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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

entry arrow8:59 AM | Incident Report

Sometimes, the perplexing things that can befall a teacher come from the unlikeliest of sources. Like strange parents with plans to maneuver you into his or her web of utter shamelessness.

Last April 24, after I finished my 3-hour lecture on Philippine Poetry in English—a special marathon session—for my Literature 21 classes in Silliman University this summer, a certain foreign doctoral student (whose nationality will not be named) approached me, and told me he was the father of one of my students. It was a good enough beginning. I was tired from the long day, and the long lecture, and so when Mr. ___________ began by telling me he had been listening to my lecture and that I seemed to him to be a very capable teacher, the compliment buoyed me a little bit—only to have everything crash in the very next instant.

I had given him profuse thanks for the compliment, but then he proceeded to tell me something that I sensed to be more than just an appraisal of my lecture style. I was soon proved right when he insisted that I should make extra efforts to “take it easy” on his son—in a sense, to give the son special treatment in my class, given his nationality and his unwieldy grasp of the English language, which Mr. ___________ said would make it “impossible” for his son to follow closely what I had to teach.

I was dumbstruck. I never had something as bizarre as this before in my class, and I did not know what to say.

When I regained my capability to speak, I told Mr. ___________ that it was against my personal and professional judgment to give his son “special treatment,” because it would create a dangerous (and unfair) precedent for the rest of my students. I quickly reminded him that all students enrolled in my class had to pass several rigorous prerequisite subjects—including three language courses with intensive emphasis on developing grammar, reading and listening comprehension, and composition—before they could even enroll in Literature 21. I told him these prerequisites should prepare anybody extensively to handle the language employed in higher literature course. All Literature 21 students then are presumed to have a working knowledge of English to handle the often difficult concepts in the teaching of literature.

It was not as if I never had foreign students in my class before. I told him that I have taught Japanese, Thai, Indonesian, and Korean students who had similar struggles with the demands of the course—including the language—but that not one of them had asked for special treatment, and in fact earned my respect (as well as passing grades) for their admirable efforts to understand and pass the course despite the linguistic and cultural obstacles involved. I also remembered quickly that I was once an exchange student in the International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan, and I had enrolled in a class where the subject was exclusively taught in Japanese. I don’t remember ever asking for special treatment from my professor, and I worked even harder to earn what turned out to be an excellent grade.

Still, given all this, I had earlier given caution to his son and another student of the same nationality that Literature 21 was quite an intensive course, and especially so in the time-pressured atmosphere of the summer term when the entire curriculum (challenging even in the normal term) is compacted to a mere month and a half of study. I had even suggested to his son and his friend that they could probably take up the subject on the regular semester so that they would be spared the added pressure of the summer. But both had told me they would try very hard to handle the pressure. Still, I also warned them that Literature 21 is a class on Philippine Literature, a subject which entailed intensive coverage of Filipino writings not only in English, but also in Tagalog and Cebuano. Both said they would try very hard to look for external help with regards readings in languages they couldn’t understand.

Finally, wishing the whole encounter to be over so that I could go home and relax, I told Mr. ______________ that it was not—and never will be—right for any parent to ask a teacher to revise or modify a course to suit his child. The sad thing was, Mr. ______________ still insisted on his terms, all the while telling me he was not there “to ask for special treatment,” and all I could do to finish the exchange was to tell him that I would look into the matter. I refused, however, to promise that I would indeed give special treatment for his son.

Afterwards, I felt the insult grow when I came to full comprehension his efforts to shield his son from the regular demands of a course I had been teaching for the past five years. That particular insult I felt was even heightened when Mr. ______________ presented me with a gift from his old country—which I hesitated to accept, but I hurriedly presented it to the chairperson of my department as an unwrapped “evidence” of untoward behavior. This was, for me, an act that smacked of a kind of “bribery” to do as he wished me to do. (But I have also taken note that this “gift-giving” may be a matter of cultural differences, and gifts like these may be an accepted lot in his culture.)

Later, I found out from various colleagues in the English Department (and the rest of the University, it would seem!) that Mr. ______________ has a reputation for doing exactly this to teachers of his son—but have learned to ignore his entreaties.

It’s a sad story—and the summer term goes on.

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