Monday, October 03, 2022

Her seventh-grade students there were the children of fishermen and sugar cane farmers. They arrived for school early, even if they had to walk more than a mile to get there. They called her “ma’am.” They brought her homemade lunches. They wrote thank-you notes at the end of each week. They aspired to become engineers or doctors or teachers like her, and they volunteered to stay after school for extra lessons rather than returning home to work in the sugar cane fields. Obreque started an after-school program for struggling readers. She led the school’s innovations club to a regional first-place finish. She recorded daily video lessons during the pandemic and hiked to remote villages to make home visits, until her ambition landed her at the top of the teacher rankings and she began to hear from recruitment agencies around the world.

“Teach the World’s Best in America!” read the brochure from one international teaching agency. Obreque had talked it over with her husband and agreed that the possibility of a $30,000 raise was worth the hardship of living apart. She’d interviewed over Zoom with schools in New Mexico and Arizona and then received an offer to teach in Bullhead City under a J-1 visa, which granted her permission to live in the United States for three years. She’d taken out $8,000 in high-interest loans to pay for the agency fees, a plane ticket, two new teaching outfits and the first month’s rent on a two-bedroom apartment she planned to share with five other foreign teachers....

She wanted to quit. She wanted to leave Bullhead City, travel back across the desert to Las Vegas and fly to La Carlota City, but she was $8,000 in debt and 7,000 miles from the Philippines, and instead the only safe place she could think to go was a few doors down the hall, into Cuevas’s empty classroom at the end of the school day. Three of the other new foreign teachers were already seated around the room, recovering from their days. Obreque dropped her bag on the floor and walked over to join them.

“I don’t know even what to say,” she said.
“One day teaching here is like a month in the Philippines,” another teacher said.
“Five of these students is like 20 back home,” another said.

“I don’t know how to handle them,” Obreque said. “I can’t connect. I can’t teach.” She looked at Cuevas. “I’m sorry if I am a disappointment, ma’am. What could be a bigger failure than crying on my first day?”

“Oh, I did that every day for six months,” she said, and the other teachers looked at her in disbelief, because they knew Cuevas as the model of Americanized self-assurance, with her own YouTube channel to share teaching tips and a new designation as one of Bullhead City School District’s employees of the month. “I was the worst teacher here for a whole year,” she told them. “The students ran all over me. I lost my confidence. I wanted to go home.”

She told them that it had taken her a year to pay off her debts to the international teaching agency, two years to get her Arizona driver’s license and three years to move out of a bedroom she’d shared with other international teachers and into her own apartment. She’d applied for an extension on her J-1 visa to stay in Bullhead City for two extra years as she continued to figure out how to build strong relationships with her students. “You have to prove that you really care about them,” she said, so she’d gone to the dollar store, spent her own money on art supplies and redecorated her classroom into a movie theater on premiere night, with a red carpet and a VIP door and a banner that read: “Every Student Is a Star.” She started attending her students’ sporting events, staying after school for volleyball and basketball games, and watching YouTube videos to learn the rules for American football. She watched every one of the Marvel movies they talked about during class. She called their parents not just with concerns but also to share praise each time a student impressed her. She gradually moved beyond her Filipino instinct for classroom formality and began asking her students about their lives, and they introduced her to a version of America much different from what she’d first expected: abusive families, homelessness, surging drug overdose deaths, conspiratorial ideologies, loneliness, suicide, alcoholism and poverty every bit as bad as anything she’d encountered in the Philippines.

“In a lot of ways, they are broken and hurting,” she said, and because of that she’d come to admire her colleagues for their dedication and appreciate her students for their resilience, their irreverence, their bravado, their candor and, most of all, for their vulnerability. She’d turned herself into one of the most beloved teachers in a school that couldn’t find enough teachers, and yet she would be legally required to return to the Philippines when her visa expired in eight months.

