It's hard to pin down, but every time I ask a question in Japanese class, my teacher tends to do this long pause. Sometimes she'll look around the class as if to say "What does anyone else think?" and sometimes she'll say that explicitly, and get someone else to answer it. Other times she'll answer the question, but in a flat short tone that gives me the impression I was stupid for asking it. There was one time when she asked the class "Does anyone have a question?" and I slowly put my hand up, she said "Of course you do." That made me feel humiliated and awful, and I've been reluctant to participate or ask questions since, but of course, I need to understand the lessons.

It may seem petty, but anyone else who asks a question gets a different response; she always responds straight away, or considers the question openly; she doesn't defer the question, pause, or give any sort of flat response. It all makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong. I don't know if I'm asking too many questions, or stupid questions, or if I'm being impolite somehow, if I've missed some term of address (I always address her as 先生 or say すみません.) Despite all that I've said, when I talk to her in person, in her office, she's personable, empathetic, kind and helpful. I don't know why she's so deferential, apparently just to me, in class.

I don't know what I can do about this. Would it be inappropriate to raise this issue with her in person? I don't like the impression of me it would communicate to her ("I feel like you're not being nice to me in class" comes off the wrong way,) but at the same time, I really don't like participating in class because of the way she acts every time I try, and I don't know what to do to fix that.

EDIT: I'm British and from a British university, and my teacher is Japanese.

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    I had the exact same situation with a French teacher when i was in school. - the harder i tried to make her proud, the more snarky she would be with me in class. After graduation there was a student/teacher party and I said something like "I bet you're glad i'm going now" as a half-joke, and she said I was her favourite student, but this is just how she showed it. She only patronized me to give the other students a chance to speak up in class. She was drunk so I actually believed her.... – Wetlab Walter Feb 9 '16 at 12:34
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    Along the lines of what others have said, this sounds much more like affection than put-downs, and a sly sense of humor you might misunderstand. I don't know why she only does it with you, but handing on a question for debate in the class is a good way to make a class more interactive; and the French class experience @J.J mentioned reminded me of Feynman's stories about him at Princeton ("Of course you would want to be hypnotized!", but all affectionate). – gnometorule Feb 9 '16 at 16:21

She says: "Of course you do." - Respond with a small nod and: "Of course I do:" followed by the question. Also, when you feel humiliated when she waits - you can turn this around. When she waits, look at her in a polite, indulgent manner, with an understanding smile (think: you - the OP - are the adult here!). Obviously (so you can think to yourself), she is unable to answer you more quickly, as you have a difficult question, she needs to reflect first on it.

(Completely independent from that, check - just for yourself - whether you really ask too many questions or whether there is something wrong with them; perhaps they are unnecessary or easily answerable or superfluous? But no reason to feel bad, just inspect your question asking style and check whether it may have something you might be able to improve). In my opinion, there is no need to discuss things with her, as the likelihood is that she will downplay or outright deny it.


I suggest meeting with the professor during her office hours and, in a non-accusatory fashion, saying that you observed how she responds differently to your questions than to others and that you were curious why (or would like to know if your questions were inappropriate). If her behavior was deliberate, you should get an interesting response. If it wasn't, at least now she'll be aware of it.

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    I agree. As a teacher, I'm not always aware of how I come across or have a blind spot to patterns of behaviour. I appreciate it being pointed out. Maybe in 20 years I'll resent feedback but at this stage I welcome it in a private, respectful setting :) – Luke Sawczak Mar 28 at 17:26
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    @LukeSawczak The more experienced I've gotten, the more I appreciate feedback, probably because I feel more secure and recognize that everyone has blind spots. – Ellen Spertus Mar 28 at 18:29

This doesn't sound particularly subtle to me. If your teacher is specifically rude to you in this way, I doubt it is going to be fruitful to raise the issue with her. Feel free to do so if you like; it might or might not work. In any case, this is what student reviews of teaching are for. At the end of the session you can give honest feedback and ratings on the quality of the teaching that was given to you.

  1. Imitate her. This will upset her because imitation makes the other person confront his own acts, obligates them to self-reflection. E.g. look around the class as she does when you ask the question, take a long pause before you acknowledge understanding the answer.
  2. Play along with her/your assumptions about the question. Play the fool to catch the fool. E.g. start asking the question but interrupt yourself alleging that it is too easy to be asked in class. Or, when she makes the long pause, say that you will ask it to another student in another moment. Or, say right there that a particular student can answer your question. Or, say sorry for asking "stupid" questions. Or, raise your hand to answer the questions of other students. Or, say something like "doesn't matter I will find the answer in a book", "I will study more for the next time". Or, ask the question on behalf of all students "we are wondering...". Or, ask a "difficult" question from a book to see if she reacts in the same way.

I was wondering if she is being mean to you just because she wants to or she wants to say discreetly some message. Does she want to say that she does not care about you or that you should study more or...?

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    Bad advice. Sorry. Antagonizing your professor is a really poor way to get ahead. I suggest that the OP does exactly NONE of this. – Buffy Mar 21 at 12:59
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    Yeah, I graduated from uni three years ago, but I definitely would not have followed this advice. – Lou Mar 23 at 11:48
  • For the readers, you should not angry the teacher to the point that they can enforce a retribution. One must be prudent, know who you are dealing with; specially in certain cultures. The advice from @Captain Emacs is much better than this one, because in summary, as s/he says, one can "turn this around" without even talking to the teacher. – Francesco Mar 24 at 19:40

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