Friday, May 15, 2009

Teachers and 'teachers'

Not for anyone

One of my Chinese friends in Suzhou is really keen to learn English, so at the beginning of this year she signed up for a course for adults at an English School. It wasn’t any cheap program, but the school assured her that they had great teachers and good teaching methods.

She started the course and was happy with most of her classes. The teachers kept changing, and everything was good until she one day came to class where a young, American girl was teaching. My friend and her classmates found the class quite unprofessional: the content was light and unprepared and way too simple for the level they were on.

Some other classes followed in the same spirit and after a while the students decided to bring it up with the teacher, as they felt they weren’t learning anything from the class.

However, when they asked the teacher to make the class a bit harder and prepare some different content, the teacher was offended. She claimed that her class was fine as it was and that no other class had ever complained. The students went to the school board with their complaint but got a similar response.

One of the students was friends with another English teacher at the school and found out that the young English teacher was in fact a student herself living in Suzhou, who was teaching on a part time basis to be able to pay for her own expenses. She didn’t have any real teaching degree and no interest to devote time or effort into teaching. She knew the school was in need of teachers and wasn’t worried about losing her job.

I think it is a shame that there are so many English language 'teachers’ like that here in China. Those ones that come here just to party and have fun and then take a teaching job in order to get by… but in real life they have no interest to teach. It’s a shame as well for those REAL teachers who really come here in order to teach English. The ones that have a teaching degree, and/or who devote time and puts in an effort to give a good class.

There’s a huge need for English teachers in China that has made it too simple for any foreigner to pick up a teaching job. I have been offered a job at numerous schools here in Suzhou that I have all declined. I am no teacher. My English isn’t prefect. I would never want to waste anyone’s time and money by giving them lessons that might not be up to a good standard. I do tutor a 10-year old Korean girl, but that was because her parents insisted I would do so, DESPITE me not being a real teacher (I’ve told them that 100 times). They simply wanted her to improve her communication skills, so that’s what I focus on when I go to her house once a week. 

During my years in Shanghai and Suzhou I have met so many English teachers. It almost feels as if every second foreigner living here is a teacher. One guy that I met even told me that it was annoying to work as a teacher here, because there are so may young people who are working as teachers and who are not taking their jobs seriously, giving the industry a bad name. But it’s hard to say who there is to blame for the situation: There’s a huge need for teachers and therefore it’s easy for anyone to get a job. And a lot of people (despite not having a teaching degree) do a great job. It’s just a shame that it’s so easy for those who don’t to still get (and keep) a job.

Likewise, there are so many Chinese language 'teachers’ here… Teachers that offer you their private lessons for a not-so-cheap price, but who actually cannot teach. I’ve tried quite a few and they have more or less been the same; showing up at my house with nothing but their handbag, asking me what I want to learn. Never prepared any sort of topics or exercises, or offering any input. I actually gave up last semester and decided to settle for language exchange instead. Likewise did my Chinese friend. I mean, why pay someone when you might as well learn the same amount from talking to a friend.


Anonymous said...

what's worse is when you do have the training, and put in the effort, the school still sees you as a replaceable lego. frustrating.

Yann said...

I totally agree!
Pedagogy is just not something you pull out from your hat!

Diederik said...

Working here as a young teacher myself, I see exactly what you mean. I know there are a lot of us who don't have any teaching degree whatsoever. I do have one, but it was extremely easy to obtain. It felt like a bought degree, although it was good to check my English grammar and to give me some basic idea of teaching.

Personally I blame the system. I like to believe I did the best job possible in a system which is more about social status than about learning. I’m teaching in kindergarten, middle school and in adult classes. One colleague who only teaches in kindergarten is more like an entertainer than a teacher. The kids love him, and that’s why their parents love to spend their money on him. And well that’s kind of the problem with most schools I guess, it’s not about learning, but about earning some money. This will not change unless, the Chinese will understand that it’s better to learn English from cheap Chinese teachers (Who I have to say, in a city like Wuhu speak very bad English themselves) or in language exchanges like, your friend. Although a language exchange partner is hard to find in a place like Wuhu… And this makes students who just want to practice their English come to class, they don’t see other ways to practice their English.

flyingfish said...

I guess the major cities are a bit different from some of the smaller ones. I wanted to teach Business English here in Beijing but couldn't get a job as I don't have a teaching degree. (I am experienced in teaching ESL, though.) I thought this was fair, but I was also disappointed.

It's partly to do with visas, frowm what I hear. How can you be hired as "foreign expert" without proof of your qualifications?

It's a fair cop, but I do miss the market of 12 years ago, the last time I was here. Those were the days!

