A special (guest) report from the front lines of teaching English in China
By Chris “Foreign Monkey” Bewley
In the past year, I’ve had only a handful of students ever raise their hand and ask ME a question about the English language. That’s 1,200 students/week x 30 weeks, which equals 36,000 (thirty-six thousand) chances for a student to raise a question, but only five ever have. On the rare occasion that my students do ask me questions, it’s usually regarding the price of my clothes or how much I get paid.
Criticism about my lessons that I have received from students, parents and Chinese teachers alike includes “it’s too difficult”, “it’s not fun enough”, “there’s not enough participation/activity,” but never have I ever heard that my classes are too easy, which in my opinion they most certainly are.
By now, I have figured out that English lessons in (urban) China are just a show; a clown show; a monkey show – starring myself as the foreign monkey.
For parents’ week last month, whilst dozens of “concerned” parents and school administrators observed my classes for 5 days in a row, rather than actually teach their children, I just played a bunch of silly games and sang some songs with them, and, guess what? That made all the parents really, really happy!
Continued on May 27, 2011 in Spoiled and Confused Part 3 or return to Part 1
Chris Bewley has taught English as a foreign language for the past 10 years all over the world, including Japan, Korea, Mexico and Brazil.
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The more I read about your teaching experiences in China, the more it sounds like my thirty years of teaching in California’s public schools—mostly at a high school but I did teach fifth grade and at a middle school for a few years too.
You wrote, “In the past year, I’ve had only a handful of students ever raise their hand and ask ME a question about the English language.”
I taught English, journalism and reading and had the same experiences. Few students ever raised hands or asked questions about the work and the failure rate often was between 30 to 50%. Most of the time when someone did ask a question it was about my private life or another topic in an attempt to distract me from the job of teaching, which was the lesson.
Instead of dealing with the cause of the failure at home, the common complaint from the parents of those failing students was “it’s too difficult”, “it’s not fun enough”. Then many studies show us that the average child in the US spends about 10 hours a day dividing his or her time up between watching TV, playing video games, social networking on sites such as Facebook, sending an average of 50 text messages a day, etc.
The same studies show that the same average American child reads less than 30 minutes a day but does not tell us what he or she reads, which is probably instant message from friends that has nothing to do with education and school other than complaints about boring teachers that don’t play the part of the monkey in a circus act.