The dumbest student, and the worst class.

Just as I was reaching my breaking point with that stupid restaurant I was working at, my old boss called me up to inform me that, somehow, a random person living in Richmond had contacted them about English classes.

Well, not really.

The school I used to work for was run by Koreans, and had once been no to do favors for the Korean community. Word gets around, apparently everywhere in the world. So this guy doing research at the University of Richmond was informed by his employer that he needed additional English credits to get his reimbursement for the work he was doing. The only problem was that this guy was extremely lazy. He didn’t actually want to do anything in terms of work. So he contacted my school and asked outright if he could pay for some credits without ever doing any kind of work at all.

The only problem was that he was about a year too late. The guy who had been working the school as a racket gotten fired and replaced with a Korean Christian Theology PhD who liked to be pretty by the books. He said there was no way he could get the credits without taking the class and, having forgotten that I exist, that there was no way he could do that class without going to Northern Virginia.

Thankfully, my old boss was a little more pragmatic, willing to bend the rules, and remembering of yours truly. He immediately called me up and asked if I would take the class. He later called me back to tell me all the stupid things the other guy had told the student. The administrator the student had first spoken to had given up an opportunity for the school, his aunt’s business to make a bunch of money with no actual cost, and the opportunity was passed on to me, if only I could make it work out. I bill at 25$ an hour.

So what I had on my hands was a student who didn’t want to take a class, but had been told he must. I needed to communicate to him that he could, if he so wanted, not take my class and still get his credits. So I drafted a long email to him explaining the class at last ten fucking times that I would not be taking attendance for this class.

He emailed me back saying that he understood, and then scheduled the first class with me.


This is something I learned in China. In Asian cultures, it is looked down upon to ever say you didn’t understand something (and to be fair, it isn’t exactly looked positively upon here either), and so the default mode of action is to say you understood for something even if you haven’t.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been so subtle.

So we met. The guy showed up to the Starbucks we would work from in a track suit. He would wear that same track suit to every meeting, three times a week every week for about two months. I wish I could say it was the only thing that annoyed me about this guy, but lo, it wasn’t.

That first day we met was great. He showed up and I told him how I would do thing (emphasizing once again that attendance was NOT mandatory), and then proceed to teach a normal lesson. My pitiful attempt at psi-ops went as follows: in attempt to disincentivize him from wanting to coming back, I made the lesson a little on the harder side in every respect I could imagine, and did my best to do what I knew was not fun for a learning environment while also making the student feel kinda dumb (the ease with which I did this made me really realize how much I am an old hand at ESL).

Begrudgingly, he did everything I asked for the awful three hour class length. We were scheduled for four hours, and I found it pretty promising for my purposes that he was already asking to leave early. I was pretty convinced that as soon as the next class he would start canceling.

Alas, the next class he did show up (albeit late) and requested that we work on what was the laziest thing that we had worked on the previous week: listening activities.  He claimed that listening was the hardest of the four main skills for him, and that he wanted to focus on that.

And focus on it we did. For two god damned months. My best guess is that he was thinking that we would just listen to something really long and he could zonk out for half hour at the time, then fake a conversation about it, so I did my best to make it as miserable as possible picking really short news pieces of maybe two minutes a piece.

For the first two weeks or so he retaliated by insisting we talk about his coming vacation plans for the first hour of class, turning me into a de facto travel guide. But I wised up to his nonsense and got real ignorant real quick.

This charade of an English class continued for a solid two months. But at some point the student came up with the brilliant idea that maybe we should both pretend like we had done more classes for a longer amount of time, because it was important for his job to think that he finished the class in two months. I said that I would agree to that if he would lie to my bosses about it to, so that I could bill for the month that remained on my contract. We both walked away very pleased, and I got paid for a month of work that I really didn’t do.

Ultimately, this is the story of two people who were too scared to tell each other how they really felt, deep down inside. If only we had found the courage from the first day to say to each other ‘I don’t really want to be here, or to deal with you’, we both would have been a lot happier.

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