The students in one of my classes indirectly criticized me deeply and disheartened me in a way I’ve never been before in China. It wasn’t only a joke, so that’s why I can’t shake it. As naive as I’m going to sound here, I confess that my naivete is genuine. Read more of this blog and you’ll see the same goals and aspirations throughout.
See, I talk a lot about the innate power of being Chinese and how it’s good to learn English as a tool of international communication. I really am enthusiastic and show this enthusiasm in class. I show my support for China and my interest, as a foreigner, to share my western knowledge with China because I believe that increased competition will ultimately be good for my homeland. I really buy into the camaraderie of international cooperation and feel that this is a vital and necessary requirement for peaceful human cohabitation in the 21st century, and so I encourage the students to prepare for and accept their more influential role in the world. It’s my small way of contributing to the peaceful shift of international power. My brand and style of enthusiasm, in part, has given me wide and fast success in English First because it was obvious my heart was in the right place. I really cared about working and helping the Chinese people and my repeated, tireless efforts proved it. I was one of the friendly foreigners. My trust was always reciprocated; it was true friendship.
That was teaching adults. However, these college freshmen are not the same. In this particular class, the kids don’t make as much effort as students from other classes and obviously aren’t even very nice people. It’s given me exposure to Chinese people in a way that’s never happened and I truly feel discouraged. What a bummer. My enthusiasm has always made me popular in the private sector, but in the public sector it appears I am ridiculed and laughed at by some if not all.
Keeping this in perspective, this criticism is from a minority of students. I think. It came from one student and it was in the form of a flattery that disagreed with popular opinion. So does that mean that only a minority agree with the criticism? If I were to survey the students, it’s likely they would not answer honestly but just give an assessment that would flatter me, as Chinese culture would dictate. Effectively, a survey would be a waste of time.
I’d like to say that I should change my teaching style and downplay the urgency I communicate in class, but I won’t say that because that urgency is real. Statistics about China’s development boggle the American mind, and China’s rapid development worries a great deal of Americans. Why? No information. No communication. Even after a beautiful 2008 Opening Ceremony, China is still: the great big mystery.
So should I perpetuate that mystery? Should I remain silent and say or do nothing to improve communications between these two countries?
This recent in-class criticism shakes me in a profound way. All day today I felt as if I was wrong for thinking my approach was effective or even appropriate, but now I see that I am just learning something new about myself and others. This is not EF and I’m not a superstar here. My style is not unanimously popular; in fact, I am seen by at least some of these very young minds as self-serving or old-fashioned.
At this point, I have a better understanding of what approach to take in class. I think it would be best to downplay my role in encouraging the freshmen, and assign class activities that are aimed at a simpler student whose interests are typical of an 18 year old: music, sports, fashion and small animals. It might be best if I increase the simple assignments that will only offer the kids a temporary diversion and not a lesson with any long term use or value. My new understanding is that the freshmen do not unanimously favor English lessons that involve or include topics of adult responsibilities, or that they’d prefer these topics not be delivered by someone so anxious and vocal.
I’ve considered keeping them in the dark about life after graduation. I could apply more of that Chinese interpretation of protection and nurture their absolute reliance on me and other adults. If I weren’t American, that would be easier to do, but I’m more familiar with American education and that itself might be part of my misunderstanding. The role and function of college in China may not be quite the same as that in the USA. I may be wrong to suppose that university in China should serve to prepare the students for life and career. My personality may be too flamboyant for such modern people; these students might believe my attitude to be uncool rhetoric not suited for today’s modern China. Maybe they know better than I. Maybe I’m the fish out of water.
I feel better writing about this in my blog. It’s good to be as old as I am and comfortable with self-assessment. Adaption is a good habit for any age. Good thing is: for the first time in a long time, I feel like writing again. After the exhausting effort with my last professional project, I am slowly coming back to life and recharging the ol’ batteries, right here in the HSK heartland. Honestly, I never thought I’d be learning so many interesting lessons here about myself and others. It’s been rewarding.
Not sure how this latest lesson will play out in class. I’m happy to learn something new about myself and teaching but not so happy to be discouraged for trying to do a good thing. What a shocker. Fact is, I should know that not all of the young students will accept my foreign teaching style. I definitely know that now.
Now that I’ve written, I can see the error of my ways and my options. What’s important to me is how to apply what I learn to improve my personal and professional self. My improved understanding will help me to better compete in the world and teach other Americans how to do so. (I’m not putting myself through this for nothing.)
I look forward to the remaining months of my public sector contract. What I’m learning here is amazing.