But it wasn't perfect then either. Back then I taught at a university. Hardly any of us had a teaching degree, or even a degree in English. (Mine was in Classics!) Some of the other foreign teachers took their jobs very seriously and worked hard at them. Some didn't, but they were the minority. All of us, though, were treated very badly by the university. They paid us well, better than the tenured professors, but they gave us no respect, no support, no infrastructure. We were props, funny little foreign toys, status symbols ("hey look, we employ a dozen foreign teachers"). Our classes didn't count.

Since none of us had come here for the money, the pay was a poor substitute for feeling real connection with our students and colleagues. We had come halfway across the world to teach English in China, and now we found hardly anyone was listening.

I bet that part is better now. Sure hope so!

Reluctant and Recluse said...

AH! The Ubiquitous English teacher: the bane (or the lifeblood?) of Western expat community in South East Asia.

Its almost become synonymous with flunkies, slackers, divorcees, tax cheats, floundering students and [dare I say] sex tourists. Fling a satchel over your shoulder, get yourself a local girl and teach English. A few of them I have met even think they are Gods’ gift to the locals. :)

But, then again, I know this sweet girl in Shenzhen (Chinese) who tells me when she first moved there (from Hunan) she was an English Teacher - and this girl has problems using the proper sex - for the longest time I thought all her friends were male! :) That's the simplest of her language problems...

Anonymous said...

Oh, you do make me feel bad! I will be heading to Beijing in June for six months to learn mandarin. To help cover living expenses, I hoped to get an English tutoring gig. I do not have any qualifications except believing myself to be competent in English (truthfully though, my grammar leaves much to be desired).

I suppose I should rethink my plan.

Anonymous said...

I've been teaching English in Japan for almost four years now and I don't have a teaching degree. Yet, I do take my job seriously. Having a degree doesn't automatically make you a good teacher.

But I do agree that many foreigners come to Asia to have fun and f**k some cute Asian girls. It's a real plague here in Japan. I find it sad too that the institutions don't take their role more seriously; that girl would have needed a serious warning.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Anonymous1 -Oh that's not any nice... they just threw you out?

Diderik -Yeah the system has some issues. I think the fact that there is such a huge need for teachers (preferably cheap ones...) makes the quality worse at many places. In Korea English teachers earn quite well.. not sure how much qualifications you need to show there to get a job.

Flyingfish -wow, it's really interesting to hear about your previous experiences. It's quite hard to imagine the other teachers treating you all so bad... How long did u put up with that?

I am surprise to hear that u couldn't get the teaching job you wanted.. maybe not the legal way (with a sponsored visa), I just feel they are screaming for teachers everywhere... and having a degree isn't as important as being a native English speaker.

Anonymous -not my intention. I know many native English speakers that teach English here without having a degree, but they are really putting in an effort when giving their classes. I think it is all about attitude. I am sure you'll be able to find a job without any problems. Good luck.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Kanmuri -well it was obviously the not taking the job so seriously-kind of teachers I was addressing with this post...

It's a plague here in China too.

Brad Farless said...

That sucks Jonna. I wouldn't mind being an English teacher in China, but then again, I've sort of had ideas about being a teacher for quite a few years. I just never had the time to pursue it. On the other hand, I've been considering finishing my degree in Journalism. They sort of go hand in hand for what you're talking about though. I spent 8 years in the Army, so I'm behind the power curve, but it's never too late to learn!

Christopher said...

I must say I've only met one foreign teacher here who has a teaching degree, I'm one of the ones without one but I do try hard to do a good job. I've seen both sides of the coin here, teachers who put effort and passion into their work, and teachers who pass their time in the clubs and bars every night and turn up to work hungover and tired every day.

It can seem like a laowai can get away with it here too....for a while. But once the complaints mount up I've seen that schools do actually do something about it. In my year at Web one person has been fired and another left because he was going to get fired very soon.

As some of the posts above point out, I'm also not sure if many schools actually care too much about the quality of education, it's all about appearances which is very unfortunate.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I am American, and when I was in college, there were ads all over the student papers saying "Live abroad, teach English." Basically there are no requirements besides being a native speaker. Especially in countries with high demand, such as China, Indonesia, and Japan..
Many American college students see it as a way to travel, and supplement their income.. That's it.
I am planning to move to Malaysia, and whenever I talk about getting a job, people say "don't worry, you can always teach English." Really?? Well, ok, but I haven't the first clue how to teach English to a group of students....

Talking Turkey said...

you write very well! u shd publish a book on china....

Likin said...

Hamnade på din blogg av en slump och måste säga att jag har fastnat. Det du skriver om är otroligt intressant, men framför allt så tycker jag att det är en fröjd att få läsa dina inlägg för de är så väl skrivna. Beundrar dina språkkunskaper, framförallt din engelska faktiskt. Hur har du blivit så bra?

Jag är själv kines men är uppväxt i Sverige, så tycker det är väldigt intressant att läsa om dina upplevelser.

Oj vad långrandigt det blev nu...vill helt enkelt säga att du har en jättebra blogg och att det du skriver uppskattas jättemycket :)

Ha det bra!


