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Culture Shock (2)

The school where I teach is a full-time privately owned and managed boarding school and except for a minority of students the school provides all meals and accommodation. It has a large campus and conducts classes for Primary school (grades 1-6) Junior (grades 7-10) and senior (grades 11-12). There is a nursery on campus and it caters for kindergarten age children (2-4 years old). Each grade is further divided into Class 1 and Class 2.

The average class size is 25-30. I can only use chalk on the blackboard and there are no whiteboards or computer facilities as teaching aids in the classroom. Each classroom has a TV, VCD (video disk player) and radio/cassette player. Therefore, PowerPoint cannot be used in class but there are OHP’s and a pull down screen in some classrooms. Running maintenance on OHP’s is poor and I have yet to see anyone using overhead slides as a teaching aid. I asked a fellow teacher why she does not use OHP’s and she said, "They are never working". I have been experimenting with taking pictures with my digital camera and then using them for visual aids in class during oral English. My camera has a video out port to connect to a TV switched to AV mode.

Still of the subject of maintenance, the school buildings and grounds have been allowed to run down and the library is virtually non-existent. At this point I am tempted to make comparisons with schools in Australia but I will avoid doing this as I want the reader to from his/her own image of the school.

My working roster consists of 10 days followed by a break of four consecutive days. My average contact time with students is restricted by law to a maximum of 16 hours per week but the school has me on a 14 hour per week contract. What this means is that I get only one period per week for each class. There are five Chinese English teacher on staff who have the children for their textbook English but the students distinctly favour talking in Chinese and become "lazy" to learn oral English. I cannot comment on the examinations except I am not privy to critiquing the exam papers nor am I ask to contribute. I am also not required to be in the classrooms around exam times. Something is a miss because every student passes the exam and their report card scores are above average for the local district and other Government schools. Also, the school’s recruiting advertising highlights this above average score in local newspapers and self-published literature. I will reserve my decision at this point.

All I can do is my best under the circumstances and in some cases I am breaking new ground and have the students keen to converse in English. Sadly, in the long run it is a lost cause. They go away for a four day break or a holiday and I am back to square one.

For reasons I am yet to investigate, the Chinese education system has placed restrictions on the number of hours foreign ESL teachers can work. It would appear that the Chinese Government gives priority to teaching their children ‘the China way’ by means of their peculiar style of teaching. I have witnessed a mode of teaching that is very much rote learning with the teacher having disciplinary rights to punch, slap, twist and kick students. I have seen children crying and withdrawn after being punished by their teacher for behaviour that would be tolerated and disciplined in a different way in Western schools. As part of my culture-shock I am angry and frustrated because I am helpless to intervene as I must avoid embarrassing the teacher so they do not ‘lose face’ in front of the student or other teachers. However, when I am left alone with the students I single out the ones who appear to be "hurting" or have low self-esteem, and through my words of praise and encouragement I can make a difference and return a smile to their faces. Another frustration is that I am legally answerable to a contract that carries heavy financial penalties if I leave.
Author: Paul A Hodge