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I blew it today.

I am currently participating in a special program through our University Extension service. They have partnered with a foreign chemical company. This company identifies talented high school students in its native country and hires them upon graduation. The students are sent to one of several partner schools in the US such as mine for 18 months of intensive English, study skills and introduction to basic technical courses (physics, calculus, and, oh, yeah, chemistry). Upon completion of the program, they enter various American universities for their undergrad degree in engineering before going back to work for the company.

I got these students in January to give them a very remedial introduction to freshman level chemistry. Some of these folks have had 3 years of high school chemistry already, but they learned it in their native tongue and by their native school system, which is very stringently rote learning. So learning a complex subject like chemistry in a new language with the critical thinking methods we use here can be a real challenge, hence the program.

When they started with me, they had been here a full year already, and are tired.
They also have bonded very tightly and I’m the new element. (no pun intended! Really.) They are a very rowdy group of 19 and 20 year olds. In spite of numerous lessons earlier in the program on study skills, expectations and ethics in education, they cannot keep quiet for more than a few seconds, do not come to class prepared, complain about a nominal workload, work together way too closely for our standards of academic integrity, and so on. They tune out when I’m giving instructions and everyday someone will ask me what they are supposed to do within 10 seconds of my laying it out step by step. It has been a constant struggle and has contributed to this being one of the hardest and most tiring semesters for me. Now at the end I’m plumb tuckered out.

They really have no clue what they are in for this fall when they are scattered across the country without their support group and the help they gave each other, and they don’t seem to believe me when I attempt to hold them to a higher standard.

They are brilliant, fun-loving, generally nice folks and I like them a lot. They ask me harder questions than my regular students and some anticipate what I’m going to tell them three steps later (both a blessing and curse, let me tell you!!)

It all came to a head today. They had their second exam. I’d wanted to postpone it another day because it was a harder exam than their first and I felt they needed more review. Turns out they have a calculus exam on Wednesday, and they were adamant to take my exam today so they only had one exam to work on at a time. Imagine that—a class refusing to let the instructor put off an exam!!! I made the mistake of relenting. They were not ready.

Several had not brought pencils or calculators (in spite of the fact that these were required every day, not just on exam day), so they passed them from one to another, again in spite of my restriction against it. Their eyes were all over each other’s papers. One student blatantly had a notebook out on his desk and open. Several of the best students were asking questions that went back several units. On and on and on…you get the picture.

I did not handle these in the calm cool professional manner as I would like. I was not particularly loving, either. I showed my frustration in many ways, and it did not help them do well on a hard test. Sure it was understandable, but that did not make it right.

I realized tonight while listening to a book in the car that I needed to repent of not loving these students. On Wednesday, I need to go into class and ask their forgiveness for losing my cool. I still have them for another month, and at this rate, if we don’t make a new beginning, learning will cease and it will be a frustrating waste of everyone’s time.

Pray with me that we can heal the rifts, and that it will help them to take this last month seriously and, even if it does not, that I can love them and demonstrate love for them anyway. There are still some serious issues that need to be resolved, and loving them does not mean ignoring bad behaviour. Loving them means handling all of those challenges in a way that separates the act from the individual, and thus not taking out frustration and disappointment on them, but responding to the behaviour.

Pray with me that I may have the rest and energy needed for this task and that the Holy Spirit will work through me to communicate His love when I run out. Pray that in my confessing to them, I will be humble and not justify myself, nor blather on trying to help them understand, whatever. We academics like to be verbose, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Pray, finally, that they will see God’s love and strength in humility, which is not necessarily a cultural trait with which they are familiar.



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