Japanese students are generally so polite that it can be jarring when one is overtly rude. Of course, there may be the lazy students, the ones who try to get away with doing the minimal amount required. There are also the passive-aggressive ones, who can be spotted immediately by the hostile body language before class has even begun.
In the case of Miss Nan De, neither she nor her friend looked at me while I was introducing myself and the class materials the first day of class last week. In fact, as I recall, she was late, came in through the front door (there are 2 doors to the classroom), and clomped past several others to an empty seat. I thanked her for being able to use her as an example of how NOT to come in late.
The second week, she and her friend were sitting way in the back. I always get my students to sit closer for a number of reasons, including making a more cohesive group. Also, I don’t have to travel as far when I move around the room, which I do frequently, and I can get students’ attention more easily if they’re sitting close to me.
That day, I addressed her as “Miss Pink,” since she was wearing an attractive bright pink sweater, and asked her to sit closer. She moved up one seat. Then I indicated an empty seat near the front of the room and asked her to move there. She replied, loudly, “Nan de?” It can be simply translated as “Why?” but actually has nearly the same effect as if an American student replied, “What the hell for?”
I was momentarily stunned, realizing that there was no way I could explain all my reasons to her – in either English or Japanese – nor should I have to. I simply repeated the request, and she made a great show of reluctantly moving forward.
After that little incident, I tried my best to treat her just as I would any other student, even though I was still reeling from her retort. Would she would have delighted in knowing the effect she had accomplished? Or was it truly a matter of misunderstanding on her part? I have no way of knowing.
When the class was over, an older woman who’s in the class was helping me by erasing the board and straightening chairs, as “good” Japanese students used to do. She told me she was shocked when the young woman had asked, “Nan de?” Knowing that made me feel better about my own reaction.
Upon reflection, what I learned the most is that I need to save my energy for those students who are motivated, attentive, and doing their best. This is actually a lesson that has come up many times for me. Attempting to “cure” or pacify the disgruntled students, when I have no way of knowing where they’re coming from, is simply a drain on my energy and not worth it. Giving such students more attention is a waste of everyone's time. When will I ever truly learn that?
[Note: The following week, I had slept well the night before, was in a really good mood, and the class went especially well, with students being active in group discussions and asking me as well as each other a lot of questions. It wasn’t until later that I found out, from the older student, that Miss Nan De was absent that day. What’s the expression? One rotten apple can spoil the whole barrel. I discovered how true that is!]
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