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Rich & Poor students E-mail
City Life - Blogs & Columns
Written by JX
Five hours of listening to students butchering your language is nothing. Nothing. I've been doing it for days on end. (Actually, I've finished now, and just have to mark them all - which is the real killer. Also, I've been quite impressed with the lack of butchery. This either shows that my current students are of a reasonably high overall standard, which they should be, as they are 4-year-degree students rather than 3-year-diploma ones. Or it shows that over the years I've developed immunity to the wholesale destruction of my beautiful language.). Anyway, I got a phonecall from a fellow foreign teacher the other day. He was deeply depressed and disillusioned. (What? I hear you cry. How could anybody be depressed and disillusioned while teaching in China?) You see, the thing is this chap's teaching in a rather famous and rather rich private university. Which means he's teaching stupid rich kids. Rich because their parents are paying tonnes of money for their education rather than send them to a poxy little state-run college like mine.

Stupid because even with all the extras their parents could afford they still couldn't manage to get accepted by a decent and well-known state university. (Of which there are plenty.) (1)

I've had some experience in this area, since my last college had a kind of two-tier system. It accepted both poverty-stricken students from the Jiangxi education system, and rich students from Nanchang/Beijing/Wuhan/Shanghai who'd failed to get into anywhere better, but whose parents were willing to pay a few extra unofficial "fees". I once did a survey round a class and discovered that every single student from Nanchang city had paid an extra 2000rmb to get their names registered despite as slightly-below-acceptable entrance exam score. The students who came to us from further afield frequently had even lower entrance exam marks. And in the Tourism department I found myself teaching some students who hadn't even completed high school, let alone taken the entrance exam.

So, this chap was telling me about how his students don't want to learn English. They sit in his oral classes looking monumentally bored and tell him how much they hate it.

The two main problems with rich and/or stupid and/or lazy students are: firstly they frequently don't want to study English. They didn't choose the major. Their parents did. It seems that the parents who are able to pay excessive tuition fees for their offspring feel that they then have the right to decide how the money should be spent, and they frequently pay no regard to the child's natural abilities or preferences.

I once taught a boy who'd had a complete mental and physical breakdown due to being forced to study engineering. It was only after the psychiatrist informed his mother that she was the cause of all of her son's health problems that he was allowed to transfer into the foreign language department.

Secondly, it doesn't really matter to these students what they study, or how well they study, because they're never going to have to rely on their own abilities to find or keep a job. No. Mummy or Daddy's guanxi is going to do all of that. Even if they do want to go off and find a job for themselves they're frequently not allowed to. So many of my lovely girls from Nanchang (rich, and maybe a little stupid, but not in the slightest bit lazy) have told me, "I would love to go to Shenzhen and find a job in my major - foreign trade, but my parents won't let me. I have to stay in Nanchang and be a teacher."

The phonecall reminded me of what happened on Friday when I was giving my speech to the teaching staff. They were very sweet, and despite being forced to listen to a boring speech on a Friday afternoon seemed genuinely interested and enlightened by the theory of different learning styles. This theory, or rather I should say these theories, since there seem to be as many different learning styles as there are educational researchers, are so common in British education that I had a few moments of panic along the lines of OMG-I'll-be-telling-them-something-they've-known-for-ages-and-look-like-a-complete-fool.

Luckily I controlled myself, because aparently none of them had ever heard of the idea of varying your teaching to suit different learning styles before. Probably something to do with the lack of student-centred teaching in this culture. (BTW the second link above connects you to a nice little test and you can find out whether you're a visual/verbal - me!, visual/non-verbal, tactile/kinesthetic or auditory/verbal learner. I did the test and was surprised at the accuracy.)

After the speech there was time for questions. PAY ATTENTION THIS IS THE MAIN POINT. One of the questions I was asked was, "You've been around China a bit, can you compare the students at our college to students at other colleges and tell us the advantages we have here?" Well, I ummed and ahhed a bit and kind of worked my way around the topic, but it eventually became apparent that my answer was, "Your students are all from poor families, and that is a very GOOD thing."

Sometimes I get the feeling that my moral compass is diametrically opposed to that of the culture in which I'm living.

Finally, back to my poor depressed foreign friend. What advice could I offer to him? I suggested that he might like to give up his high-paying secure job and instead accept one at a state-run provincial-level college like mine for approximately a quarter of the salary.

You know, he's actually thinking about it.

(1) Of course, I may be defaming them here. They might just be lazy. I know it seems unbelievable, but I've managed to meet a few lazy Chinese students in my time.

Our valuable Editor JX has been with us since Saturday, 19 January 2013.

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