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5. Teaching As discussed earlier, foreigners are hired to teach in China either as "foreign experts" or "foreign teachers." The distinction is important because it determines many aspects of the treatment an individual receives in China. Americans who have taught in China, however, report that no matter what their official designation, Chinese host institutions try to ensure the comfort and well-being of their foreign guests. Indeed, some American teachers feel too protected and isolated even though "all is meant in the best spirit and intention." In return, much is ex- pected of teachers: "It is important to be as generous as possible with your time and energy. If Eyou've been hired to teach English and] you're weak in English grammar, become an expert soon; the Chinese want to learn from experts, not novices." "The prime directive is: be well- prepared and trained in the field you will teach." Since 1979 the Chinese government has sought to hire well-qualified foreign teachers rather than merely "friends of China." To date, most American teachers in China have taught English lan- guage and literature, but the range of subjects is growing to include American studies, American society and culture, U.S. history, econom- ics, business management, international trade and investment, mar- keting, U.S. law (constitutional, criminal, and criminal procedure), environmental and natural resources law, library management, and journalism. American teachers also have worked in a wide variety of institutions and in all parts of China. And no matter what their par- ticular situation, they have been made to feel that their contribution to China's modernization effort is deeply appreciated. Some advice offered by Americans who have taught in China to individuals planning to have this experience include the following: 108
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TEACHING 109 These personal qualities are needed: flexibility, human warmth and sociability, an ability to relax and "flow with the current" and good health and physical stamina. Persons with the following qualities should not go: workaholics, schedule and time-oriented people, people hooked on creature comforts, people concerned with efficiency and order and people who must have things neat, clean and tidy. If you remember that you have gone to China to learn, to share knowl- edge and ideas and to enjoy the Chinese people and their culture, you will have an easier time "rolling with the punches." No one is going to change China during a year's teaching visit! Perhaps the most valu- able characteristic a foreign expert can have is a healthy sense of humor. THE BUREAUCRATIC STRUCTURE The work unit or danwei, as explained earlier, is all-important in China. Americans have been employed by universities, trade institutes, finance and economics institutes, agricultural schools, normal schools, scien- tific and technical institutes, medical colleges, foreign language insti- tutions, and others. Despite some important differences, these and other units do have many of the same characteristics described earlier in the section on the bureaucratic structure of universities and research in- stitutes (pages 72-791. Perhaps even more than other foreigners, teach- ers are almost entirely dependent on their unit; it pays their salary, arranges their lodging, issues their ration tickets for cloth and food- stuffs, helps arrange schooling for their children, obtains the permits needed for travel outside their city of residence, and generally acts on their behalf with all other bureaucratic offices in China. Within the work unit, there is a specific office or department to which the foreign expert or teacher is responsible. China's complex bureau- cracy can be very confusing. Many teachers do not know prior to arrival to whom they will be responsible; others don't know this even after their arrival. Because this information is crucial to your survival, it is important to clarify things as soon as possible. Howeve,, as many Amer- icans have commented, to learn how to get things done within the system requires effort and patience. One teacher noted, "It took us almost two full months before we knew to whom to talk about what." The two major components of the work unit with which a foreign expert or teacher will have contact are the foreign affairs office (waiban) and the academic department. Although the duties of and relationships between these two components vary from unit to unit some have excellent communication, others have little or no contact with each other the basic functions of each seem to be as follows. The foreign affairs office handles administrative details, that is, hiring, conditions
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110 CHINA BOUND of employment, signing of the contract, daily living concerns, issuance of necessary documents such as the university identification card, ex- pert privileges card, alien residence card and library card, assisting with travel arrangements, and the like. The academic department is responsible for teaching matters, that is, curriculum, course assign- ments, teaching schedules, class size, room assignments, class mate- rials, and so forth. ~ . 