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Why Foreign Teachers MUST Have Patience And Be Tough

Viewed 2725 times 2017-7-7 14:53 |System category:Life

I've survived in China for the past 6 odd years. I was required to sit out 6 months last year due to a law that isn't enforced in most provinces of China. A law that says that foreigners who have worked here for 5 consecutive years, must leave for 6 months. It is rarely enforced, however, here in Henan, it is. Not a big deal. Just had a nice vacation traveling and relaxing in the USA.

There are many requirements of character that a foreign teacher here must possess if they are going to have longevity in China. One of the most important character traits you must have as a Westerner in China is patience.

Patience is required due to the number of cultural differences that a foreign teacher will face. Here's a list of some of those differences.

1. Schedules in schools are often not created until just days before something is to begin. In the West, we are used to schedules that are created a year or more in advanced. That's not the norm in China. Don't expect it.

2. Schedules can change with little to no notice given. Most of your Chinese colleagues won't tell you about changes because, they fear that if they tell you, it might change again. They don't like the conflict that ensues. Just do your best to stay informed. Ask as many times as you feel you need to (plus, 5 more times. HA!)

3. Secondary school students do not have a good foundation of English. They've been in classrooms and training centers where they are only taught how to pass English exams. They know little more about English and nearly nothing about speaking it.

4. Students are taught that English is controlled by grammar. Of course, every Westerner knows that this is a very wrong assumption. But, students here have been told that it is. Thus, they study grammar and vocabulary almost exclusively. They know little about idioms, collocations, inflection, intonation, stress, sound linking, etc. I handle this by asking them about Chinese grammar. There is a grammar structure to Chinese, but, they don't teach it in schools. It is picked up through oral and written practice and learning.

5. Students will challenge you directly if they think you made a grammar error. There is so much to learn in dealing with this kind of situation. First, you must realize that they can be very abrupt and presumptive in their approach. They may even tell you directly that you've made an error. All they know is what their teachers have told them in school. And, their teachers have god-like persona and are not to be questioned. So, they believe that they are right. Thus, they might challenge you even when it means that they could lose face. Show mercy and be patient. Be mature enough to accept even their misguided critique without getting offended. One Chinese English teacher told me one day, "You foreigners very can't teach grammar." 

6. Expect to get direct criticism from colleagues. Chinese schools practice a thing called 'public classes'. These classes can take on many forms. Usually, a public class will be for the purpose of recruiting students. However, they can also be used to allow other teachers to come in and 'assess' your class. They are actually putting you on trial. Again, like students who challenge you, they will be direct and bold in their criticism even when they are blatantly wrong. In their way of thinking, criticism, even when it's harsh, is good for you. I'm certainly not saying that they are right about this. I'm just telling you how it is. 

Once, I was teaching an SAT English class. I was using the textbook published by the College Board. I was teaching from the section on idioms. Some students asked me to teach them more idioms beyond the book. These students had planned to go to college in the USA. I obliged them. I did it on the day that I was going to do my public class. I don't do any special planning on such days. (Chinese teachers will often prep heavily for such classes. I refuse to do that. I focus on the students and my class and don't worry about who is there to critique me.) Several teachers criticized me for what I did. Some of them emphatically stated (in writing, no less) that idioms were not a part of SAT English training (or course, it is right there in the College Board's book). They obviously knew little about SAT English. Others apparently didn't appreciate my flexibility. 

I had the opportunity to face them and rebut their criticism, but, I didn't. I let it go. If I'd given my rebuttal to their criticism, I would have crushed them. Later, I did give them all some materials on the importance of idioms in taking the SAT. I let that serve as my rebuttal. It was far more effective and none of them had to lose face.

7.  There are aspects of day to day living that require patience as well. 
  • Water cut off without warning (even when you are current on your payments and have a positive balance on your account). 
  • Electricity cut off for a day or longer even in the heat of summer. 
  • Trash piled up in places where you frequently walk. The smell can be a bit overwhelming sometimes. 
  • Expect to pay more than Chinese people in some places (yes, because you are a 'rich' foreigner in their eyes). Go to established supermarkets where prices are rang up by a cashier with a scanner. You'll be treated fairly there.
  • Don't expect people to honor lines/que while 'waiting their turn'. People are likely to cut or butt in in front of you. If someone comes up and pushes you, push back. They aren't really horrible, mean people. They just don't know any better. When you push back, especially in light of the fact that you're a foreigner, they'll submit and do the right thing. Most were not raised with such courtesies and manners that are taught in the West.
  • Stay out of traffic as much as you can. I dare to own a bicycle and an e-bike. People will cut you off without thinking. One of the great things about Chinese is people is that they rarely get angry while driving. It just seems to be something that is not in their nature.
  • When getting your visa or getting your visa renewed, don't expect everything to make sense. It won't make sense to you. On the other hand, do whatever they tell you. You won't get out of meeting their requirements. Just do it and let it go.
Patience is required if you are going to be a foreign teacher in China. If you don't have patience or you can't be flexible and adjust to the culture here, don't come here. You won't be happy. Most Chinese are kind, honest people. Some are not. However, most of them aren't so hard to get along with if you know more about them and their culture. 

Last but not least, realize that whatever you have to suffer or endure while living here, the Chinese people have to suffer more. It is their life. They don't even know that they are suffering because they are so conditioned to it. 

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Michael is the author of the transformational book, Powerful Attitudes. He is a professional educator, an educational consultant, an author. He lives in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. He enjoys playing guitar and writing poetry. He loves China.


Recent comments

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