What to expect if you teach in a private university in China

Guangzhou, south China

Guangzhou, south China

So your son or daughter has failed the college entrance exam.  You despair.  What will become of them now?  It’s okay.  As long as you have enough money you can send them to a private college to get their degree.  There’s no entrance level requirement, just a test that they take away and complete in their own time (maybe you have a friend or relative who can help them) and then the only requirement on them is that they turn up for most of their classes for the next two years.  Then they will have their college degree.  They can become an English major without ever having spoken a word of English.  Brilliant.

Around sixty percent of the students didn’t want to be there and they had no interest in learning English whatsoever.  It was these students that the vice-principal referred to when he told us ‘this place is used by parents to keep their kids out of prison’.  You can imagine what a joy they were to teach.

Student concert

Student concert

The other forty percent had failed to get into university for a variety of reasons and wanted to try to make the best of things and make their parents happy.  Some enjoyed studying English but most did not.

Our salary was a complicated mixture of bonuses.  A part of it was a reward for not receiving any complaints.  The students knew this and would make complaints in order to ‘punish’ us for not allowing them to use their phone in class or simply because they found the class too boring, too hard, too early in the morning or whatever reason they felt like.

There was also an end-of-semester bonus, which was based on how highly the students assessed our teaching ability.  Yes, they decided that these students were able to accurately assess whether or not you were a good teacher.  What would make a good teacher in their eyes?  Playing movies all day? I had a group of boys who spoke very highly of a previous teacher who had shown the ‘American Pie’ movies to the class.  Allowing them to sleep/play with their phones/finish class early would probably all prove popular too.   One girl said to me ‘we were very generous when we assessed you so I hope you will be generous when you assess our English’.

These are some of the (minority) keener students.  You can tell because this event was voluntary.

These are some of the (minority) keener students. You can tell because this event was voluntary.

The foreign teachers were viewed mostly as their entertainment.  I spent much of my time dutifully posing for photos.  Requests for me to sing for them (or dance) were very popular too.  Popular questions were things like ‘how many boyfriends have you had?’ and ‘when did you last have sex?’, followed by a room full of giggles. Little real learning went on.

"dutifully posing for photos'

“dutifully posing for photos’

And what became of these students?  The ones who made the distance and finished the two years would now be out in the workforce as English majors.  And the ones that didn’t finish, well they maybe ended up in prison, as the vice-principal had suggested.

As for me, I decided pretty quickly that teaching was not to be my vocation in life.

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