Friday, May 12, 2023

The Underestimation Destination

by G. Jack Urso

In the late 2000s, I taught a Composition II class with two students who had both recently come to the United States within the past few years. One was Russian, a hipster with flashy clothes, and the other a rather sedate, slightly nebbish Ukrainian with a buttoned-up Oxford shirt with a buttoned-down collar, no tie, and a sweater vest.

While the Russian had excellent language skills, the Ukrainian clearly had struggles. I wasn’t sure he understood everything I said, and his writing was filled with the syntax and grammatical errors common to those for whom English is not their first language. Additionally, he was unsure what I meant when I referred to the MLA documentation style, which he should have covered in Comp I. 

At the end of the first class, as I reviewed his writing sample, I expressed my concerns to the Ukrainian student, which the Russian student, who was hovering nearby, overheard.

“Not to worry professor,” the young Russian student chimed in. “I’ll help him and explain what you say to him.” He then exchanged a few words in Russian with the Ukrainian, who responded in English.

“Yes, no problem,” the Ukrainian replied. “I can do this.”

The Ukrainian's broken English led me to doubt the outcome, but, as the saying goes, “You pays your monies and you takes your chances.”

Over the next month, I was pleased to see the Russian student sit with the Ukrainian student and explain in Russian certain things I said in class. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian met with me during office hours, sent me rough drafts, peppered me with questions via email, went to the writing center, and if I gave him an opportunity to redo an assignment because of the grade, he took the opportunity. Maybe he was going to pass after all!

Meanwhile, the interest of the Russian student, who had excellent writing skills and produced spot-on work, waned. He began missing classes and dropped the course before mid-terms. The Ukrainian was now on his own.

At the end of the semester, I thought the Ukrainian would end up with a B or a B+, but, as I checked his grades over, he somehow managed to score exactly .1 above what he needed for an A-. I must have reviewed his assignments and grades three or four times, but, somehow, he did it. Since the college I worked for didn’t record plus or minus grades for the final grade, the Ukrainian nailed a solid A on his transcript.

I learned two lessons that day. First, never judge a student’s potential for success based on their first attempts. Second — and perhaps most important of all — never, ever, underestimate a determined Ukrainian.

That seems to be a lesson a lot of people are learning lately.

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1 comment:

  1. Love the twist in the story. Often true.