On the Other Side of the Desk

30 Oct


I feel like a bastard. That good feeling that I had earlier today, it’s gone. I had to fail a student on the test I gave tonight, and I’m not feeling good about it at all. The student, a usually shy girl who sits in the middle and just kind of cruises through class, had already finished her test and wouldn’t stop talking.

I walk around during the test to make sure no one is cheating, and once she was done I could see she was itching to talk. So I stood in front of her to show my presence, and she retreated, but every time I left to answer someone’s question, she was back at it, talking to someone else.

I have a main rule that you don’t talk while other people are talking, and I extend that to the tests. You don’t talk while the test is out, even if you’re done. It’s just common courtesy. It’s distracting to hear people murmuring while you’re still working, and if they’re talking, they could easily be talking about the test which people around them are still taking.

So I make the point before every test to clearly state, any talking is considered cheating and will automatically result in a zero. I’m strict, but fair. I have an attendance policy, but if someone tells me they have to leave, I don’t give them a hard time. And I’m usually lenient on the talking because I really don’t want to have to fail anyone. I remember being a student and failing a test or two, and it’s an awful feeling. Especially if you’ve studied hard.

I gave the girl four or five warnings, and it just wasn’t getting through. I could see that my dominance, the respect of the classroom, if you will, was being tested, and if I didn’t act it would ruin my credibility with the other students. I went to answer another students’ question and could suddenly hear the 4 other girls near her talking louder and louder, not even trying to conceal the whispers now. I left the student, picked up her test and ripped it in half, simply saying, “Fail.”

Part of me was trying to stop myself from doing it, but I felt that it had to be done. Immediately everyone else stopped talking and the room became a graveyard. And I instantly felt bad. The girls in the back blushed and looked a little worried, but soon after seemed OK. They couldn’t really expect to be failed for talking.

I’m trying to be a respectable teacher here. Yes, I’m a volunteer, but I still want to take my job seriously, and just because I’m around the same age as these students doesn’t mean that I can let them get away with whatever they want. We joke around and have fun, but I’m still the teacher, and they need to respect that difference.

Another girl thought she was the one who failed and started to beg, but I brushed her off and said we’d talk after class. When I talked to the group I explained that only one failed and it was because it was clearly breaking a rule I set forth and explained. It’s a basic rule back home anyway, you talk during a test and you’re likely to fail.

I held the girl back and told her why she’d failed, and as the tears welled up in her eyes, she struggled to get it. She’s normally quiet, but smart, and most of her work is exceptional, especially her listening comprehension. She asked if she could take a make up test, something that happens down here, and I told her no, that those points were lost and not coming back. She told me she didn’t understand, but based off of her work, I think it wasn’t the words she didn’t understand, but how she could be failing for talking.

The cultures are just different, and that kind of behavior isn’t the thing that will fail you or get you expelled. But I laid out that talking was cheating, and cheating was failing. After I left she was being consoled by some students while others tried to argue on her behalf. They told me that it’s not normal to be failed for something like that, and I should give her another test or take off 50%.

I told them honestly that I’m not from Ecuador and don’t know the customs or how the educational system works. I’m not here to revolutionize the system to the American way, just teach English for a year. So I’m going to talk to a couple other professors from here and see what they think. But it doesn’t feel right to renege either. I have to be firm with the students. It doesn’t matter that she’s normally respectful. I’d have to give the same punishment for any other student only to be fair. And I would have.

But that doesn’t change how I feel, which is awful. I don’t want any of my students to fail, that’s not the point of me being here. I’m not going to just give away grades, but I’m not here to pretend that I have a PhD either. I’m just giving them some experience with a native English speaker. Yet there has to be some sort of regulation in the classroom, and I wonder if I went too far.

No matter what it is, it just doesn’t feel right. I want the students to like me, but more importantly to learn the material. Does it matter if they’ve talked after a test? And the worst part of it is she would have passed. More than that, she would have gotten near 100, after just a rough look over the ripped up and folded test. And that’s just wasted talent.

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