laws and general understanding of drug and alcohol abuse are primitive at best here... we still give out tickets for drink driving ffs.

    On a mute note as "this is Thailand" it would probably be wise so self censor ones personal experiences in that area.

  3. A traditional refuge for teachers (mostly older than you) is to despair about the current generation of students. It's good to see that you have not (yet?) fallen into that mode...


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