The Unsuccessful Class


I don’t teach as much here at Brandeis as I did at University of Illinois, but I still love every minute of being in front of a classroom…even if things go terribly wrong and I end up utterly stressed.

I recently co-taught a class for Chinese high school students visiting the United States. We were asked to teach the students about research: the process, how it’s done in American college classes, the basics of searching. We did so. But the students had other ideas.

Wrangling 11-16 year olds can be very difficult. I know. I did it fore multiple years as a camp counselor, and I dealt with the hormones, the tears, the anger, and the excitement. The older ones are jaded and won’t pay attention because everything is beneath them. The younger ones are too excited to pay attention.

That’s what this class was, but with students who had a much more limited grasp of English than we were originally told. I have taught many classes of international students (at University of Illinois we taught library instruction for the ESL program, and most of their students are East Asian). I am familiar with working with international students. But I am not familiar with working with international teenagers. These students were not here to learn; they were here to be on vacation. They had the chance to come to America and experience American things; they didn’t want to sit in a library and talk about schoolwork. For some of them, it showed in the fact that they talked over us, didn’t follow directions, were on their phones the entire time, or even flat out watched videos on their computer, complete with headphones.

For the students who did pay attention, I think that they got something out of the experience. At least I hope they did. It had every hallmark of an utter failure, complete with class teacher leaving the room, but at the end we all got thanked really enthusiastically and they demanded a group picture with us. Perhaps the biggest take-away here is that who cares if they learned anything specific? We’re here to teach them anything we can, and if they learned that we have 1.3 million books at Brandeis and that’s it, or if they learned that you can do an image search in Google and that’s it, then that is a success in my book.


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