Challenges faced by foreign teachers in China

From my experience and observations whilst teaching in China there seem to be two broad category of expat teachers – young, freshly graduated “skylarkers” looking for some extra income, the majority of whom don’t really have a passion for teaching, education nor any intentions of committing to a school and, professional, career-minded teachers who keep on educating themselves and keep current with new, effective methods of teaching. Of course there are those who fall somewhere in between; the individuals who perhaps did not want to teach but were somehow led/advised that it would be a safe path for the short or mid-term until they could find themselves in better, more interesting/higher paying fields of work.

My article deals with a few of the main concerns that are faced by teachers that fall into the second category. Many foreigners that are career teachers go to China with very high expectations from nearly all aspects of management. From the very beginning they are subject to vast amounts of miscommunication with recruiters and schools that are interested in hiring them. They are sold the idea that their worth is less than they think, that teachers on the whole aren’t really highly paid. Whilst the teaching industry is not the most affluent, teachers do deserve respectable salaries for all their merits. Think about it, a lawyer spends years becoming a qualified professional in his/her field. Does a teacher not do the same? A bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree are not cheap. TEFL or CELTA courses are not free. All the time you spend learning your skills should be considered by schools and recruiters when they are thinking of hiring you. Unfortunately, that is less and less the case these days.

Education is a philosophy, not a business. In China, however, everything is business. – Mustafa Yildiz

Instead of acquiring professionals that would not only produce quality work but stay with a school that they felt comfortable in, many institutions hire an image that they think would boost the appeal of their company. White faces, light hair and eyes that aren’t brown. That sounds like racism, you say? It is. The small percentage of schools that don’t have those racist tendencies still have the other vice that’s plaguing would-be-teachers – the Native English Speaker requirement. In reality a lot of schools use this requirement as some sort of code for “Caucasian” as they quote a new government rule that Native English Countries are only a handful or the largest political powers worldwide – America, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Why the hell is anyone really bothering to learn English if only these few countries speak the language then?

As a side note, I’d like to mention that so far, the best English language teachers I’ve met have all been second language speakers. There is no way any native speaker could break down grammar the way those second language speakers did to me. All the stuff I glossed over in Primary school and essentially ignored in high school were studied by these people like one studies to become an astronaut. Thoroughly.

Another point of contention are the ridiculous new heights of oppression that foreign teachers’ contracts are getting to. Not only are teachers are being made to haggle and bargain for salaries that barely match their qualifications and experience but some companies have turned it into a game. I personally had the experience of one school allowing their recruiting company to handle the salary negotiations. I was told via email at nearly midnight (it was truly by chance that I had checked my emails that late that night) that I had passed the interview and I had a maximum of 12 hours to submit a salary expectation/request. The thing is, if my salary request was too high it would be rejected by the school board and I would have one more chance to give them a suitable salary quote. After that I would no longer be a suitable candidate.

Welcome to the Hunger Games: school hiring edition.

What if my salary request was too low or actually a lot lower than what the school thought I could be paid? I am still waiting for a reply to that question.

As for the contracts themselves, there are a lot of deduction policies that I haven’t really seen/experienced anywhere else. Among the more intimidating ones were thing like a company being able to terminate your contract without compensation if you did not attend work and could not contact them for 16 hours. Monetary deductions for punctuality and students’ performances in tests, the list actually does go on.

In addition to this there are even some companies that do not even offer decent holiday packages for their teachers. So on top of harsh contract conditions (which one recruiter even got offended and told us was standard fare in China), a low salary and multiple opportunities for deductions, there is also the really depressing cherry of working during the major holiday periods. Whilst your friends at public and private schools get three weeks off for Spring Festival, you get three days from some training centers. Good job, Chinese management.

I have come to believe that modern Chinese management is all about how much you can control your assets. There is a strong feeling that positive reinforcement is weak and would be ignored outright. Western, open-minded ways of teaching are desired on the surface but not in actuality. I even got the impression from some teachers that the unhappier you are, i.e., the more stressed out about your job, the more you give without asking for anything and generally the less opinion you have, the better you are treated in the long run by management. It’s absolutely not true. The more you are of the aforementioned things, the more you are taken advantage of and flat out disrespected by management.

So, whilst there seems to be a lot of negativity in this article, this is only one side to what teachers may experience working in China. As for myself, I have experienced both sides of the coin and, being the optimist that I am, will be going back, hopefully to experience the good side of working in an environment of learning and positive growth once again.

The importance of Early Years Education

Teaching young learners is, in many countries, regarded as lesser work than teaching high school students. One country that is beginning to see the value of a solid, well thought out Early Years Education curriculum is China.

For generations the immense focus on the last few years of high-school has blotted out the need for a stable, Early Years foundation. Parents, teachers and school administrators are desperate to have their children/students attend good universities either in China or abroad. As a result, education is largely regarded as a chore or not as important until late middle school and high-school when students are pressured to not just memorise words and formulas but suddenly begin expressing their learnt knowledge in internationally accepted ways – in methods they most likely hadn’t experienced prior to that stage.

Which brings me to why education at all levels should be given equal weight, respect and attention. From personal experience, I can say that guiding students at a kindergarten is no less challenging than teaching them at the highschool level. In fact, at times, I felt like the former was indeed a lot more difficult than the latter. I realized that I felt that way, especially in China, because of a lack of understanding and support for Early Education practicioneers.

Why would Kindergarten or the early grades of Primary be as important as the last few years of Secondary school? The answer can be found in many schools across China today. High school students in international schools wishing to go abroad to study have, with the assistance of a skewed system, ignored developing their learning and critical thinking skills. The end result is hundreds of teens being forced to attend extra classes on evenings and weekends, memorising tremendous amounts of work in hopes of memorising the right answers for the upcoming exams, a general feeling of never-ending lethargy and a genuine dislike for school.

It is no secret that if a person loves what he/she does then the chances of success are increased hundredfold. Where better to allow students to start enjoying school than from the very beginning? With the right nurturing from the Kindergarten level students can grow into a way of thinking that is open-minded, inquisitive and critical. With these tools (in addition to so many more that students learn in the formative years of their schooling) children move forward through the system not as prisoneers but as pioneers.