1 1 r 1 .1 , or r .1 r come teachers nave rouna tne start or tne foreign affairs office to ne extremely supportive; others feel that they are only helpful in over- coming obstacles they themselves have set; and still others report that they will only respond to specific questions. Relations with department personnel also vary considerably. It is therefore important to learn as quickly as possible what will work best in your situation. For example, one American teacher learned never to confront directly the director of the department about conditions of employment, as the answer would always be "no." But if he gathered all the official information about the situation and wrote a memo to the director outlining the regulations and stating his specific request, he always received an affirmative an- swer. Many American teachers speak little, if any, Chinese when they arrive in China, and official discussions between them and their departmental or institutional sponsors are in English (through an interpreter, if needed). It has been noted by a number of teachers that their departmental colleagues often speak far better English than do administrative cadres. However, they also indicate that language is not a key problem. A1- though some find that speaking Chinese is extremely helpful, others have commented that foreign teachers who speak Chinese are consid- ered too independent. The problems, as noted by American teachers, are cultural and social organization. "Americans are used to a high degree of independence and self direction. The Chinese are not. There are a lot of banquets and other displays of friendship which cover up some very hard bargaining. One needs to go along with all the formalities and rituals and still be very assertive concerning one's own interests." Another teacher rec- ommended that two important cultural characteristics be kept in mind: (1) Chinese work through intermediaries. Americans like to talk things out face-to-face. This means that rather than talking over problems or concerns with the head of the department directly, you may have to work through a third person who will carry messages back and forth. (2) Compromise. Chinese do a lot of horse-trading, bargaining and ex- change of favors. In regard to classes, teaching loads and academic responsibilities, this is an ongoing process. Nothing is ever etched in stone. The whole year is a game of musical chairs.
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TEACHING 11 1 WORK LOADS Work loads often vary substantially from one institution or program to another, but all teachers report that they are expected to do far more than teach assigned classes. Additional activities include work on spe- cial projects, such as helping to write or edit textbooks and dictionaries, editing university publications in English, giving informal English les- sons to colleagues, conducting oral exams, overseeing thesis projects, and assisting students with writing papers. Teachers also may lecture to their unit and to other units about specific academic topics or about cultural and social aspects of the United States. Or they might be asked to record tapes and help students and faculty write applications to colleges and universities in the United States. One teacher warns that although it is important to be as helpful as possible, "how much work you do will depend on how much resistance you put up—you must not become chronically fatigued to the point of illness." As a foreign teacher, the actual number of hours you spend in class- room teaching can vary from as little as 6 per week to as many as 20. Additionally, you will probably spend several hours weekly holding "office hours," perhaps 5 to 6 hours cutting tapes, and numerous hours preparing materials for class, correcting papers, having unscheduled or scheduled meetings with students and teachers, and conducting ed- itorial work. As one teacher pointed out, "No matter how many hours you are scheduled for, your actual work week will average between 45 and 50 hours." Another commented, "The work week is 6 days, and teachers can count on being busy almost all that time." Class sizes also vary radically. Although Chinese universities appear to have huge faculties, making "the student-teacher ratio sound like a dream," the numbers are deceptive. Many Chinese professors actually are studying abroad. There are also a large number of professors now in their late 30s and 40s who have no academic qualifications and who are given no teaching assignments. You might therefore teach a seminar of only 3 or 4 students or give a lecture course to 75 students; from reports, however, it seems as though the average class size is between 20 and 35 students. As more and more teachers are going to China to teach courses other than English, new concerns are surfacing. Some teachers are told they will be teaching certain courses prior to their departure for China and on arrival are told they will teach something totally different. Others find that their host institution is not clear about what subject matter should be covered in a course or, alternatively, the institution is not only clear but adamant that what the American considers to be proper course content is not what the Chinese want at all. Still others may discover they have been assigned to the wrong department to teach the
