I really don't deserve the reputation I have here in Baiyin.
It's not that it's a bad thing to have everyone thing I am the best
foreign teacher to ever drive up through the desert and arrive on
their doorstep. On the contrary it's really very flattering and it
would be even nicer if it were actually true. I'm OK. Pretty good
even. But I am by no stretch of the imagination one of those teachers
from American movies who turn round the class of under-achieving
malcontents and get them to win a national music/ science/ spelling/
dancing/ debating/ whatever competition.
I'd love to be, but I'm not. I don't have to be. For the most part
Chinese students aren't under-achieving malcontents. For the most part
they are polite, hard-working and studious. I've only once confiscated
a knife - a small craft knife from a student who was using it to cut
out stars from coloured cardboard to stick to the front of his English
But I have this reputation. The kids think I am some kind of rock
superstar (I'd like to think Jim Morrison, but I doubt that any of
them have ever heard of him.). The teachers think I am a one-man OED
usage panel. Students chase me across the park to get my opinion on
language questions. My administrator thinks that I am one of the only
two good teachers that have been assigned to the city.
The better one.
And the truth is that it does have its downside. I take on the
occasional bit of tutoring to increase my salary - not that it needs
much in the way of increasing, I'm quite comfortable, thank you. I
tutor a doctor one night a week in preparation for his forthcoming
trip to Europe. I tutor three girls on Sunday afternoon to help them
get through their exams. I had a group who came for conversation
practice for a couple of months. Every hour is another tenner in a
city where I can live for a week on twenty quid.
Next year however there is rather more on offer. Erika, the other
teacher that the administrator likes, has been tutoring a seven year
old girl five nights a week but Erika is leaving. The girl's parents
have asked me to take over. The doctor still wants his lesson. The
Sunday students still want theirs and today I was asked to take on
another one night a week student for additional English practice. That
would be 800 Yuan right there - 600 more than I actually need , and
that's before I get my salary.
It's all very flattering but I don't think I can do it. It would kill
me. I'd have no time to do all the little things like eating or
showering. I'm going to have to disappoint somebody. I just hope that
the additional teachers, allegedly joining us in Baiyin next year,
have some among them that the schools, the students and the
administrator like, because I'm going to need someone to share both
the tutoring load and the burden of this awesome wonderfulness.
Sometimes it's hard to be me.
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