China’s ESL industry can be either a rewarding or a daunting place, regardless of whether you’re a fresh or experienced teacher. Much of this depends on the luck of the draw regarding the kind of students you get, but a fair amount also depends on their parents. Here we bring you some of the challenges you’ll come across and tips for dealing with pushy parents when teaching English in China.
Photo: Walter Lim
Look ‘jiàzhǎng’ up in any reliable Chinese-English dictionary and it will be translated as ‘the head of the household or the patriarch’. This colorful definition points to the sexism and fixed gender roles that are still remarkably evident in modern Chinese marriages. Really, this term always refers to the ‘bread-winning' father.
In alignment with Chinese gender roles, the jiàzhǎng doesn’t necessarily look after the child — rather he makes most of the big decisions. While it’s always a bonus when your students like you and enjoy your classes, if you can get the jiàzhǎng on your side, you’re in a glorious comfort zone.
Awareness is always the best form of prevention, so here are some common expectations the jiàzhǎng will have of a foreigner teaching English in China.
Chinese parents tend to believe that sticking their kid with a foreigner will magically result in them speaking perfect English with little or no effort, just like throwing a sponge into water. Therefore, if the kid fails to impress, it’s your fault as a teacher.
Some Chinese parents are educated and generally reasonable people, but if you deal with kids from a tǔháo (土豪) background — basically parents who are poorly educated yet loaded with cash — you’ll likely be faced with questions like “English is a just a language, what’s so hard about it?”
Last but not least, if you’re teaching any kid under the age of 16, you will always be judged on their English test scores. The jiàzhǎng might claim at the start that he’s happy with with his kid just improving their spoken English, yet if they aren’t smashing near 100 percent on their English tests come the end of the year, it’s all on you. Welcome to the contradictory world of Chinese parents.
As you no doubt know, learning any foreign language is a long and tiresome process that requires work both in and outside of the classroom. If you’re expecting your students to go home and practice English there, however, that really is wishful thinking.
As most parents will lack sufficient (or any) English skills, the only contact with English your students will be getting is when they’re speaking to you.
Now you know the mountainous expectations placed on your shoulders, what can you do to lighten the load?
Firstly, if you operate on a solo basis, which is where the big money usually is, you can hire some Chinese help for handling parents. If you can’t speak sufficient Chinese then you’ll need help anyway, but even if your Chinese is great, hiring someone local will relieve you of that burden. Scout around universities and colleges and snap up some cheap, fresh and enthusiastic aid.
Make yourself accustomed and immune to criticism and don’t take it personally. Let it go over your head, as most foreigners teaching English in China face the same challenges.
While it’s tempting to stand up for yourself in the face of criticism, if you want to avoid hassle, just agree with the parents’ complaints and promise to fix any issues (even if you’re not going to). China prides itself on being a harmonious society that avoids conflict. This is the Chinese way.
Be okay with the fact that you’ll probably never be able to fulfill the parents’ expectations. If you’re classes are too fun, the students aren’t learning enough. If you’re too serious, the students aren’t having enough fun.
If you’re losing your way, just focus on the tests. If the student is passing their tests, the parents will be happy. They’re the ones paying you, after all.
Don’t promise to boost students’ grades, however. It might seem like a tempting way to secure business considering the importance placed on test scores in China, but it comes with a lot of stress and if you get it wrong it could kill your reputation as a credible teacher.
When pushed by the parents for feedback on their child’s progress, point out weaknesses and never say they’re perfect. Blame anything negative on the lack of English usage outside class hours, shifting the blame for any shortcomings from you to them.
Any other tips for dealing with pushy parents when teaching English in China? Let us know in the comments below.
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Keywords: teaching English in China
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