“The students here are difficult, but they need you,” Cuevas told the other teachers now. “Maybe you can do something to motivate them, to give them more hope.”
“I don’t know if I’m going to be able to help them,” Obreque told her.
“There is literally no one else,” Cuevas said.

There will probably appear very soon some poll numbers suggesting that Russians are incredibly enthusiastic about annexation. This was the case in 2014 with annexation of Crimea: on the Russian territory proper polls functioned as ersatz-plebiscites on admission 1/21

Several concepts that might be helpful in interpreting Russian polls. 

(They partly rely on my recent piece in the @JofDemocracy)…  2/21

1. Depoliticization. Almost all Russians have deep scorn and contempt for politics. Those who believe politics is meant to make society more just or free are usually considered childish or outright insane 3/21

In public service, people interested in politics are considered unreliable. In commercial sector, they are regarded as dangerously naïve and silly, failing to understand some elementary truths about how the world runs 4/21

If you want to know the opinion of Russians on some political issue, it is safe to assume that the vast majority strongly supports “leave me alone”. (Unless proven otherwise: mobilization is a counterexample) 5/21

2. Acclamation. Russia is a plebiscitarian regime. The vast majority doesn’t interpret polls (or voting) as choosing which decision they would prefer. The decisions are already made by the leader, the role of the people is to say “yes” – to acclaim 6/21

The right question in Russia is not “do you approve policy X?” but rather “if Putin takes policy X, would you approve?” 

And that’s what you would normally get:… 7/21

It is safe to assume that Russians are fine with any decision taken by Putin. Had he handed Luhansk and Donetsk over to Ukraine on February 24, the ‘approval’ would have been exactly the same 8/21

3. Nonreponse. While survey nonresponse is an issue in many countries, it affects Russian polls disproportionately. Our research shows that Russians interpret polling as interaction with the state, irrespective of who does the survey. This is not the case in the West 9/21

Therefore, those who agree to participate are more likely to be loyal to the state. The higher distrust in the state, the less incentives to take part in surveys. Younger people, men in particular, are much less likely to cooperate 10/21

Response rates are frighteningly low – 10-25% depending on methodology. Many (although not all) pollsters report that in 2022 the rates further plummeted. A colleague in the industry I trust completely told it was at 1% even before mobilization 11/21

Response rates are almost never reported. Looking at the poll numbers, it is safe to assume that very few people agreed to participate, unless proven otherwise 12/21

4. Surveillance. Since people tend to perceive polls as communication with the state, they use it as an opportunity to complain. “Please tell Putin that we struggle to get X here” is a line that almost every interviewer had heard 13/21

This makes the favorable responses for the government even more likely, for you normally show respect to the person you complain to. This also a reason why polls are interpreted as a tool for surveillance 14/21

It is safe to assume that respondents generally perceive themselves being watched and not protected, unless proven otherwise 15/21

5. Fear. I have always resisted the idea that Russians are just afraid to tell their true opinions, while in reality we are all scared dissidents. This assumes that these opinions do exist in the first place, which is most often not true 16/21

However, with this war and especially with mobilization fear has definitely become a major factor. Previously, in pollsters’ internal reports interviewers often mentioned fear as a common emotion among respondents that skewed their responses. Now it has become massive 17/21

I already heard reports about women meeting interviewers crying “Please don’t take them away from us”. At this point, I seriously think polling not only faces issues of validity, but becomes ethically dubious. A researcher should not participate in terror, even unwillingly 18/21

It is safe to assume that behind the numbers you read there are people completely disoriented and scared about what the state will do to them, approached by someone they believe is an agent of the state 19/21

You will probably very soon meet people who would say that Russian referenda in Ukraine are sham, while Russian polls in Russia are totally fine and representative 20/21

I usually respond that in Russia, there will be first the change in power, and then the change in poll numbers 21/21 

By the way, @RusFieldGroup are among the very few who publish the response rates. They're consistently at 5-7% since the start of the war.
Neither VCIOM, nor FOM or Levada publish that. So much for the discussion about "true" and "fake" polls. Integrity matters.

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