(...in May of 2008)Raoul wrote: "Which layer you manage to teach in will make a HUGE difference in your teaching experience..."(... just a few days later) Raoul wrote this: "Look, I'm happy for those of you who can relate good experiences teaching in Chinese universities, I truly am. You are really lucky to have such wonderful students and such positive teaching experiences. I envy you. But I have to tell you...I can count you guys on my fingers..."
... so ... can I be counted on one of your pinky fingers? Better, have ye run out of fingers and moved on to toes yet...?
I'm going to cannonball in right about here, I guess. I am probably the queen of tl;dr, so feel free (and I reckon you do) to scroll on by if life is too precious to waste on my keyboard enabled mental excretions - I quite agree, but can't, myself, escape them.
I can relate a good and increasingly better experience working at an unnamed high school in Chongqing, and this is year two. I got here with guanxi which is awesome because not a blessed thing has ever stuck to my fingers back there in Kanuckistan except daring to speak up in le spirit of Joe Hill with fellow UN-unionized *contract teachers *(cheap,disposable meat bags of mostly water)
about how fucked we all are and more fucked with every moment that tics by ... one of those dear comrades looking to use me as a thing to climb on whispered it all in the ear of a unionized and well connected BITCH of a coordinator who has pretty much seen to it that I will never work in that town again. Fuck that and them, good and proper.
"Yea, one door may verily smack you in the arse on yer way out, and another door shall open unto you ..." or summat like that.
A bit of prologue here - in 2009, after 10 months of teaching (post TESL grad.) ((contract meat is laid off after the 10 month marker otherwise they would have to treat you like a human being with basic rights afforded plenty of other workers under the labour code in Kanuckistan...)), I hitched along on a team of 12 heading for CQ to help deliver an ESL summer camp to kids from junior 1 to senior 1 ... 3 weeks. We worked for free + a small per diem, nice hotel, free dinners and flights. This program was put together in partnership between the key school and a very cool dude I call my brother who graduated from this school back in le late 70's, now way up the food chain in the International Dept. at that college in Toronto ... he did this thing along with my most beloved TESL prof. and head of the TESL program whose job it was to select from newly fledged TESL applicants who were game-on to check out China and/or exercise their wet wings in le wild Chinese middle school jungle environs - she leading the team.
I had an awesome time in the classroom and really connected with students. I was demanding as hell, dancing all the while and determined to do the real teaching I'd been well taught how to do. I caused myself yet more shit the second year I went along when a disturbing quantity of that crop of new teachers who were trusted to put their most excellent training to good use were more keen on being the star of their own kid's show on cable and thought that 5 word searches and a few rounds of hang man would cut some kind of moutarde for a six hour day in the classroom. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,
Both years I had thrown myself body and soul into the six week prep period we had in To. - creating a data base and a huge quantity of materials for listening and speaking using (gassssssssssp) music, Can-Con, YO
: (Bedouin Soundclash, K'naan, Stompin' Tom Connors etcetera) ... those crazy heritage minute thingies Kanuckistanis will remember seeing broadcast by the mothership in the 90's ... AND those Hinterland Who's Who spots going as far back as the 70's! (fun fact - they're or recently were
still making those dang things and I built one great lesson around the 70's polar bear clip versus the 2000 polar bear clip spicing it up a bit with the story about the kids in Churchill, Man. who wait in polar bear proof cages for le school bus o_O ... kids LOVE that story.)
I learned and a lot of kids learned something at least... I was hooked. I had already started studying mandarin back in Toronto. I had already made and was maintaining amazing familial relationships here in the CQ - ganma - et. al.! I didn't know how it was going to come about, but I felt sure that the pull was getting stronger, and I'd find myself back in this dirty old town that stole my heart and filled it up in places I thought were stone dead.
The gege at the Int. Dept. mentioned previously - and I - were drinking one warm June evening in Oakville, 2011. "Call 'mutual friend' (our English head here) and ask about a job.", says he in response to my grim prospects having made one too many enemies by refusing to wedge my tongue up inside various and sundry rectal cavities. "It won't be much of a peach on short notice (meaning shit pay), but it'll get you in the door with a proper permit to see what's what..."
Happy to add on a position for me alongside the usual British Council crew of six, 'mutual friend' said, "Come on over!" The teaching was pretty amazing in its own weird way (living conditions on campus were on par with taking up residence in a poorly built public toilet - but we're off campus now, so
The head teacher of junior 2 met us (myself and 2 of the BC crew) early on and said, "So... do what you want, I guess." Having none of that, I said, "Mmmm. No. You will please give us the text you're using which I presume is New Concept
, which can at least
one or two grammar structures/items every three days or so that will no doubt constitute the focus of your efforts aside from the mindless recitation you call speaking practice." (<--paraphrasing there...)... "We'll plan speaking opportunities that revolve around those things and walk about a week behind you, re: your pace through le horrid excuse for a text, reinforcing as much as we can with jolly, communicative determination."
