"Wish You Happy Every Day": An Expat's Life in China


When people act like your career is a joke (and why it isn’t)
May 9, 2015, 1:25 pm
Filed under: efl world, teaching, the expat life | Tags: ,

Oh, if I had a kuai for every time a fellow expat said to me, “Teaching English isn’t a real job…” And indeed, it’s easy to fall victim to the “my job is an illusion” mentality–that’s the guiding principle of your co-workers, perhaps, and it’s an unspoken truth that your manager knows as well.  So what’s to stop you from going down the same dragonhole?

Let’s add another kuai to every time people said, “Teaching is easy,” and I think I’d be a millionaire in RMB. During my first year I thought that there must have been something wrong with me. Why were all of my painstakingly wrought lessons coming apart at the seams? How do you get your “little friends” to stop throwing tantrums like little hysterical hyenas?

I realize that not all English teachers here are in it for the career development. They’re here to travel or to learn Chinese. Some are even here because jobs are scarce in their home countries. And some just simply are not the 9-5 types.  Some are artists, looking for a way to make a living while making art.  Of course, these are all legitimate reasons.

Really, not matter why you’re here at the front of the class, it can be hard to summon the motivation to keep going. There are so many things that can bring a teacher down, like:

  • demanding work, possibly long hours and weekend work
  • disinterested management (I experienced that a lot in China)
  • lack of resources or support from school
  • abysmally low pay (in the U.S., at least; in other countries, including China, teaching English can be lucrative)

Add it all up, plus or minus other factors like culture shock, a faulty curriculum, an unrealistic schedule, difficult or confrontational students, etc, and suddenly you’re looking at grad school programs in anything other than teaching.

So if you tell me that teaching is an easy job, I will charge you a kuai and point out that you just insulted every language teacher. Good job.

But if you ask me how I stay motivated, I will show you this card:

samantha note

This is from a current student of mine who has encountered a lot of difficulty in her classes. She particularly likes to fight with me about English grammar.  I, along with other teachers, poured a lot of time into her studies.  It’s been hard for her, and sometimes she’s not the easiest student to work with, but she’s been making small strides!

I also think about former students who have enjoyed greater success because of their English skills–a student who got a promotion in a bank, another one who is now finishing up her MBA in the States (with mostly A’s), and of course Lipeng, who is pursuing his ambition of becoming a director (and recently got offered a job as Assistant Director! Whoo hoo! Go Lipeng!).

I’m not saying I’m responsible for their achievements. It just feels good to know that I did something to help them forge their own futures.

I’ve sat in on classes, though, with foreign teachers who make it very clear they have better things to do. It’s really embarrassing to watch a “teacher” scrap the lesson entirely just to rant about things they find annoying about China.  They even make fun of the students sometimes!  Or they just go on about their own petty problems.  Basically, anything unprofessional thing a teacher can do, I’ve seen–and it’s always been a foreign teacher in China. 

Why settle for being just another foreign face when you could be, well, an inspiration? Or at least a positive representation of your country? In China, people have such limited resources to learn about the world beyond their borders, so they look to foreign teachers for a something more intimate and informative than a Friends rerun.  

How to become a better teacher is perhaps not the sexiest of topics at the expat bars, but it’s worth talking about. At the very least, I hope all of you teachers out there, expat or not, career-driven or in it for the experience, will remember your worth, and that your job is as real as any other job. It is not a joke unless you think it is, and if that’s the case then that’s how your students will treat your class. And you.

 

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