Thursday, May 22, 2014

Disce aut discede

I'm a little bit sad because I found out recently that two of my second-year students have left our school. One decided to take a year-long leave of absence, and the other dropped out entirely. According to my co-teachers, the academic pressure was too difficult for them to handle.

I wondered for a moment if there had been anything I could have done to prevent these two students from giving up. There were, of course, warning signs. The student who dropped out (henceforth S1) had always seemed overwhelmed by everything. Both of them had underperformed consistently for three semesters, and the student who took the leave of absence (S2) was clearly depressed. In his very first journal entry, he wrote that he hated this school. If I'd taken these things more seriously and spoken up, could I have kept them here?

Let's be real, though: it takes a brave student to recognize that he's not a good fit for the two-year academic boot camp that is our school. While they certainly could have used more support and encouragement, ultimately I think it's better that they knew their limits and got out before they stretched themselves beyond their ability. I'm not disappointed; I'm relieved on their behalf.

I'm also somewhat irked that I didn't learn about the situation until now. S1 hadn't come to class in about three weeks before I learned why he was gone. Actually, in his first week of absence, S2 wrote in his journal that he was worried about his classmate, S1. I wrote back, asking what the matter was and offering my well-wishes. But S2 never got that feedback, because he didn't show up to class for the following two weeks.

So this week, I asked one of my co-teachers if she knew where S1 was; I wondered aloud if he was perhaps sick. My co-teacher hesitated and then put on her quiet, serious tone. "Well, the truth is that S1 is preparing to leave the school." I was taken aback. But then another teacher overheard and chimed in: "Preparing? No, I think he has already left. He left a few weeks ago."

Three weeks, to be precise, yet nobody bothered to tell me! And nobody told my co-teacher, either. She knew his situation, but the details were hushed up. The reality is, she told me, that people tend to keep very quiet about sensitive matters like students leaving school. We don't want to risk losing face. Typical Korean channels of communication: as blocked as the roads leading into Seoul during rush hour.

I wish that I'd had the opportunity to say goodbye to my two students. I'd give them back their journals and tell them to keep writing in them, even though they won't be in my class anymore. I hope that they will rest up well in their time off and, when they're ready to study again, come back to the game even stronger than before.

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