The Desire to Learn

I sit yet again in a classroom where students are taking a test. It is one of many test days during the year. This one happens to be a final for the summer session. I don’t even know what the subject is, as the test is in Chinese. I am supposed to be monitoring them to make certain that they aren’t cheating. And I am, to an extent. I look up periodically to see if there are any wandering eyes. Also, I walk up and down the aisles between the desks a few times, in order to spot any possible cheat sheets or other materials used for the purpose of cheating. Honestly, and I don’t believe I’m being naive by stating this, there is next to nil cheating going on at the school where I teach. Why that is remains a mystery to me, especially given the high-importance the system puts upon test grades. I suspect that it might be a lack of concern on the part of the students about that sort of thing. They have grown numb by all of the various tests they have had to take. Now, each test is merely viewed as an irritation, another black mark on their already-tarnished record. I taught at a higher-level school before this, and the students there actually did cheat. I know, because I caught some of them.

One occasion I remember catching a couple of cheaters was through correcting a test I had given. Three students had the same wrong multiple-choice answer for a question. The thing that stood out about that was that the choices to that particular question were answers A to C. Their answer was D. When I confronted them about it, and asked them why they had chosen an answer that wasn’t on the paper, they all merely shrugged their shoulders and gave the stock “I don’t know” answer that most teenagers give. I used that answer myself as a teen, in many conversations with my father. It drove him crazy. The truth is I really didn’t know the answer to most of his queries. Usually the question was why I had done something bad. It was never about cheating. Yes, I did cheat on a few occasions, but they where situations where everyone in the class was cheating. I liken it to driving over the speed limit. If the authorities allow it, everyone will do it – and does do it in every country I’ve been to.

Still, as a teacher I do not condone cheating on a test in school. There is no reason for it. Tests are supposed to serve as barometers for students’ academic levels. This helps the teachers teach them more effectively and assists them in knowing what the need help on, a little self-evaluation snapshot if you will. Cheating nullifies the reasons for tests. Therefore, I am wholeheartedly against the activity.

I bring up this whole cheating topic to point out, once again, the low-level of ambition the students possess where I teach. If they had desire to get better grades, I think that some of them would at least make an effort to cheat on occasion. I know that sounds warped, but it is true. I’m really talking about their lack of desire to grab opportunities that come their way. The fact that cheating doesn’t even enter their mind is a reflection upon their lackadaisical attitude.

A case in point, last year I kept all the unit tests way in the back of my classroom on a shelf behind a glass cabinet door. The students saw me routinely retrieve tests from there and then hand them out. Do you think that any of them would just once attempt to sneak an upcoming test out of there? There were plenty of opportunities to do so, but, as I stated before, opportunities come and go with these students, without a single one reaching out to grasp it. There they were, all the tests they would have for the next year, plain as daylight, just begging to be whisked away. But no one bothered. How do I know this? Well, there wasn’t a single perfect score. In fact nobody even came close. Several of them failed the course.

On another occasion, I handed out a unit test paper to each student and told them that they had ten minutes to complete the test. Then, I proceeded to write all the answers to the test on the big whiteboard that is in the front of the classroom, in the exact order of the questions on their papers. Do you think any of them noticed? Heavens no! They were too absorbed in trying to pull the answers from their heads to see that there they were, in front of their eyes. Needless to say, several of the students flunked the test.

Sadly, that is what I’ve come to know about the students I teach. The education system here puts high achievers with high achievers. Certain junior high and high schools are designated for those types of students. Then there are other schools for those that fall beneath the best, from usually-high-achievers to mediocre on down to the under-achievers. That is the caliber of students who are at the high school where I teach. They feed off of one another’s failures and actually exit this school with less academic knowledge than they entered it. That is my opinion, from what I have seen, but I am not alone. Other teachers, who teach other subjects, have told me the same thing. Many of them are frustrated, too. But, the system makes it that way, ending up with a situation where you simply have schools like this where the students simply don’t want to learn. And, what can you do with someone who doesn’t want to learn? Well, most of my time isn’t spent trying to teach them English, but trying to help them understand the importance of learning it. Why knock my head against the wall, going through the motions of teaching, when they obviously don’t care? My goal is to help them understand just how important learning English can be to them, then I’ll work on teaching them. First things first.

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