The first day of teaching...and the last?

Trip Start Nov 15, 2005
Trip End Aug 15, 2008

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Flag of China  ,
Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Whilst being sat in a comfy chair meeting interesting people would normally sound like an ideal way to spend my time, I began to get the feeling that I should actually be doing something productive with my time. Coincidentally, this feeling would occur shortly after I checked my bank balance.

Sometimes you have to work very hard for good things to happen. Sometimes they just seem to fall into your lap. I thought it was the latter when I met someone who had just spent a few days teaching in some small village in a more remote part of the province. She told me about a project one of the universities here was running, sending foreign teachers out to places that rarely receive native English speakers for a few days at a time. The preparation was minimal, the work sporadic but the pay was okay; most importantly, the work conditions seemed good - she said the children were really excited and enthusiastic to receive a foreigner. So I followed up the lead and got in touch with the guy running the program.

Though not exactly what I would consider my natural vocation, I had begun to quite enjoy the teaching I did in Prague. Small classes, enthusiastic adult students, some of whom I got to know quite well. Teaching in China seems to be the complete opposite of this. For a start, the idealised image I had of poor communities in remote, rural parts of Sichuan province was foolish. The town we were taken to was only a couple of hours away from Chengdu, and the only reason foreigners never visit was because it was a complete hole. The school seemed relatively prosperous; the bathrooms might have been typically disgusting, but they did have a very modern computer centre. The worst aspect of the whole experience was the attitude towards us. It seemed we were brought in not to teach, but to babysit. Having been told we did not need to prepare for the lessons, I foolishly assumed this would be because we would have some sort of guidance or materials to work with once there, or possibly we would be supporting the regular teachers. No such luck.

Instead, I was thrust into a classroom with the instruction "teach them something", and then the teacher, supposed to stay throughout the lesson and maintain some sort of control over the class, would promptly disappear (if they had bothered to turn up at all). No materials to work with. No text to follow. No idea of the standard of the students. No hope. Maybe a natural teacher, or at least an experienced one, would have been able to deal with this. Personally, being stuck in front of 50-something disinterested, spoiled, screaming 10 year olds is just about my idea of hell. I have no idea how you're meant to teach that amount of people - my TEFL course was focused on a very high proportion of class-participation - even when they are well behaved and wanted to learn. There were maybe a dozen or so that actually wanted to learn; the rest would start yelling, running around and throwing things the moment I took my eyes off them. Actually trying to get them to play games that involved moving would quickly degenerate into chaos, and usually someone would end up getting hurt. It was difficult even to communicate anything to those that were interested, I was having to yell so much to be heard over those that weren't. By the end of the day, my throat was so raw I could barely speak. And just to make the whole thing complete, my belt chose this day to break and my trousers were in danger of falling down throughout the whole nightmarish experience. 

So my advice for someone contemplating teaching in China, but unsure as to whether or not they are suited to the job?

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