Teaching across the cultural divide

As a new adjunct teaching developmental writing, Katherine Gekker encountered community college students from many countries and cultures. “Helen” wrote poorly in class, but turned in a polished assignment. She admitted a friend had “helped” her write the paper but saw nothing wrong with that.

“When someone else does the work for you, no learning took place,” I said.

She seemed baffled, questioning what I meant by “no learning took place.”

It was my turn to be baffled by a student who did not seem to understand the basic point of college.

Helen turned in another paper on a new topic. All was well, for awhile.

But during the Columbus Day weekend, Helen e-mailed me to say she needed to get an A in this course because she would be applying to 11 colleges, including Ivy League institutions. All the students feel I am too strict, she said. Since I am a new teacher, perhaps I do not understand that bad ratings on RateMyProfessor.com will mean that other students will not sign up for my courses in the future, and then I will have no work. Just to be sure I got her point, she embedded a link to RateMyProfessor.com in her e-mail.

Gekker forwarded the e-mail to the assistant dean, who wrote an e-mail to Helen telling her that if she continued to make threats, she’d be reported to the student-conduct officer.

Helen began to make appointments with me to review her papers. Her writing began to improve, and she brought me a cookie from her native country as a gift. I learned through her journal entries that she was under intense pressure, and that poor grades might result in her losing her student visa.

With five weeks to go, when it was time for students to work on a research paper, Helen stopped attending class. She earned an F.

Midway through the next semester, Gekker ran into Helen, who said she was retaking the class. “I learned that I was expecting too much of myself,” she said.


POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON August 16, 2012

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