On Teaching

This will be my rant on my particular experience with teaching in China. It had to happen eventually and I guess that I should be glad that there’s no chance my employer will read this blog, as some employees have faced problems for saying less than I’m about to say.

There’s a problem with the way English is usually taught in China. It is taught via book learning. This fundamentally wrong because a language, by definition, is spoken. The effect is a couple generations of Chinese who can read pretty well and who often have a surprisingly broad vocabulary, but who simply cannot speak English. If you can’t speak a language (hint: “lang” latin derived for “tongue”), then you really can’t do much with it, can you?

My company’s mission is to teach oral English to young Chinese students, to get them actually speaking the language, not just learn about the language as if it was a dead one. Seeing as I’ve learned Chinese the Chinese way (mostly reading and writing, very little speaking) and didn’t appreciate it much, and based on the linguistic theory that I’ve studied concerning language acquisition, I fully believe in my company’s mission. Unfortunately, the company itself doesn’t.

The amount of support we get in this job is maddening. The higher-ups, if you will, are so flagrantly incompetent it’s almost criminal. They give us lame, often inappropriate material to teach the kids and it’s all on us to take gators and try to make gatorade. Here’s an example inappropriate grade 1 material:

A: What would you like to eat, Susan? B: I don’t know. What’s good today? A:Why not try the beef potpie? That’s the specialty today.

OK, first of all, sentence structures such as “What would you like to” are a grand stretch when many at that level struggle to say “I like to eat apple,” which isn’t even correct but we have to take what we can get. Next, “What’s good today?” is so abstract that it would take me a while to explain it to them in Chinese. And, the real kicker, who the hell decided “beef potpie” was good first grade material, even for native English speakers? I remembering thinking “potpie” had something to do with Popeye the sailor man until I was at least in 4th grade. As for “specialty,” I can quite easily translate that into Chinese, but I’m not even supposed to be speaking Chinese in class anyway.

Next, the outright lame:

Let’s Sing!

Gulu-Gulu-Gulu, I’m hungry Gulu-Gulu-Gulu, I’m hungry 1, 2, 3, three apples, please. Gulu-Gulu-Gulu, I’m hungry Gulu-Gulu-Gulu, I’m hungry Three apples, please. Three apples, please.

This is what is actually printed in the students’ books, the text surrounded by dancing demon apples with sinister grins accompanied by random fruit images that clearly show copyright watermarks. There is no rhythm to this. The company doesn’t even provide us with a tune. The moment I run through possible tunes to something like the above worthlessness is when I’m glad this country has strict gun laws.

So, I end up not using it. I haven’t used any of the above. I honestly haven’t used but 10% of the material in some books (I nearly completely skipped a whole second grade unit on April Fools day as I could only come up with about 20 minutes of worthy classroom time from it). This would be fine if that meant I could just not teach during the time where my company failed to provide appropriate content. No, instead I have to come up with my own crap to fill the time until it’s time to move onto the next, and hopefully better, unit.

All that creative effort is draining. It turns a fairly simple task into a daily nightmare. But, I don’t even have it that bad. Some teachers have more than two schools that they have to commute to, more than just 2 grade levels and more than just 35 minute classes.

Anyway, enough negativity. Here’s some vids from Chinese New Year, which out-firecrackered the Western New Year here significantly. Imagine firecrackers/fireworks going off every minute all through the night. Good thing I’m a light sleeper.

6 thoughts on “On Teaching

  1. Sounds like you should do some curriculum development on your own and either pitch the results to your company or start your own business.

    Bear: I thought it was common knowledge that “gulu gulu” is the Chinese version of “nanu nanu”: Nonsensical onomonapoetic sounds meant to represent the greetings and good will of those wacky foreign devils. That’s where the producers of Mork and Mindy got the idea.

  2. Way too difficult and not worth it.

    I tried to keep the post as concise as I could, but there are tons of details that play into the big picture. The company I work for, with all its terribleness, has a great deal of 关系 (connections). That is more important at times than being competent. It’s also incredibly wealthy. I teach about 300 students during the week,; the funds from 14 of them are enough to pay my salary, which is rather big considering the position, but you get what I’m scratching at.

    If I knew then (when I came here) what I know now, I would have gotten some part-time job that would have taken care of my VISA issues and then 1-on-1 tutored on the side. That would have been the most efficient way to have enough free time and energy to learn Chinese on the side, but it’s way too late for that.

  3. School: That makes sense why you wouldn’t start one. It is a shame it is so poorly run.

    Fireworks: I just watched those firework videos. WTF?!?!?!? Could you imagine ppl doing that in NYC? That is crazy.

  4. In weird twist of chance, I just today found out about this whole gulu mess. 咕噜 (gulu, both high tone) is Chinese onomatopoeia for a bubbling or grumbling sound, like the grumble of a stomach when hungry.

    While this answers the question “WTF is gulu?” it still doesn’t excuse both the writer of the “song,” who suggests this has some sort of English teaching merit, and my company for expecting us to use it, as anything but near-criminally incompetent.

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