A student came to me with one of the first questions in months to really put me on guard.
There are strange instances when things like this happen. It happens at times when someone purposely poses a threat to you. But the worst times, really, are when you don’t know what’s going on.
How I react to someone’s emotions depends in large part on my ability to read them. Reading someone has a lot to do with developing a profile of that person. I figure out not just the obvious stuff, like what kinds of clothes they wear or how they like their hair. You have to figure out what they think. Like a game, like a book, like a movie, there is a thesis
behind every person.
I think I’m going to start using that term. I used to call it simply substance— but now, I think a distinction needs to be made.
Substance is what makes a person, in terms of their abilities. It is the accumulation of their history, in some sense. The easiest elements of substance include their physical resume. This includes their ability to control their body, to resist pain, or to endure strain. A bit harder to define, but still equally important in the scope of substance, are mental and spiritual aspects. That means things like mental toughness, the ability to stay calm and analytical, or the unwillingness to give up. Substance is everything that makes someone solid. Like any form of excellence, it is not simply ‘had’ and generally has to be practiced constantly to give it weight.
If you are trying to hurt someone, conversely, the easiest way to do so is to target a weakness of substance.
A thesis, on the other hand, is where the future of someone is. It has to do with their idea. It has to do with what they think about the world, and what the underlying principles that they are going into the world not with, but to test. Does that make sense?
Substance is what you have. A thesis is what you are trying to find out.
The two are situational. This is in part by virtue of the fact that we’re so variable, and we never really know exactly what our limits are until we’re put into a scenario. A person who has plenty of substance in an artistic situation might have none whatsoever in a carpentry situation, for example. You need to see someone in action for a while before you get an idea of just how much substance they have– but if you keep an eye out for it, you can develop the ability to recognize to a certain extent who are the real deals and who are the fakers.
And a thesis is something entirely different.
The student asked me today, “Teacher, do you think this class is good or bad?”
A couple of things you should know about this scenario.
First of all, the student is a first year middleschooler among people a year or two younger than her. What she’s doing in a class of elementary kids, I don’t know. But, she’s more mature than they are. I haven’t been able to guage her English ability entirely yet, because of my second point–
–she’s only been in my class for two days. We just switched students to start the new semester, so I’ve only now begun teaching her.
The third point is that for a student of her age to seriously ask for me to speak with her, and for her to ask me a question like that, it’s completely unheard of. Her tone was measured– it wasn’t asked as a joke. It was asked seriously.
At first I was taken aback. I couldn’t figure out her thesis at first, and I laughed at the question, thinking that I had misread her body language and she was actually asking, like most students do, a silly question to try and trap me just so that she could slip in a quick insult. That’s usually how it goes and that’d be normal, and I was ready to just roll with those punches as I always do and kept my ears and eyes open to make a snappy comeback. This was all at the end of class, so we had plenty of time.
But she repeated her question, and so this time, looking at her, I realized she really wanted an answer. I sat down in a chair next to her.
“I don’t know. It can be good, it can be bad. What do you think?” I asked. There are some questions where there is no right answer.
“I think this is bad,” she said.
If you’ve ever watched an anime, you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say that it was one of those moments where, in my head, I imagined myself with my eyes darkened out like in those asides where a character is like “WTF?? I failed??”
She went on to list why she didn’t like my class, based on her two days there.
And I’ll admit; I was taking it kinda personally. Not that I shouldn’t have– that was the point. That was her thesis. All her smarts, all her ability, she was using it to this end.
And that’s what a theis is. It isn’t just a guess– in part, it’s also a reflection of who you are and what you previously understand of the world. Someone doesn’t just make a guess and then ask you if it’s right or wrong– a thesis is based on some beleif of the way that the world runs, and so even the idea that is being tested is already loaded with a lot of values.
She believed that from what she’d seen, a classroom shouldn’t have people with cellphone cameras, kids shouldn’t be allowed to talk in Korean at all, and that I should have no tolerance whatsoever for bad language.
I could have gotten into an argument with her about it, and told her about all the ways that it could work. I mean, it has in the past.
But the same method has also failed in the past. I have lost some students to my method, and ‘needs of the many surpass the needs of the one’ doesn’t really cut it enough for me to really argue from that angle.
So what did I do? I gave her some half ass response to her concerns, because I couldn’t think of any better way. I think I ended it pretty maturely by saying, nocommitally, “we’ll see.”
It is the first time in a long time in a while though that someone’s thesis simply judged me to be inadaquate. It was a sobering experience and though I’m not likely to change my teaching method completely just for one girl’s aprooval, I do think that since the challenge has been put on the table professional duty requires that I proove my own thesis to her.
In the meantime… you ever get that feeling where you look back and just hate the fact that someone stumped you? I wish I could go back and give some sort of cool response to her question. Something… perfect. But well, chances are from my noncommitalness and lack of confidence in my responses, she wasn’t that impressed and probably thinks less of me. Ah well. We’ll have to work on that.