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112 CHINA BOUND wrong subject (for example, an economics professor being assigned to teach a course in international trade law), perhaps the result of different nomenclature used by Chinese and Americans in titling courses. Finally, many teachers find that their students do not have the necessary back- ground to comprehend the subject matter they were planning to teach; as a result they are forced to simplify presentations greatly. The English-language skills of students also sometimes cause prob- lems. If there is no interpreter, for instance, in a course such as eco- nomics, and the students' English ability is not good, it may be impossible to teach the course properly. Or a teacher may find that instead of teaching history, he or she must first teach English, or, before teaching journalism, must first teach basic grammar. Where interpreters have been provided, both good and bad experiences have resulted. One Amer- ican law professor reports that he has a regular interpreter through whom he does all his teaching, including dialogues with his students. He says he encourages his students to speak English as much as pos- sible; however, without a good interpreter, he would find it impossible to teach the course. Others have not been as lucky. Some teachers find themselves with an interpreter who speaks less English than some of the students and who sometimes challenges the American's teaching even though the interpreter knows little about the subject. Another issue that arises when courses must be taught completely through an interpreter is the grading of exams; because the exams are written in Chinese, the teacher must accept the word of the interpreter about what the students write. Teachers have handled such problems in various ways. One began using an interpreter who proved less than satisfactory and tried teaching the course without the interpreter. Although comprehension was some- times difficult, he found that both he and his students were happier. In this case the students discussed particularly difficult topics in Chinese and then reiterated to the teacher in English their understanding. Other teachers have tried using simpler materials switching from compli- cated texts to short articles. Others provided outlines of lectures that could be followed while the lecture was being given a time-consuming effort but one that had worthwhile effects. And some found it essential to spend nonclass time with the students to give them enough exposure to a foreigner speaking and to overcome "typical" language problems such as lack of confidence, shyness, misuse of verb tenses, and omission of pronouns and articles. The teachers found that once the students gained confidence, their learning curves increased dramatically. Teachers of English in China find that their pupils' proficiency varies considerably. In general, however, aural and spoken skills are weakest because most students have had few opportunities to practice with native speakers of English. Reading skills often are better but are usu- ally limited to a rather narrow spectrum of materials. The students'
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TEACHING 1 13 command of writing skills varies widely, but most teachers find that their students are particularly good at grammar. Chinese students in general lack a wide-ranging knowledge of the outside world, and this has presented special problems for teachers of literature, particularly modern contemporary literature. Standard texts and novels are scarce in China; many of those that are available are hopelessly out of date one teacher discovered that the text being used in a literature course introduced Rudyard Kipling as a contemporary author! Problems of a different sort arise from cultural differences and op- posing attitudes regarding the "correct" process of learning. American teachers note repeatedly that their Chinese students prefer lectures to discussions and are often reluctant to engage in genuine dialogues about course material. Chinese teachers taking courses seem to some Amer- icans to be even more resistant to discussing ideas than are regular students and more apt to expect a rigid, structured presentation and curriculum than most American teachers are accustomed to presenting. Americans therefore tend to use a variety of teaching methods including lecturing, asking questions of the students, conducting structured dis- cussions, and introducing case method analysis. They have found that it is difficult to prompt students to answer questions but believe it is important to insist persistently and politely to motivate them to accept new teaching styles, learn to solve problems rather than repeat facts, and think for themselves rather than continue to follow the practice of rote memorization. Through persistence, American teachers have found that Chinese students are capable of vigorous classroom debates and learning through discussion. Methods for evaluating student performance are usually left to the discretion of the American teacher. Whatever the number of papers assigned and examinations given in a course, it has been noted that students, including those who are already instructors, seem to be pre- occupied with grades. This is an unfortunate but understandable con- cern because those selected to work with foreigners are very much aware that they have been given a special opportunity and that their performance is being carefully monitored by their units. Plagiarism is also a problem in China; the need to obtain good grades sometimes leads students to copy material written by others, misdemeanors that are not usually dealt with effectively by Chinese faculty. WORKING CONDITIONS Most school buildings are austere, unpainted, damp, and virtually un- heated, but usually they are relatively clean and supplied with adequate lighting, blackboards, chalk, and standard classroom furniture. In some locations, electricity is erratic; in winter, when the electricity goes off,
