Home > Uncategorized > A Teacher’s Life for Me

A Teacher’s Life for Me

I kinda like being a teacher. I didn’t really like it when I first started out, but then no one really does. I really like language learning, the science behind it and the various methodologies. I’ve studied 3 languages seriously and I pretty much know what works and what doesn’t. I’m moving in e-learning and I’m working with a great pool of talented Chinese programmers to create my own personal blend of language learning software.

When I first washed ashore here in 2006, my first couple of jobs were pretty patchy. I worked for a bit at a high school teaching 40 students per class, then I moved onto the rather pleasant surrounding of the Badaling Beijing Police Academy, where I chatted with the trainee police officers for a few hours a week to prepare them for meeting and greeting foreigners in 2008. Coming to China has been the best thing that I did after getting my gig at the BBC, it’s awoken a whole new passion in me for linguistics and modern learning methods.

Everything all changed when I met Wall Street – my connections with them have long since withered and died. Wall Street, are, and this is my opinion of teaching in two different countries in four years, the best English training center to work for. I’m not getting paid for any of this, it’s just the way things are. WSI give nothing but results and their material is top-notch.

I worked for Dell – now Longman Pearson – and they were awful. Awful to the point of withholding pay to make sure that I finished a course teaching business English in Shun Yi. I thought I’d hit rock bottom with Dell English, but then I started to work for my current employer.

In 2008 I worked for them, essentially because I’d met the brains behind the curriculum sometime in 2006 when I was living in a 12 bed dorm in Dazhalan desperate for work. I took the job because I needed cash and was leaving for Japan in a few months, so it didn’t really matter if I was good or bad.

I’ve been told twice by a two different managers that English teaching comes 3rd at my school. First is keeping the students happy. Of course, this can only really happen when the management are giving the teachers the material that they need to keep the students happy. A teacher can’t just launch into a lesson, and think up new and interesting “fun” things to do on the spur of the moment. The scheduling is fourth-rate. A beginner student will be booked into a advanced class, and, as happened last week, an advanced student will quite happily book himself into a Beginner One class. Beginner one classes typically consist of games of hangman, Countdown and charades.

The school essentially models itself on the WSI method. Computer studies are “backed-up” by Grammar Salons – where we teach grammar heavy lessons – material is scarce, so we mostly download lesson plans from onestopenglish.com. Social Clubs are next, which give the students a chance to talk freely on an interesting subject, the zodiac, going shopping, fashion, etc. The educational value of the social clubs is almost zero, but because there’s a lot of new vocabulary, they’re packed out by students who think that they’re going to learn English by attending them. These classes are routinely overbooked by the staff because they keep the students happy, and it’s not uncommon for a social club that’s supposed to have a 12 student limit to have to accommodate 15 students.

Student progress is monitored through “encounter” classes. The idea of the encounter is for students to jump through grammar and fluency hoops in order to prove that they have been studying. Often the classes are booked out of order, often backwards (for example, today I had a unit 9 class with one student who couldn’t speak English because the last class he took and subsequently failed was unit 1). In these classes, students are supposed to be limited to a maximum of 5. In the last 2 weeks, I’ve had at least 2 classes with 6 students in them. Why is this allowed? Because the Chinese boss says so.

Complaints about English Corners – general free-for-all English classes that anyone is free to join in – are rife, complaints about the teacher not speaking enough in Social Clubs are common. The two classes that offer the least in educational nourishment are the ones that are most complained about. Male students won’t take a downgrade to a lower level because they’ll lose face, so we’re stuck trying to educate per-intermediate students who can’t cope with intermediate subject matter.

This is the sad state of English education in the 21st century in the world’s most populous nation. A country that has taken greed, corruption and bribery and turned them into virtues. The sad fact of all of this is that there are people at this school who are going to study abroad, and these people are woefully under-equipped to get through customs. They’ve traded their life savings for an education that they believe will be life changing, but, in actual fact, will get them no further than the door.

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  1. March 2, 2011 at 5:55 am

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