Sunday, June 17, 2007

A castrato in the classroom

I've just come back from doing another one of those teacher training seminars I bitched about a couple of weeks back.

It should have been a little better this time. I was working only with the 'middle school' group. Around half of them have a functional level of listening & speaking in English, as opposed to about 3 out of 20 in the 'elementary school' class. I had at least a fighting chance that, as a group, they would be able to understand my instructions, and complete the activities as directed. I fought. I lost. I got my arse kicked.

One of my commenters chided me last time that my impatience with these teachers was a sign of "castration anxiety" No. My balls were severed long ago, by one or other of the Great Lost Loves. You can only be castrated once - not a source of anxiety for me any more. Heck, these days, even my penis and I are estranged. We exchange postcards occasionally, wish each other well at Christmas and on my birthday, but apart from that, we let each other go our separate ways.

But I digress. What I meant to say was that I am not generally uptight as a teacher. I am not a control-freak in the classroom, or in my life. I am not an insecure person.

I don't get pissed off at laziness (and we're talking about actually putting your head down on the table and having a nap here), inattentiveness, and lack of common sense in my students because these things are a challenge to my authority. I get pissed off at them because they are wrong. And because they are so easily fixed, yet not fixed. And because they are so particularly endemic in China. And because these are teachers, dammit - these people are the source of the problem (or the perpetuators of it); if they can't give a better example to the next generation, things are never going to improve in this country.

When you put a bunch of local schoolteachers together in a group, you see the whole country in microcosm - the worst of it, all that's confused and backward and never likely to change. And it's depressing as hell.


Anonymous said...

I'm still developing my opinion about you expressing your opinion on China's endemic failure to fix the obvious problems. I mean, you're talking about the behavior of individual people. Each of those people may just not care about teaching, eh?

Maybe they are just teachers to fill their tummies. Not an ideal thought, but I imagine loads of people take jobs for which they have little passion or to which they have no sense of duty or desire to "change the world".

They take the job because it's the door that is open at the moment they needed to walk through one. (It would be interesting to survey your students to see what they felt about your 3 Door Therapy.)

So, I guess my point is, they may not be fixing the obvious and easily fixable problem because, to them, it's not a problem. It's just a job. Attendance mandatory. Thinking, sense of ownership, and duty optional. And if that's the way they feel, maybe they're not concerned about the country being "confused and backward" or unlikely to change. In fact, they may not even think the country is any of those things. Or maybe they don't associate negative connotations with those qualities!!

Froog said...

You're not doing anything to cheer me up here, Tulsa.

I was reflecting the other day that in the UK (I assume it is similar in the US), we are rather spoiled in our second language teaching in high school, because all the teachers have a full university degree in the language (often in more than one language, and including a high-level study of literature in a foreign language; usually some linguistics as well), and generally a teaching qualification also. If they're not actually native speakers of that language (and they quite often are), they will certainly have spent one full year of work and/or study in that country during their University course, and probably far more on extended holidays and so on before or since, and will thus have attained a near native-speaker level of fluency.

In China, most teachers come through specialised teacher training colleges rather than universities, so don't even have a full degree. Most of them have never been exposed to a native speaker teacher, and almost none of them have ever been abroad. They learnt their 'English' from teachers who were probably even worse than they are, and from books that were written in China by Chinese "scholars", without any input from native speakers. That's why 'Chinglish' is so deeply ingrained, so impossible to root out. That's why teaching methodology is so crappy, and why bad attitudes - from the teachers and the students - abound.

And this is the education system that people are lucky to have access to. There's still little or no schooling for the majority of the rural peasantry.

And it doesn't get much better at the top end. The 'key' schools and leading universities are fairly bad. Most of the rest of them are just abysmal.

Anonymous said...

sorry dude, sometimes the answers are just not/will never be ones we want to hear/ones that will cheer us up.

I don't know what qualifications a language teacher for a high school, college, or university will need in the USA, but I do think regardless of our teachers' qualifications, most Americans are oblivious to the idea that they should make any serious effort to learn a second language. Those who are required by state law to have it (such as Texas, which requires a language credit for college graduation) usually figure out just how to take the tests to pass the class without actually learning any language skills.

of course, I'm talking about every day people. You're commenting specific to Teachers... one would hope teachers would have the passion to teach and the passion to learn, but we all know that is just wishful thinking, all the world around. There are some who have it and some who definitely don't!