Japan Society of Fairfield County

Culture Watch, Society Watch (9)
by Dr. Ikuko Anjo Jassey

      It has been more than a decade since I started teaching Japanese at an American university; two are in Connecticut and one in New York, all of which are co-ed. Indeed, I met a variety of students on campus in attitudes: enthusiastic; nonchalant; diligent; lazy; self-centered; disrespectful; courteous; manipulative; or even "I-deserve-A."  I assume that there are some students who are extremely grade conscious on any campus in any country; however, she was the first kind whom I encountered.  Not only overly grade conscious was she, but also self-centered, manipulative, and even deceitful. However, since she was outwardly very charming and attractive, I never imagined that I would eventually have experienced such uncomfortable and unforgettable moments.  
      Whenever a quiz or an examination score unsatisfied her, she got cross and showed her frustration in class. Once she protested in a scathing tone by saying that it was not fair that I had given them too difficult questions, without her realizing that the majority of her peers had received much better scores. Once she slammed the exit door when going out to a restroom.  Once she ignored my question.  Yes, one time she said, "In all other courses I am taking, professors give us a chance to retake an exam, but you don't." My response was clear. "Well, other professors are other professors. If and when I judge that my students should be given one more chance, I might do so.  But I just don't follow other professors blindly."  As far as receiving a good score, of course, she was happy and congenial, with a smile on her face. By the way, she was still a hard-working, enthusiastic, and disciplined student who was academically excelling on campus. She was also a skillful negotiator.  Four or five times, she tried to negotiate over her grade and what she said was something like "I am a scholarship recipient and need to maintain A or A-," which was, I found out, not true, or "I don't want to disappoint my mother" or "I don't want to disappoint my coach." Thus, she never did say anything clearly and yet subtly suggested that I should reward her with A or A-. So once I said to her, "I don't negotiate over grades with my students"; on other times, "In real life, you can't get everything you want.  You will get a result based on your performance" or "You will be treated fairly and get what you deserve." Also, not only once but as many as twice, she falsified my assessment of "check" and "check +" on homework assignments.
      And yet, I continued helping her with extra hours. I believe that it was my role as an instructor to assist my students when they need it, and at the same time, I admired her industrious and tenacious attitude. I helped her, usually in the early morning before my first class started, say about ten times during the final-semester period. Nevertheless, she often failed to say "thank you" after the tutorial session. Or she even sent me e-mail late in the evening, specifically at 9:48 and at 10:45, in which she required my immediate response or my extra help on the very next morning. Moreover, whenever my response did not meet her desire or plan, she ignored it or said that she had not received it or that she had not opened her e-mail or that her computer had broken.
      During the final examination period of her final semester, she came to me to make sure that what she had repeatedly suggested for her grading had filtered into my mind and heart.  She said, "I didn't receive the Scholar-Athlete Award, because I got B+ from you for my mid-term grade (--again this was not totally true, because she actually got one more B+ from another professor as a mid-term grade).  My coach was disappointed and I don't want to disappoint him, you know, who is my father figure in the States."  "Are you studying for your coach?  Aren't you studying for yourself? Look, even if you succeed to get A or A- by negotiating with your professor, the A or A- is not a grade you deserve because of your brain power," said I. "Oh, I know, I know.  I'm not negotiating." "Righto! You are not negotiating.  You are demanding," I murmured in my mind.
      I, as her instructor, was fully aware how enthusiastically she had studied the language; however, just as many of those who make tremendous efforts to get into, say, Oxford or Harvard unfortunately would not succeed in being admitted to those institutions, sometimes our efforts necessarily do not lead to what we desire. My intangible reward, if any, for teaching her in class and outside class was, as I referred to before, to observe her passion for learning. What grades did she get throughout the four semesters?  Well, she got what she deserved.  No less or no more than that. I sometimes wonder if that extremely manipulative and disturbingly aggressive attitude is a temporal product of immaturity that will be eventually replaced with a self-controlling and respectful attitude of a young woman with social grace.
      The measure of her dealing with an outrageously competitive mind was thus nothing else but a cultural shock to me who had never met a student like her on a Japanese college campus.  Her extreme attitude of demanding "A or A-" for self-gratification hopefully will not become a trend or a pandemic on American campuses. 
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