And I haven't mentioned the TOEFL course yet...
04.09.2013 - 04.09.2013
Unusually, I had my job interview face to face and it was with Ms Liu and Mr Jiang, the boss of the Foreign Affairs Office and her boss, the director of the College of International English (or some such place). In many senses, this was somewhat of an honour because at the Medical Uni I was simply interviewed by the F.A.O, who is something akin to a general dogsbody.
At the interview, I asked how many teaching hours they wanted to give me and they said it depended on what subjects I taught. They had an 18 hour schedule and one that was twenty something hours; I don't recall the exact figure. I could see, reading between the lines, that they wanted me to work the twenty something hours per week and I was emphatic that I'd only do the job if they gave me their 18 hour schedule. That is my upper limit, I actually prefer about 16 to deliver a fresh, quality course. The problem is, when you pile lots of hours onto a teacher the job becomes a big drag and it affects all your classes. At Xi'an, I had 11 classes (22 hours) crammed into 3 days, teaching post graduates whose degree was something obscure like Systems Processing or something electronics/computer language related. They did not want to be studying English, I can tell you. It was an unappetizing little side dish they'd been served, not the main course. Teaching them was particularly character building.
Even English majors are students who, for the most part, are learning English reluctantly. English is a choice of evils in China and in a class of thirty students you may only have one or two keen ones. Particularly in the lower performing universities, where I have honed my trade. It's not like in the West where you choose a subject that is a stepping stone to your dream job. In China your parents most likely told you what degree to do and the great mass of mediocre students deemed unworthy of a special subject, are only good enough to study English and spend their days in a Middle School teaching by rote. The plum job is actually a university one because the hours are fewer and they can do business on the side.
There is an unwritten rule in many universities that nobody tells you about. The rule is, it's just a kind of English club really, and you should pass all the students. Unless you really crack the whip you soon get students skipping class, sick notes being faked and a teacher can fall into bad habits too. In fact, the worst story I've heard is of a guy in Baotou who would come to classes hungover, stick a video on and go to sleep at the back. That may sound irresponsible but in fact our classes are a kind of box ticking exercise to fulfill government instructions. We are not valued and we are not always, by any means, all that valuable.
In the face of all this I want to do a good job. And I kind of relish the teaching challenge that this presents with, on occasion.
I need money but I'm not here to make as much as I can. When I signed the contract I made sure it said 18 hours. Dennis, the F.A.O, was clear. If it says 18 on your contract it'll be 18 hours. It comes as no Hohhot shock to me today that Ms Liu rang me up and asked me to do more. That's how it goes. Now that I'm all settled here of course it's damned difficult for me to say no and I suspect that was the plan. She claimed that it's due to unforeseen circumstances and perhaps it is. But I knew it was coming, had prepared myself psychologically for it and said yes without too much dissent. There was something about Ms Liu's tone of her voice. She was giving me a hard luck story in a poor little me voice-something that normally doesn't work with me- but it reminded me of a favourite student of mine (from Inner Mongolia) I had taught many years ago at The Tianjin University of Commerce.
I mentioned that we'd agreed 18 hours and Ms L said they were only talking about the writing course. But the fact is, I said I would only do 18 hours, period.
So in short, before I came I thought about the sorts of things that might go wrong and how I would deal with them and this helped me to respond amicably. I've no doubt there will be some more blips.