I planned the whole year and I gather the British Council gals who slogged through it with me, each of us with about 500 students each, were happy I did. They were (and are) terrific people who really gave it all they had - they played with and adapted what I coughed up just as I hoped they would. I got so much insight from rehashing how things went with theirs and with mine. I walked away from it with a hugely more detailed understanding of how to give kids, anyone really, optimum speaking practice grounded in something real - in meaningful tandem with the dry grammar crackers they were relentlessly fed day after day. The things I planned with ZERO interference from anyone -(the head teacher tried once, sidling up to my colleagues in the cafeteria and asking them if they'd ask me to not 'do grammar & speaking' - just teach 'culture' from now on - whatever le fuck that
means in a classroom full of 13/14 year olds who are just getting a grip on basic instructions for a 5 minute group speaking task
- to which they replied, smiling sweetly, "Why don't YOU ask her that?" He looked shaken by the mere thought I'm told, and that was the end of it.)- and what I planned worked about as well as anyone might have hoped given all of the undermining forces we were up against. Like, mmmm, Chinese English teachers telling their kids year after year that speaking English is not important because it's not on the zhong/gao cao...
aaaaaaaaaaand welcome to the Foreign Languages School full of Chinese educators with an international perspective.
497 kids passed through my life last year. I loved them up for trying. I taught them that, "I don't know." or "I don't understand." or "Can you explain that again?" beats the hell out of sitting like a bunch of long-eyed potatoes, blinking at me in expressionless silence. I would not take trembling and/or silence for an answer. The vast majority responded and these days I'm getting a lot of high fives and small talk from junior 3 kids on my way to the office I actually have this year - teaching AP senior 1.
The AP program here (don't know how it works elsewhere) was just launched last year in partnership with a private outfit from *somewhere in China*
who shall remain nameless for now in spite of the fact that my slightly adjusted spelling of their company moniker is both obvious and warranted and only required the excising of a superfluous 'n' which I replaced with a 'cked'. Ahem. In all the ways that are often decried in detail here, righteously so, they suck. There is one way in which they don't suck though, and it's the linchpin. If you have even half a clue in contrast to their infinite negative number of clues - and you point this out to them firmly and unflinchingly - they will concede your point and get out of the way to let you do your thing.
I was handed the most ridiculous 'text' books - BAR NONE. While arguably reasonably useful to a class of high beginner ESL immigrant students in a Canadian classroom in need of survival English, they were utterly jeezling USELESS - like udders on a radish USELESS - for a classroom of senior 1 AP students whose zhong cao scores and parents' fiscal liquidity got them upgraded rather abruptly from 4 years of Chinese English teacher who mostly speaks Chinese *about* English in English class - to 6 foreign teachers rabbiting on about everything from physics to composition skills and principles - not to mention trying desperately to get them to *think* about shit. These books, I was told by email after asking about 4 times over the summer for the curriculum that aforementioned company gets 60% of the tuition take for providing, constitute a 'mature curriculum'. Having meditated on what this three year program might include in terms of ESL in particular - EAP never crossed anyone's tiny Hello Kitty shaped mind. Academic speaking and listening skills were not on their radar or in their reality tunnel. Right. I immediately put them on ignore and went about building something from nothing.
Now, I love me some drunken KTV with my local friends/family, but I won't go if I can't enjoy it properly and I can't enjoy anything properly if I feel like a fucking fraud. Not sure how the 'company' works this shit out when they lie in bed at night, but neither will many fucks be given by me on that score. I care about the job I'm
doing and I care immensely about those lovely young people in whom sparks of hope for a better future leap about hungry for tinder. The company pays pretty damn well - even this lowly ESL cog squeezed more out of them then they thought they'd get away with on account of me being merely a 'language' teacher. They'll cough up money like a long haired cat coughs up fur balls after a tongue bath next year - or they won't get the curriculum and materials I am currently building out of the nothingness. They will cough because they want it. They want it so bad they rewrote my contract post negotiation to include curriculum research and development - all subtle like - thinking the fucking foreign certifiable ESL meat can't read English or
Chinese, I guess. They forgot to use the verb 'submit', so they aren't getting shit without paying for it.
My REAL boss - coordinator - friend - is on our side. Oh how I love this beautiful human being.
I should have mentioned - we are unique in the spectrum of le company's partnerships now dotting the nation like the tears of unfed puppies - my boss demanded that an academic standard be met to enter the program. Granted the standard is their zhong cao scores, but its something. The terrible hurdle is of course the tuition. Too many of my very talented motivated junior 2's now 3's already know that they won't be in my classroom next year because Mommy and Daddy don't have that kind of money. That makes me die a little inside, but I am doing what I can and for some reason I can't figure or no reason at all I am actually and at long last in a position to do shit that's real. REAL SHIT. I am grateful. I don't deserve it any more than other like minded/hearted teach units do, and yet here I am. I wish, I wish... and if wishes were fishes they'd just be endangered, I guess.
All this personal anecdoting is to say what, exactly? Well I don't know, because I just have no empirical way of extrapolating beyond my limited and fish-luck
experience such that I could make hopeful noises about this sitiation here being other than flukish. My boss can't be the only one, says I to meself. My students can't be the only ones either... surely not. Things do change however incrementally slow - like the proverbial paint drying... what shape that change takes depends on such a host of variables that vary so infinitely from one manifestation of change to the next - really - W(ho)TF knows? Educated guesses *can be* edifying, but I can't make one at this time.
I really must get to work now. I have a listening lesson and a grammar lesson to plan for later in the week and some very groovy ready-to-think or at least ready to give it an honest whirl young thinkers to meet up with later on tonight.
For those of you who actually read this absurdly long, dubiously worthwhile thing I did, I sincerely hope you don't feel robbed of your life force now that it's finally come to an end - if not a decent conclusion.
Over and out.