If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know what my opinion on the students I get. This didn’t really change when I moved back to the United States. Every good or stupid thing about students when I was in China is bad here as well. It’s a lot of different shades of the same shit.
But there is one thing that is notably different, and it has to do with motivation. I don’t think I could go so far as to say that English learners abroad always have great motivations, and in fact I am fairly sure that at some point on this blog I have complained about them having a lack of it, or seeming stupid incidents of it. But there was one thing that motivation abroad simply never was.
Let me explain. The school I work at at the time of this writing is allowed to issue F-1 visas to international students for the purposes of improving their English. Students in the USA with these visas are allowed to do nothing else. They are people in the country improving their English. Not working, not volunteering, not studying other shit, just learning to speak English.
Almost none of them are. A good number of the students work. And they are pretty brazen about it, telling you which restaurant they work at and insisting you come by and visit.
For the fear of misrepresenting people, I don’t want to throw a number out there, but I feel like I could easily say that at least 50-75% of the school is comprised of students who are only there for the visa.
We call them visa surfers, and we call schools like mine Visa mills or Visa farms.
Ok, said like this I sounds like I am doing some weird, the-law-is-the-law moralizing. That’s not the case. There are some serious effects that come from this.
The first point (the obvious one) is that the visa surfers just aren’t there for any of it. They don’t participate in anything unless they find it fun. Some of them even already speak English well. This isn’t out of a sense of mean spiritedness, many of them are tired after a full time job and are coming to the class out of a sense of obligation. When one of the members of the administration was on the take, the students were paying him off to make their attendance problems go away. Now they just show up enough to keep their place in the school. But when they do show up, they largely refuse to participate.
Now for the second point, let’s consider the effect this has for you as a teacher. You have a roster of between 8 and 20 students, but on any given day you are unsure how many you will get. It might be as high as the class’ maximum, but it could be 75% less. So you have to plan activities not knowing whether you will have 2 students or 8, or, 5 or 20.
Good luck with that. And then, when you get about 50% of your class and you somehow fake the assignment you made to fit the students you get, you end up with students working together where one won’t want to do any damn work. This seriously reduces the quality of the class, and it begins to infect the few serious students you have. The infection spreads slowly, but over the course of the weeks you watch as the student’s performance starts to slip. The students who want to be serious ultimately end up transferring out, and you are left with the shit heads and a select number of new students who aren’t as of yet aware that the school they are attending is a shit hole.
The cycle then repeats.