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114 CHINA BOUND the heat goes off. Classes sometimes are rescheduled due to the lack of electricity. Upkeep on some buildings may not be adequate, and broken doors or windows may not be repaired promptly, allowing cold air to enter classrooms in the winter. Teachers survive the winters by dressing in layers of clothing. Classroom buildings are not air conditioned in the summer, but electric fans are used during the hottest months in some areas. Some institutions assign private offices to their foreign teachers; in others, foreigners share a single work room. Offices are "not Madison Avenue plush, but they are embarrassingly spacious compared with those of our Chinese colleagues." Some teachers discover that many of their Chinese coworkers give up their own work space in order to make room for the foreign expert. Physical surroundings are of little importance to most teachers, how- ever, because their students are often extremely hardworking. One American wrote that he was "privileged to have students who are hun- gry to learn, who help themselves to knowledge the way harvest hands used to reach for mashed potatoes at my grandfather's table." PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIPS American teachers generally have found their Chinese students to be bright and able; they have also been surprised by how perceptive stu- dents have been in discussing a situation far removed from them in distance and experience and have been pleased that after overcoming an initial shyness, many students become active class participants, asking questions for clarification and presenting ideas for considera- tion. Many teachers described their Chinese students as extremely can- did and friendly: "very fine- more studious than imaginative, but very friendly and a pleasure to work with"; the "brightest aspect of my experience in China"; "just about everything a teacher wants . . . [they] make this assignment one to be envied and coveted"; outstanding, ex- tremely diligent, and highly motivated. But there are other teachers who are not as enthusiastic. "About 60 percent of undergraduates had a good attitude, but they looked at their classes as a requirement to get a degree to graduate. They were not highly disciplined. They completed their assignments, but they didn't work up to their potential." "Chinese university students are not all hard working, disciplined, intelligent, and well prepared, which is the stereotype Americans bring to China. About 60 percent of the Chinese students reminded me of my American students, which was a surprise." "Extensive demands are made on students that cause them at times to shift attention from class work to other things such as preparation for TOEFL [Test of English as a Foreign Language]." "Students performed
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TEACHING 1 15 better than expected; it was difficult to get critical discussion in class as the students wanted to be told what they need to know; they like to be lectured." "Chinese students are mostly quite intelligent, but I was surprised by the lack of motivation of some; absenteeism is a big prob- lem in China." The relationships of American teachers with Chinese faculty members and administrators also varied. Some had excellent relationships with faculty in their departments and became good friends. There were visits by Chinese faculty to classes conducted by American teachers and vice versa. "Relationships with all administrators, faculty, and students were thoroughly professional and friendly; assistance was given and returned freely." "Contact with Chinese faculty was abundant, fre- quent, and very cordial. I only wished I had spoken more Chinese, as collegiality was limited only by the language barrier." Other American teachers, however, had very little or no contact with Chinese faculty, nor were they invited to observe classes taught by the Chinese. And Chinese faculty in many cases did not visit classes taught by the Americans, even though they were invited. One American teacher explained that there was little opportunity to relate to Chinese faculty as many of them carried heavy teaching loads and taught extra classes at the host institution and other schools. Other teachers commented that they attempted to have seminars or discussions with Chinese fac- ulty about the curriculum, teaching methods, and other areas of mutual interest. However, their efforts to discuss course changes, introduce greater flexibility, and employ different approaches to learning met with considerable resistance. Some teachers complained that efforts to change (improve) the teaching of a particular subject were ignored and that neither their colleagues nor the unit was willing to make changes that seemed both easy and desirable to foreign educators. Others were able to talk to their colleagues about such matters at least on an in- formal basis. SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS Although many teachers have had to contend with frustrations in their work life, most have found more than compensating satisfaction in their less formal relationships with colleagues and students. Students helped make the visitors' stay in China a pleasant and re- warding one by taking foreign teachers on shopping trips or visits to local points of interest, providing whatever translation assistance was needed, and informing them about activities that might be of interest— for example, band concerts, basketball games, and plays. Some teachers often ate with their students and were invited to participate in activities such as dances. (One teacher "highly recommends mastering a few
