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Saturday, 16 June 2012

How to Fail as a Foreign Teacher In China

How to Fail As A Foreign Teacher In China

It's very easy to be a success as a foreign teacher in China. Look at
me. My school loves me. My administrator literally begged me to stay
on for another year. My pupils mob me to ask for my phone number, my
email, my autograph. Chinese families ring me up to go for dinner. I'm
a success.

But you don't have to make my mistakes. It's just as easy to be a
failure. It takes a little effort but it's not difficult at all.
Here are some top tips for "How To Fail As A Foreign Teacher In China".

10 Turn up, Do Your Job, Go Home

By itself this won't make you a failure but it's a good foundation to
build on. The trick is to spend as little time in the school as
possible. On a good day you will be able to turn up, go straight to
your classroom, teach your lesson and be out of the building before
anyone notices that you are there. Don't get involved in conversations
with teachers in the corridors and always be in and out of the office
as quickly as possible. You'll probably have to go in from time to
time which will inevitably lead to having contact with other teachers.
Try to minimise this. Reply to greetings with grunts. When anyone asks
you a grammar question, a curt, "I don't know" is the best response.
Try to cultivate an exasperated "why ask me" expression.

9 Insist on sticking to the timetable

Chinese schools rarely let the teachers know about timetable changes
more than a day in advance. Even holidays might be announced as you
are leaving the day before they happen. I have been rung up at eight
O'clock on a day when I don't teach and asked to be in for nine. Don't
put up with this. Inflexibility is the key. Work like you would at
home. The timetable is the timetable carved in stone and handed down
on the mountain top. Turn up at the scheduled times whether or not
your class is taking place. Don't let them get away with changing

8 Mumble, Mutter and Speak Quickly

Classroom technique is vital and it all starts with your voice.
Talking in a clear, loud, slow voice with lots of repetition and
paraphrasing is the way to success. If you want to fail these are
habits you must get out of. There are various techniques you can use.
Mumbling is good. You'll know you've got it right if the first few
rows are leaning forward to try to hear you and the rest are playing
cards. Muttering is similar but trickier to manage. Muttering must be
just audible but, and this is the important point, on any subject NOT
related to the lesson. If you have ever listened to an old woman with
dirty clothes and a shopping bag that clinks as she moves then you'll
know how to do it. Nothing throws the students as much as trying to
work out why their teacher just said "Lemon Cheesecake*" in the
middle of a lesson about the passive voice.
If these techniques aren't for you then try speaking really fast and
never repeating anything. Like this –
Adopting a monotonous drone and never varying the volume or pace of
your voice will also work.

7 Teach From The Front

Chinese classes are big. Fifty students is a small class. Eighty is
not unusual and there might in some places be as many as a hundred
students. The classrooms are big and crowded so you should stand at
the front and use a lecturing style. Never get out in the class to
talk directly to the kids at the back. You will just be interrupting
their attempts to do their geography homework, read their comics or
carve their names into the desks. If you teach from the front and
avoid eye contact with everyone then you won't need to deal with any
of these things.

6 Let the kids do what they want

In such large classes the students are often inattentive. They will
read, do homework, play games and talk. Boy, will they talk. You
should completely ignore all of this behaviour. After all you don't
like being bothered when you are chatting with your friends. Just
carry on teaching your lesson as if nothing is happening. It doesn't
matter if no one is listening to you. Ideally the noise level will get
so high that teachers from another class will come to complain. They
probably won't speak English but you will know that it's working when
they scream at the class in Chinese and everyone falls silent for the
next five minutes.
Always do your best to let the noise level build back up as quickly as
possible after this happens.

5 Write small. Don't use pictures.

Visual aids? Who needs them. Some teachers prepare interesting and
coplex visuals for their classes. Pictures, posters, games, song
sheets. Why bother? If you really want to fail this is an area where
it literally needs no effort. Don't make anything in advance. They
won't thank you for your elaborate resources and they will probably
fall apart before the end of the week anyway. It's wasted effort.
Much better is to just use the board wisely. And by wisely I mean
without any organisation. Write things in random places - and you must
write small. There are a lot of kids who have quite poor eyesight and
you should aim to get your text at a size that is just too small for
them to see. Once again it's easy to know when you get this right
because they will start borrowing each other's glasses and squinting
through the lenses at odd angles as they try to work out what you have

4 Go To School Functions

You will be invited out to dine with the teachers from time to time.
You should go. This may sound like it's a strategy for success and
it's true that refusing to go will win you no friends but going can be
even better. To really fail you need to do a couple of things. First
of all turn up in your oldest T-shirt and jeans. If you have any
canvass trousers that are old and thin and patched in various colours,
that's even better. Shorts are another good option, especially if the
meal is in a hotel with a dress code. Then at the meal you should
instruct people loudly about your multiple allergies and digestive
problems. Descriptions of the symptoms, particularly the ones
involving bodily functions are always good. Complain about everything
you are served. Tell everyone that Chinese food is giving you
irritable bowel syndrome and you want hamburgers.
Then leave early and in a bad mood.
They will talk about your behaviour for days.

3 Under-prepare or Over-prepare?

There are two strategies you can use when preparing your lessons. The
easier one is to under-prepare. At its extreme this can mean not
preparing at all. You can, if you wish, think of a topic or a name for
the lesson, but you don't need to do more than that. Go in and make it
up as you go along. Over-thinking it will simply mean that all those
little hesitancies, awkward silences and spelling mistakes on the
board are eliminated and that will create the wrong impression. If you
are observed, and you often will be, you want it to be obvious that
you have given no thought to your lesson before entering the
A trickier, but ultimately even surer, strategy for failure is to
obsessively over-prepare. For example, spend days, weeks even, drawing
a detailed but inaccurate map of the world, tape it to the board at
the start of every lesson AND THEN NEVER MENTION IT. If the students
ask what it's for just glare at them and say "Isn't it obvious?"
If an observer sees this they will certainly be impressed by your
attention to detail.

2 Teach the ones who want to learn

You may have eighty kids in your class of whom fewer than ten actually
want to be there. You will be able to pick them out in your first
lesson because they will be near the front, looking at you and
prepared to answer questions. If you ask a question in that first week
and are met with a blank look, write off that kid and never interact
with them again. Once you have established which kids want to
participate, teach only them. Ignore everybody else. Let them do
whatever they want. Ask questions only when you know you will get an
answer. It's just not worth your effort if they don't want to
participate. You get paid either way and why make life difficult for

1 Never show enthusiasm

The number one tip is to never show enthusiasm. Never let anyone think
that the job is anything more than an unpleasant chore that has to be
done. Shuffle around the room. Try to slouch. If you can't fake
tiredness then go for the real thing by staying up until three a.m.
watching movies. Keep reminding yourself that your course is not
important. You set no homework. There is no exam. Nobody cares. Why
should you try to look interested when nobody else is?
The number one thing that the school will be looking for in a teacher
is a lively, enthusiastic attitude – the kind of inspirational
approach that communicates itself to the kids. What you want to
communicate to the kids is lethargy, apathy, listlessness. If you can
do that you will have it made.


(* "Millennium hand and shrimp" is even more puzzling but remember to
credit Sir Terry Pratchett who coined the phrase.)