As the second semester of our first year of teaching draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on which group of composition students I most enjoyed teaching. And, to my surprise, I believe I’ve determined that I preferred the class of Non-native students (NNS) to my current class of native ones (NS). I’ve come to this conclusion based on a number of considerations, but there are two primary factors: One, and perhaps most obviously, NNS generally appear to be more invested in their academic success than the NS. Whether this is due to some fundamental contrast in cultural attitudes toward education, or to the reality that NNS have a more acute sense of the sacrifices made either by them or on their behalf for the opportunity to study at the university, I don’t know. Whatever the case may be, and it is probably some combination of those and other factors, NNS are no doubt more driven to succeed than the NS (based only on my limited experience with either, of course), which fundamentally affects student-teacher dynamics. So even though the language barrier I was so fond of bitching about all last semester presented an enormous pedagogical obstacle, I found that my persistent efforts at working over, around, and through that obstacle were more or less rewarded by the NNS’s reciprocal efforts at trying to do well on each assignment.
Moreover, I’ve also determined that, if given multiple opportunities to improve upon a particular assignment for the chance at a better grade, NNS are more likely to take advantage of them. I had quite a few students last semester that turned in three and sometimes as many as five or six drafts of a single paper. Granted, this presented its own challenges in terms of grading and trying to determine if some drafts merited a better grade or not. In contrast, I’ve only had two NS come to me this semester asking if they could potentially revise a paper for a better grade. And though I consented and explained to them how to proceed, neither student has since turned in a revision.
The second principal reason why I preferred my NNS to my NS is that, contrary to what I presumed going into this semester, I thought that having (almost) full recourse to my vocabulary would improve my efficiency and effectiveness, as well as student participation/feedback. However, this was not the case at all (with the exception of a few good in-class discussions/debates). Sure, it was much less time consuming for me to explain assignments and respond to student questions this semester than last. Nevertheless, my NS rarely asked questions or participated in any kind of class discussion unless I called them out. The same went for my NNS, too, but at least they have their legitimate struggles with the English language to help justify their relative silence in class and/or their failure to satisfactorily complete an assignment. Even if that’s a complete rationalization on my part, I still can’t help but notice that I felt a greater sense of accomplishment and success with regard to my instruction of the NNS than I do with that of my NS, at least in terms of my perceptions of what both groups learned along the way.
I may be making much of nothing, here, and I concede that many of my troubles and frustrations with my NS may be due to the whole Spring Fallout Syndrome that we’ve heard so much about; still I can’t help but feel a little disappointed with their overall performance and lack of enthusiasm. Turnabout being fair play and all, I acknowledge that they may harbor similar sentiments regarding my performance and enthusiasm, as well.