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116 CHINA BOUND 'traditional' dance steps before coming, as disco is still somewhat of an enigma to them; they feel more comfortable with the waltz or tango!") Others commented that their students constantly visited their homes for help and to practice their English. Still others had the opportunity to visit the homes and families of some of their students. A few teachers noted, however, that their students seemed hesitant to have informal contact with them. These teachers believe it is best to let Chinese stu- dents take the initiative in establishing relationships outside the class- room. Many students and some faculty members are eager to attend schools in the United States and ask their American teachers for advice about the U.S. educational system and sometimes for letters of recommen- dation. Most teachers do not see such requests as an undue imposition but advise other Americans planning to teach in China to be prepared to play the role of adviser. They also caution Americans against making general comments about the possible assistance they or their home institution can render in helping Chinese students to study in the United States. Offhand comments can sometimes inspire unrealistic hopes for assured acceptance and even a full scholarship to do graduate work in the United States. Teachers also caution newcomers on becoming involved with the selection of students being sent abroad by the work unit, as a word from a foreign expert or teacher is given a great deal of weight. Relationships with Chinese colleagues generally are very cordial but a bit formal by American standards. Contact outside working hours is often limited to special ceremonial occasions, banquets, and outings planned by the host unit or department. Some foreign teachers have developed extremely close relationships with Chinese colleagues, fre- quently visiting their homes for meals and evenings of discussion or inviting their colleagues to their own homes. If the foreigner speaks Chinese, relationships tend to develop fairly easily "knowing the lan- guage opens up an entirely different realm in relationships with Chinese people." Conversely, those who do not speak Chinese may interact most frequently with their English-speaking colleagues. Relations with other foreign experts and teachers tend to be frequent and good as they often all share lodging and dining facilities. Some Americans, however, prefer to spend as much time as possible with their Chinese colleagues rather than with other foreign teachers. CHINESE-LANGUAGE LESSONS Many American teachers going to China would like to use the oppor- tunity to learn Chinese or to improve their Chinese-language profi- ciency. Arrangements for a Chinese-language teacher usually can be made through the unit's foreign affairs office. From past experience,
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TEACHING 1 17 Americans teaching in China note that a Chinese-language teacher is usually provided to them upon request; the American pays the teacher's fee and purchases any needed materials. Sometimes the department will pay for these expenses. Classes normally are held several times a week and might take place in the teacher's apartment or in the de- partment in which he or she is teaching. One American who taught English in China had the following comments about learning Chinese: "If you want to learn Chinese in China, you must remember that there are a couple problems: (1) dialect unless you are in the Beijing area or can find a 'pure' Mandarin teacher, it will be difficult; and (2) it's very hard to balance the role of English teacher and student of Chinese- some feel the responsibility to speak English only with their students, others with all personnel at the university, and others only in class." GENERAL ADJUSTMENT ADVICE Every teacher encounters problems in adjusting to life in China, but the individuals who provided information for this publication believe the satisfactions of working with intensely dedicated students, partic- ipating in Chinese life in a natural way, making a contribution to the quality of Chinese education, and feeling their way through the subtle nuances of friendships with Chinese people often outweigh the negative aspects. Some general pieces of advice offered to future Americans going to teach in China include the following: Get a good English-language map of the city you're in, and explore the city early and often. It quickly makes a very alien-seeming place begin to feel comfortable, and the feeling of ease helps immeasurably with the inevitable major cultural transition. Perhaps the greatest adjustment problem was having to learn Chinese- style decision making through consensus reached in informal discus- sions conducted before a formal meeting. Also, information and ideas came to me indirectly through the class monitor rather than directly from students. Everything happens slowly in China, so I had to learn to be more patient after making a request. And, although I had an apartment to myself, I had to learn to expect visits from students, colleagues, and the department chairman as early as 7 a.m. and as late as 10 or 11 p.m.; American-style privacy is nonexistent in China! Be as open and informal as your personality allows. Learn about and be sensitive to cultural differences. Spend as much time as possible with Chinese people, not other foreigners. One American teacher's summary of the experience of living and working in China seems particularly appropriate: "Go planning to learn more than you teach, expecting a challenge, and above all, expect to enjoy China and its people—you won't be disappointed!"
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