Friday, June 03, 2005

postal scrotum: Gumbi takes me to task

Gumbi writes:

Hey Kevin,

Hate to bitch and all, but are you sure you are taking the right approach with this Z girl? You seem to have narrowed her out of the group for our reading enjoyment or our displeasure, and I am sure the readers who are teachers have all been their before with that type of student. And I am sure that we were never successful in getting through to them. But I have to pipe in and say that she maybe locked into an imperfect system.

The driving force behind English in Korea is making money and increasing attendance, everything else is just a show of face. While Z has shown some strange tendencies in and out of class, maybe she is looking to you for more guidance then you are giving her. Maybe she is the Ugly Duckling or the Prince trapped in the frogs body.

Plus as you mentioned it in your post it took a lot of guts to go up the front late and ask if you won. Then you booming in over a mic didn't deter her from her goal. I think that deserves a certain level of respect or at least some more patience and understanding.

Again I don't know the whole situation, I just like the sound of my own internal monologue.


Thanks for writing. My own outward actions toward Z have been nothing but patient. I never rolled my eyes in class, sighed loudly, or did anything else to betray impatience because I realized early on that this girl needed a friendly atmosphere. This didn't keep me from being internally frustrated, however, and it appears that one girl quit the class because of Z (she came the first day and never returned; the main office told me she'd complained about Z). It's been hard for everyone involved.

My blog describes my internal struggle to deal with a student who very likely has Asperger's Syndrome, which I've been reading up on. (Major props to Julie, the resident medical professional, for cluing me in to this. For an interesting article on Asperger's, see here.) All the signs are there: echolalia (thanks go to the Maven for pointing this out; the Wikipedia article also mentions it), a certain apparent emotional detachment, an inability to navigate simple social situations or to detect subtleties like sarcasm, etc.

My booming into the mike was stupid (props to Matt for pointing this out). As I wrote, I felt like a shit after the incident. It would have been better to have pulled the mike away from my mouth and spoken to Z privately. I've tried to rationalize what I did but it all comes down to a simple lack of common sense.

If Gumbi's complaint is that I'm showing Z no patience and understanding on my blog, I'd argue that that's untrue. Yes, I've found my time with Z amusing in some ways, but I think I've made it obvious that her condition fascinates and concerns me. Also, the blog is my place to vent. Honesty is more important than politeness, and I'm not going to hold back about what crosses my mind when I think of Z. Some thoughts will be charitable; other thoughts won't. I won't censor the uncharitable thoughts just to make myself look better to the public.

As for being a mentor/guide/etc. to Z-- the semester's finished, so what's done is done. I did all I could; I don't think I made drama class especially uncomfortable for her, and I have no intention of seeking Z out to provide extra nurture. I deeply regret how the raffle went, but the fact that Z made it to class on the final day shows that she's a trouper. If it's true that she has Asperger's, then she needs far more help than I or her classmates can give. We gave her our tolerance and understanding, holding our occasional frustration at bay.

Z's classmates deserve special mention. They were, at times, obviously frustrated with Z. Z is so unreactive, and Korea is a conformist culture. Put two and two together, and you have the potential for Bad Things Happening. They didn't happen, however, because the students were ultimately supportive of Z, making allowances for her social slowness, asking her questions to keep her engaged in conversation, and so on. Everyone knew Z was the "little sister." The day Z was absent, the students breathed nary a negative word about her, keeping their thoughts to themselves.

So I plead "not guilty" to the charge of not having been nice enough to Z. Except for my inexcusable stupidity during the Microphone Incident, I think I treated Z fine. Z confirmed this by coming to class on the last day of the term.

I also defend my blogging of both my positive and negative feelings toward Z; this blog isn't prettified for the reader's comfort. I further challenge anyone to be in a similar situation-- dealing with someone who might have a more-than-mild case of Asperger's-- and to get through it mistake-free. I learned a few lessons this term and will apply them if ever I get another student like Z (or, as is likely, Z herself in a different class of mine).

Perhaps some people feel that a blog with so much religious content is an inappropriate place for, well, baser meditations. I disagree. The integrated approach is better. My angels and devils are, for the most part, equally visible to all. This blog might be a monument to my narcissism (and whose blog isn't?), but at least it has the virtue of being the mostly honest blog of a religiously inclined asshole.


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