Jonna Wibelius said...

Brad -it's never too late...I say go for it!!

Chris -yeah, well it's nice to hear that some school actually do something about it..

Sarah -you're spot on. And there's nothing wrong with teaching (w or without a degree) if you are a native speaker (one reason why I would never take on a 'real' teaching job) and put in an effort... but the ones to teach just to party... naaah.

Jitendra -thanks!! Who knows.. maybe I will.. well, not a book about China but I am currently writing on something else.. :)

Likin -tackar tackar! Min eng är nog bättre än min svenska för tillfället.. Jag har en BA (kandidatexamen blir det väl på svenska?) i journalistik från ett universitet i Australien, så det var under min 3-åriga utbildning där borta som jag lärde mig skriva på eng.. Klart att jag kunde skriva innan dess också men långt ifrån speciellt bra... Det tog sin lilla tid att hitta sin 'stil' eller sin 'röst' eller vad man nu ska kalla det... Under de senaste åren har jag också jobbat på en engelsk tidning o sen skriver jag ju den här bloggen också.. så språket utvecklas hela tiden. Men jättekul att höra att du gillar den! Sånt gör mig gladare än gladast... :)

Little Tiger said...

I did teach English to support myself while studying Chinese, so my goal coming to China wasn't exactly to teach English.
Don't get me wrong, I put in 100% and really enjoyed it but on my day off my classes for the next week were in the back of my mind.

I don't know how many fully qualified and passionate teachers a salary of 7000RMB a month would attract though.
I met a wide variety of characters, but a lot had 'yellow fever' and we're in China to look for love. Nothing wrong with that of course but needless to say I didn't click with anyone apart from an Italian girl who was in China for the same purpose as me.
Some people took it too seriously though too, and had an air of arrogance and superiority and would snap at the secretaries for disturbing them while planning a lesson to teach the fruits to a few six year olds. (Which is laughable considering they were paid less than a cleaner back in their home countries.)

I didn't receive a lot of complaints because I cared about my classes I gave. Nevertheless, I did get the feeling that the Chinese students felt they 'owned' you because they were paying such high fees. They would really complain about the pettiest of things sometimes. I take other language classes in my spare time and it would take me a lot to actually take the trouble of complaining. I sometimes felt the students thought you were some kind of robot instead of a person! Having said that I met some fantastic students in China who left a good impression on me.

Why do you think not being a native speaker is a bad thing? I think its an advantage! You went through the process of learning the language yourself so you can relate to the students. Many of the teachers who I had the 'pleasure' of working with could only speak the one language and hadn't a clue about learning a language and quickly got frustrated with the students for not 'getting it'. Anyway, it goes without saying that you would give any native speaker a run from his/her money with your wonderfully idiomatic English.

By the way, did you get to see the Eurovision in China? I know the Scandinavians take it very seriously....and why not? It's a lot of fun!. I wanted Finland to win but they didn't do as well as I hoped :)

Jonna Wibelius said...

Tiger -we didn't watch the show but we saw the songs the in the semi finals (thanks you tube!)... I can't believe u like Finland, I laughed so much when I heard that guy's 'e-type rap'... hahaha.. Finland never knows what to send, expect for that one time when they sent Lordi (and the whole country was in shock when they won!) they have had very little eurovision song contest success...

I didn't like the noggy boy either... the song was a bit strange. my personal favorite was Iceland... Sweden didn't do that well either, which didn't surprise me.

Ha, funny with that eurovision thing.. I haven't watched if for 8 years (i'm always abroad when it takes place) and still I always know how everything went.. because the newspapers r writing libraries about it!

Little Tiger said...

hehehe I hear you. The Finnish rapper was a bit strange but I liked the melody. Actually it's still stuck in my head!
I would have liked Iceland to win aswell. I thought it was a quite odd though how she had a big smile from ear to ear when the song was a sad song?? Also, I don't know what they were thinking with the wedding cake dress :)
The Norwegian guy was a bit cocky but I think Norway were the deserved winners all the same.

Emil said...

Did not like the noggy boy!?!

Hmmrf. Sweden was absolutely boring, how they expect anyone that boring to win is beyond me :P

Where I live almost all foreigners is a teacher, and most foreigners automaticly believe everyone here is a teacher. So I often get questions like: Where do you teach?. A lot of these foreigners are really creepy and it seems like they are running away from an unsuccessfull life in their own country.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Emil -I liked the noggy boy (cute!) but I didn't like the song. But all in all it's nice that Norway is going to host it next year. Go Scando!

I also thought Sweden's song sucked!! I think the point of sending opera was to send something 'different' but obviously it didn't pay off.

Sweden still has this idea that we are really good when it comes to producing music.. (and that we are good at soccer.... eeeehhh!) hehe. I don't know if I agree anymore however.. the years of ABBA are long gone!!