Hope you don't mind if I put this in here. How to Get Ahead in English Teaching.
Professional identity is pretty important for all of us. We all like to feel that we are good at what we do and make a contribution to our team or organization which is valued and valuable. When this is taken away from people they will often lose focus, motivation and self-esteem.
China can throw you for a loop in a number of ways, for example:
Riley Mason, a graduate with a good academic background and experience working in education in the US, walks in to the English Department office and asks about the material for the speaking classes she’ll be teaching next semester. She is handed a slender textbook, with the instruction “Just teach them some English words and phrases.” Attempts to gain more specific details and information about this, or other, courses are met with polite deflection.
Ron Jeremy is a frustrated English teacher. The college where he works keeps on changing the schedule without notice and more than once he has turned up to empty classroom because of a sports day or some other event. The FAO doesn’t seem interested in helping him solve this and he is beginning to think about leaving.
Alison Angel is really hacked off about her job, which involves teaching large classes of bored CET students. She can’t keep attendance up and doesn’t know how to motivate the students. Recently, she decided to give up and has now stopped preparing for lessons.
Lexi Belle likes where she works and her job is okay, but after almost a year at the same university she still doesn’t know any of the other staff and has never taken part in any departmental business or lesson observations. Staff are nice to her, but she doesn’t feel that she is part of the community and really wants to be.
I am pretty sure you’ll all recognize these situations and you’ll be well aware of the frustration
which this might make you feel. After all why should it be so hard to do my job well!?
Settle petal, the only way you’re going to get out of this with your sanity intact is to work on these problems, develop coping strategies and build relationships. Let’s take a look at how we could respond to these scenarios in more detail:Scenario 1: Response
Ms. Mason doesn’t understand how a university could run without course and curriculum plans. She feels excluded from the department and believes that her work is devalued and irrelevant. She keeps on plugging away at the department for more information but gets nowhere and eventually gives up.What Ms. Mason could do is to recognize that the primary duty she has is towards her students. Although she is accustomed to a professional framework of planning, implementation and review she needs to remember that it is actually the teaching which defines whether or not she is worth squat. Rather than asking for the approval and attention of her boss, she needs to get on with the business of course and curriculum planning and seek feedback about it from her peers and the students themselves.
Depending on whether this university has previously experienced good or bad teachers, and what the general outlook of her boss is towards his own job, she may find that her efforts will result in further attention and involvement in the department. At the very least, she can expect her students to appreciate the efforts which she is making and at best, she could have the opportunity to draft a series of courses which will be used in years to come.
Pleasing students doesn’t give you a sense of long term professional direction, so Ms. Mason also needs to build up a portfolio of her curriculum planning work to ensure that future employers have a full grasp of how much work she has been doing.Scenario 2
Ron despairs and gives up on trying to plan full courses, his teaching becomes nothing more than a series of lesson-events – insulated from the danger of changing timetables, but less meaningful for students.Ron shouldn’t rely on the FAO – who is clearly not helpful – but should explore the university’s website – which will be full of announcements about holidays and events. He can help reduce the terrible burden of work which he is imposing on his superiors by requesting information in Chinese (they might no even have considered sending him this, even though it exists).
Finally, Ron needs to incorporate a few blank lesson slots into every syllabi so that his arrangements are more flexible from the outset.Scenario 3
Alison eventually decides that teaching English in China is a waste of time and she is only here to be a dancing white monkey. She comes to resent the fact that “China” has made her a worse teacher by putting her in an impossible situation defined by stupid racial stereotypes rather than by practical learning and teaching goals. There are some pretty good ways to manage large classes and maintain student interest but the first step begins with understanding student needs – after all, if you want to make a course useful for the student you need to know what possible use they have for English.
But beyond this, Alison’s case really is an example of poor due diligence – having accepted a job without adequately investigating teaching arrangements she has indeed landed herself in a situation in which very little useful teaching and learning can take place.Scenario 4
Lexi isn’t in crisis, but she feels that life would be much better if she could reach out to other more effectively. She’s a good teacher, but feels that she should really be working somewhere else. The university would love to keep her, but they aren’t aware that she is feeling frustrated.Lexi needs to offer her services on something – hiring new teachers for example – rather than waiting to be asked. She might feel that she has been excluded but the FAO where she works would likely be happy to get her involved in something other than teaching. Lexi needs to be aware that the system of staff organization in China doesn’t lend itself to flexibility, change and variety and that she may never have the same kind of relationships which she enjoyed whilst working in the US – but she can certainly cut out a place for herself in China.
From these examples we can draw a few general principals of how you can work effectively in the domestic tertiary sector in China (adapted from Spencer-Oatey and Franklin):Independent Values
– successful teachers in China often have a very strong sense of their own professional mission and values. They will be able to recognize and evaluate the value of their own work regardless of whether they receive the same kind of professional acclaim that they previously sought. Problem Solvers
– successful teachers will often find ways to work around problems and be willing to look for context appropriate opportunities which might lead to a solution (the Chinese language website of their university for example).Proactive
– a problem isn’t really a problem if it can be readily solved. Successful teachers in China plan for the unexpected and have context appropriate expectations based on experience and wide reading and research.Self Aware and Context Aware
– good teachers in China need to be aware of how their environment is affecting them and take positive steps to improve a flagging attitude or level of commitment. Good teachers will also be aware of their context and be seeking ways to understand and influence that context.
All of these points mush together in an ongoing process of negotiation which involves working out how to minimize, accept, adapt to, integrate
If you let China tell you who you are, then you are going to become a depressed dancing white monkey. If you are able to bring a set of professional values with you and then decide how to realize some of these in the context in which you work (and which of these you should realize) then you’ll be much happier about who you are and what you do.
Also Do the Due