The battle is to find an income source that isn’t location dependent, to allow me to continue my itinerant lifestyle whilst simultaneously earning enough to keep body and soul together. It’s not easy.
Something a lot of people do to help pay for travel is teach English. It’s quite easy to do; the tefl qualification takes four weeks and sometimes (in Asia mainly) you don’t even need that. This is particularly true if you want to teach children; seemingly many places in Asia will let anyone (correction: any white person) loose on a bunch of children.
I spent around four years on and off teaching English, before I realized that teaching wasn’t to be my vocation after all, and I wrote this piece around that time. This school was in China but it could equally apply to other places; anywhere where you are being paid to teach (volunteering is different because students are less privileged).
What to expect if you teach a Saturday class with 7-11 year olds, in a training school in China:
Fourteen or so jaded kids sit bored and worn down by too many extra-curriculum activities, done mainly to keep their parents happy. A high proportion of them (boys in particular) are plump; over-indulged in every way. Most wear the latest fashions and carry the latest model of phone. They have no manners: ‘I don’t like you’ is a typical comment. ‘You are ugly’, is another. ‘I am boring’ the fat boy told me less than five minutes into the lesson (he, of course, meant ‘bored’). ‘Yes you are’ I told him.
They are determined not to participate. There is no exam for the oral English class; the only requirement is that they turn up. In an environment where there are so many exams to pass and so much homework to do, that effectively removes any need on their part to participate in class at all. Some use it to catch up on the mountain of homework they have to get through. Some use it to chat to their friends or play games on their mobile phones and maybe two or three (if you’re lucky) will join in to any extent.
Once, completely exasperated by the total lack of respect, and the fact they didn’t even bother to hide their phones any more when I walked past them, I threw a boy’s phone out of the window (from the 5th floor; it shattered to pieces). His father complained, demanding that I pay for a replacement. ‘It is the teacher’s job to make the class interesting for my son’ he told me.
I don’t blame the kids themselves either. There are so many demands made of them. Time and time again they told me of coming home from school and doing homework until nine or ten at night. Then on weekends they have their extra English classes and their extra math classes, their piano class, and an assortment of other activities deemed necessary for them to become good little consumers in the future. Even the parents sometimes agree that it is too much, but they are afraid that if they don’t do it then their child will fall behind the others.
The schools themselves care only about the money. If they can wheel out a white (this is still important for most parents) person they can expect to quadruple the fees they charge. It also means that I, as a white native-speaker, can expect to earn around four times the salary of a Chinese English teacher (‘with half the qualifications’, as was said to me more than once), which causes no end of resentment.
But don’t even get me started on that….