Archive for March 6, 2009

Tensions Riding High (Part II)


p30500641Comparing notes the other night with my teacher friends on our Kazakh students, I’m even MORE thankful for my MBA students than before.  The two classes each gave me a bouquet of flowers last night to celebrate International Women’s Day coming up on Sunday.  I had showed them part of a movie “Rudy” which is about hope and perseverance while I talked to each student individually out in the hallway about their grades for the mid-semester.  Some need hope in this academic speech class because they are introverted and shy in their first and second languages, compound that with giving a speech in their third language of English.  Well, I admire all of them for even trying, those who are more extroverted did fine with projection, articulation and hand gestures, others had good content on their powerpoint.  Some were a little thin in content but maybe had good graphics and photos to illustrate their point.  I’m looking forward to see how my students will all do when they pull off giving a 10 minute persuasive speech at the end of the semester.


Back to my friend Arthur’s [not his real name] situation at another Almaty university, where he teaches his students in two, two-hour blocks of time.  They could hardly be called “students” because as third year students they are already promised a job through their fathers’ connections in businesses and banks in Almaty.  They are just going through the motions of being students with the worn out adage, “We pretend to learn as you pretend to teach us.”  But my friend Arthur has come from a much higher standard of education and actually expects them to do their assignments and read the material he gives them  At first, Arthur was VERY popular the first week he was on campus to replace someone who up and left the university high and dry.  Arthur became less so once the students realized he meant for them to read the case studies and actually discuss the material he assigned in class.


I recall having those kind of “bump on a log” types when I taught 40 Ukrainian students in one class at our westernized university in Kyiv, Ukraine.  I had the black leather jacket type guys who were totally enamored by their cellphones. They always sat in the back of the room and would talk to each other if not riveted to their handheld toy. One in particular named Andriy would spend hours playing with his phone and show up for class EVERY time. (I found out later his real passion was billiards, figures!) Andriy didn’t participate in discussions, didn’t do his assignments and would glare at me if I so much as expected him to utter an answer beyond something unintelligible or monosyllabic. 


One time Andriy had the audacity to hand in his girlfriend’s assignment about what she liked to do.  He hadn’t even bothered to change the wording so that it didn’t appear that it was a female writing it. It went something like: “When I was a little girl, I liked to figure skate.”  I guess Andriy’s other Ukrainian teachers would simply glance and pass his papers.  When I showed him the error of his ways, he didn’t even look ashamed.  He just glared back at me, how dare I challenge him that he didn’t do the work.  Nagily student!


Finally, I weeded out the 10 students in this class of 40 who didn’t show up, didn’t do their assignments along with Mr. “Bump-on-a-Log” Andriy and created a whole new class scheduled at another time so that I could salvage what I could of the 30 good students.  It made a world of difference to be proactive, it made my life as a teacher much easier even though I took on more hours of teaching.  I asked my friend Arthur if he could possibly do that but he is trapped into a lock-step form of scheduling where all students attend all the same classes together.  I understand because when I taught at Kyiv’s Linguistic University, it was like an antiquated dinosaur, a relic of the Soviet past.  I had the same kind of classes where you had the not so bright students mixed in with the very bright and they all worked as a collective together.


In my friend’s case, Arthur too is locked in with 15 students who don’t want to be there and who complain that 4 pages is WAAYYY too much for them to read.  In fact, they went to Authur’s superior and lied to say he was forcing them to read 20 pages!!!  How dare he!  Perhaps they share so much with each other’s answers during exam time that they took the collective number of different case studies and multiplied it by 5.  Who knows but they are liars, cheaters and lazy!!!  Soon they will be released into Kazakhstan’s workforce and do you think their work ethic will change?  Noooooo!  Thus, corruption continues to proliferate as the educational system turns a blind eye to having actual learning take place.


I’ve told my Ukrainian and Kazakh students who perhaps had great grandparents or grandparents who had all their material wealth taken away during the Soviet purges, that they too could have the same thing happen to them. Some of them are among the “New Rich” and have a careless attitude toward money. I tell them the only thing that cannot be taken away from them is their education.  It pays to invest in one’s learning, especially while their minds are still young and malleable.  Why do some teachers encourage cheating and laziness?  Because perhaps these poorly paid teachers either cheated or did the bare minimum themselves when they were in school? 


Arthur told me about the person in charge of scheduling at his Kazakh university, she had a room all to herself that was like a throne room with her walls full of binders with each teacher’s schedules. Maybe even from many years back.  When Arthur went to find out about his classroom location, he expected to get a little printout with the code for the class, the room number and time.  Instead, this woman took down two binder notebooks from the shelf, where only SHE knows her system of scheduling all classes for the university and she looked up his classroom location.  Nothing technological about it so if anything should ever happen to computers or electricity, she would still be the Queen of Scheduling directing all traffic to their proper classrooms.  Arthur had another name for her too, something like “Coat Patrol Nazi.”


The way the university is structured, Coat Patrol Nazi (aka Queen of Scheduling) stands near her office with arms akimbo as the passage way narrows.  She does not permit anyone to pass her without bringing their coat to the cloakroom first.  All coats are checked or else!  So, there are certain rules that students at Arthur’s university learn to follow but it certainly is not classroom etiquette.  He has had to tell some of his students to not make out right there in class, seemingly oblivious that their teacher might expect them to learn about business management rather than sex education.  I do not see that much of open displays of affection at our Kazakh university but I did have to tell some of my Ukrainian students to knock it off when I’d see their steamy embraces in the hallway.


Bottomline: I really enjoy my MBA students in Almaty, Kazakhstan, they are mature, hardworking (most of them) and genuinely desire to learn.  I hope Arthur can find a place of employment where his humor and intelligence is not wasted on those who are simply going through the motions of being a “student.”

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