Carolina (not her real name) is an Italian English teacher in Beijing whose school tells her students she’s a native speaker from Ireland. Photo from Chinasmack
Chinasmack has an extremely enlightening and well-written article by Monica Tan on the state of English teaching in China which every parent will want to take a look at.
Nothing is terribly new in the article — we all know there’s plenty of unqualified teachers floating around — but the story really hits the nail on the head with some scary examples.
Michael, an Austrian teacher masquerading as a native English speaker tutoring a Beijing 14-year-old, talks of how he is “hungover every time” he teaches: “Sometimes I’ll go straight from partying to teaching, and because I stink I spray on loads of cologne.”
Even more unnerving is an account of his job teaching a group of 4-year-olds:
Not only was Michael hired without experience, he has been teaching with no guidance or training. In his classroom he sits encircled by three tiny desks, and three tiny chairs, for his three tiny students: Danny, Rabbit and Wei Wei. They are just 4 years old. “Man, Danny is such a f***er,” sighs Michael. “He never listens to me and often gets really angry. Sometimes if there are no teachers or parents around, I’ll say to him ‘you’re such a bastard’ in English very fast, so he can’t really understand. Or, ‘hey read this you fatass’. I’ve only ever really told him off once. And never again, because he started to cry.” I asked him if it looked bad in front of the other parents to have one of your students cry. But [he]shakes his head, “Mama Rabbit is always there, but she knows how much Danny’s a bastard.
In essence, there is such an incredible demand for English teaching — the article cites a China Daily report indicating one-third of the entire population of China is studying English — that schools hire unqualified teachers just to keep up with the demand.
Generally the teachers are vilified in this situation, but the schools and even parents are complicit in this charade. Schools regularly fake their teachers’ credentials, and parents are often look for nothing more than a Caucasian face. Carolina, an Italian whose school tells parents that she’s an English native speaker from Ireland, is quoted in the article as saying, “I used to find it weird that the parents are always telling me how I’m beautiful. Then I realized these lessons are just about giving them status. In China, if your kids go to school and they have a foreign teacher — a beautiful Irish teacher — everybody in the neighborhood knows and you gain face. So it doesn’t really matter what happens in class.”
Truth be told, this situation is the same for Mandarin language teaching in the capital. The number of unqualified teachers vastly outnumbers the qualified, so this is not just something Chinese parents need to think about.
One American teaching in southern China offers some valuable advice for parents shopping for a qualified teacher, much of which is applicable to parents searching for schools or teachers of any language. “I would get someone who already speaks very good English to go to the demo class with you, and if you have any questions about the teacher, ask the teacher themselves, not the school. Also, if you don’t believe someone’s qualification, ask for proof. If they say that they have a certificate, ask to see a copy.”
Some other tips for seeking a language teacher for your child:
1. Don’t rely strictly on brand names. Ask for — and check — references on specific teachers from other students and parents of students in the class. Your child’s experience is heavily dependent not just on the school you choose, but the teacher you end up with. You’ll find many schools have an uneven mix of qualified and unqualified teachers.
2. Ignore skin color. Native speakers come in all colors and nationalities. An Asian from the Philippines or Singapore can be as capable an English teacher — or even more capable — than a Caucasian from the US or the UK. In fact, Caucasian teachers are more likely to be getting by on the color of their skin alone, whereas a non-Caucasian will not be given the benefit of the doubt — they will have to perform.
3. Look for stability. Generally the longer someone has taught in the same place, the higher quality the candidate. And having a teacher leave during a course of study can be disruptive.
4. Non-native speakers can be good teachers too. Having someone who’s been through what your child is going through can actually be an advantage, as they understand more intuitively the difficulties a non-native speaker will face.
5. Look for a training program. Find out if the school offers training for their teachers, and verify this information with the teacher him/herself.