My biggest pet peeve as a teacher is hearing the words, “I don’t understand.”, “I don’t get it.”, or “Impossible!” while I am explaining something. Japanese students often believe that they can’t do things, particularly when it comes to learning English. Everyday on the TV they can hear many comments on the news or on talk shows, or from comedians about how English is impossible or at least for Japanese. Many of them in the more hard line areas also hear from family members that it is too hard, or sometimes that they are Japanese and, hence don’t need it. Sadly, I also hear comments from teachers reflecting the same attitudes. A big hurdle for me is to convince people who want to learn, that it is actually a possibility. Otherwise, they won’t invest the necessary effort.
While explaining a simple question and response type activity to students, one student spent half the time staring at his shoes and the other half entertaining a friend behind him. Turns out, he was the first to do the activity, and just stared through me and repeated, “I don’t understand.” Next I tried saying his line, so that he could just repeat it; however, I got the same response. Finally, in a fit of optimism, I reversed the order so that he would be last.
Clearly explaining in Japanese that if the students on his side of the room were willing to pay attention, they should understand the question and response very well after hearing 30 some odd people repeat it. The first few students on the other side of the room struggled a little, and I helped them a lot and reassured them even more. Around the middle of the room the pace quickened and the totally clueless were few. Elation swept over me and deceived me.
Wasting all the time with the “I don’t understand” conversations drained the clock. One of the jokers in the last row let out an energetic, “Yossha!”, which is pretty much a, “We did it!” (Irritated that they felt their time-wasting tactics would reap them some rewards, I ignored the bell and continued.)
From the middle of the room to the start of the last row, the pace was native-speaker fast: amazing what cutting into their play period can do to increase motivation. My joy was somewhat quenched when the final row struggled through and ultimately, when I got to the final student… and he said, “I don’t understand.”
As a saving grace, he was at least willing to repeat after me for his line.