Editor's Note: Their childrens' education is still priority number one for many Chinese parents. They are spending large portions of their income on English classes, and expect an advanced vocabulary and proper grammar in return. Many believe non-native English speakers should not teach English. For us, someone who has had to learn English can probably teach it better than someone that speaks it naturally. The parents of these students disagree, and did not keep their opinions to themselves. This translated article reports on the legal battle between a Russian ESL teacher and his students' parents.
The debate has been around in China amongst parents since the dawn of ESL: can foreign teachers who are not native English speakers teach English? Having a Chinese teacher speak English in the classroom never seems to be a problem, but a non-white or non-native foreign teacher raises eyebrows and comments from parents. In this case, the school in question fought back and threatened to sue parents for spreading rumors about their foreign teacher.
A Guangzhou kindergarten in Zhujiang New Town drafted a letter from a lawyer to the parents after the parents complained in a WeChat group about the school’s native Russian English teacher. The kindergarten asked the parent who created the WeChat group to apologize for the so-called libelous remarks and requested 2,000 Yuan compensation. Originally, the school had thought that “as long as the teacher was white” there would be no problems.
Venting on WeChat
The parents of Milo International Kindergarten in Zhujiang New Town had their own WeChat group created by a parent named Sally. In the group, they discussed a new teacher, hired in early October. “My child no longer wants to speak English at home,” said one. “My child says that the new English teacher does not teach anything and they can’t understand them.”
Sally, has a 4 year old named Xiao Ming. Xiao Ming is half Chinese and half English. Despite this, she wanted Xiao Ming to receive a formal education in English. She saved up for years when her child was an infant in order to be able to send him to a fancy kindergarten like Milo International.
However, this semester, Sally was surprised when she found out that Xiao Ming’s English teacher was Russian. She was not the only parent concerned- many had expressed their doubts to the school. Sally and her British husband had a personal meeting with the school’s principal to ask whether the Russian teacher had a thick accent and express their concern about the teacher’s lack of English cultural background.
“The principal admitted that the teacher had no experience with small children. They had taught at a Russian university but had not studied early childhood education,” said Sally. Despite this, the kindergarten was not willing to replace the teacher. The parents requested an open lesson with the teacher, and the kindergarten rejected their request.
“Russians Cannot Teach English”
“Russians cannot teach English. Not as long as there is a white person that can fill the roll,” said Sally in the parent’s WeChat group. “If the school says that the teacher has qualifications, certificates and so on…you can just buy these for several hundred kuai,” said another parent.
The head of the kindergarten was told about the parents’ comments on the new teacher. On October 26, the kindergarten sent the parents of the Russian teacher’s class a letter stating that the Russian teacher was hired legally and holds a Foreign Expert Certificate in English teaching. The letter also accused parents of spreading rumors and fabricating the facts to slander both the kindergarten and the kindergarten’s teachers. Because of this, the kindergarten said that they would take legal action.
Thursday afternoon, Sally received a letter from the kindergarten’s lawyer, asking her to apologize, remove the slanderous remarks from the WeChat group, and compensate the school 2,000 Yuan for damages to the school’s reputation.
“They know my home address, but they also have my contact details. We want to work with the school to solve the problem, but why didn’t they communicate with me directly instead of sending a letter from their lawyer?” said Sally. She worried about Xiao Ming, who was still in the kindergarten. That afternoon, she went to the school and withdrew her child.
Milo Defends Its Teacher
Milo International Kindergarten’s Chen Yunping said that the school’s foreign teachers are hired legally and hold Foreign Expert Certificates. “The teacher in question has a TEFL certificate, which is one of the internationally recognized certifications for teaching English as a foreign language.”
To the parents that questioned the Russian teacher’s background and experience, “He taught at a university, and studied family education for half a year. He also has previous experience working in a preschool,” said Chen.
Chen said that it was fine that the parents asked about the teacher’s qualifications, but even after seeing them, many still spread inappropriate rumors. “Although the WeChat group only had 20 people, who knows who else heard their comments?” Chen believes that Sally’s remarks about the kindergarten and teacher damaged the school’s reputation. “She even accused the school of hiring “black-market teachers.”
Guangzhou lawyer Liao Jianxun said that Sally’s behavior does not constitute libel or slander. Liao said that by questioning the teacher’s qualifications, Sally’s WeChat group did not deliberately fabricate any facts. The remarks on the group were not widely spread (they were not sent to other WeChat friends or sent to the media by Sally and the parents). This, therefore does not constitute libel.
Liao said that the kindergarten did not have legal grounds for their letter, and Sally does not need to respond to it.
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Keywords: ESL kindergarten libel ESL Russian teacher
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Asian Parents are very picky on their children's teacher. If they aren't white, they will question the school. Im Asian, but born in North America. WHen parents see me, they also question whether i can speak english. But once the parents see me demo teach, the parent attitude changed. And when l said "I have a B.Ed" the parent has a new respect for me and sign up the kid. Crazy how parents pre-judge
Aug 03, 2016 13:02 Report Abuse
I know quite a few Russian and Nordic teachers; and mostly they're great people. English isn't too bad, etc... But that's not the point. The point is the school out and out lied, and then threatened a mother to save face. Bottom line: can't get a legal Foreign Expert's Certificate unless you're from a native English speaking country. That's the nature of importing a foreigner to teach something instead of a local Chinese. Russia is definitely not an English speaking country, and a Russian teacher is definitely ILLEGAL, and hired merely to work at a lower wage. The school (the institution charged with educating so many young impressionable lives)is a filth hole of lies and deceit. And people ought to know that before sending their children.
Dec 01, 2015 06:19 Report Abuse
...sigh... The thread is about English teaching. I ascertained that a Russian citizen cannot be a legal English teacher in China, and neither can you. These are laws of the PRC and aren't a secret, nor anything to do with me. I could care less who does what here. But in the context of the article, the parents were well within their right to complain about having an illegal foreign teacher. Obviously you can get an FEC for other professions. English teaching is but one of the professions foreigners may have in China. So thanks for the attitude, but my facts are completely straight.
Feb 17, 2016 16:36 Report Abuse
Most of my college professors learned English as a second language. I didn't think they utilized the best teaching methods, but they sure knew their chit. I credit them for teaching me the the rules, theories and whatnot, but it was the native speakers who actually taught me how to teach ESL. Diversity is usually a recipe for disaster, but it wasn't in this case. If an ESL teacher (native or otherwise) majored in TESL or TESOL, then he or she will surely have something of value to contribute.
Nov 28, 2015 04:40 Report Abuse
Good point. Teaching is much better when no silly books are involved. Each teacher should figure out how to teach every word, grammar point and sentence structure of the entire English language by themselves before each class. That's called sarcasm. Of course you need books to teach a language! And perhaps if you were a native English speaker you'd understand the jokes. I guess you're proving that a native speaker IS important...hmm. Just saying :)
Dec 01, 2015 06:10 Report Abuse
"in our play hang a man" You mean they act out a drama about murder, as this implies, or they "play hangman," which is a letter game? Honestly I don't understand what your point is; you seem to say American teachers suck, so its Ok to hire illegal non-natives to teach English because they're not much worse? I'm betting the teacher's you saw had little training/experience and that sucks. They maybe shouldn't be teaching. But it's legal, and its what parents want to see. You see, its illegal to hire a non-native English teacher. THAT'S the whole point. So maybe you're a great teacher, I have some great Russian and Ukrainian friends who are, but it doesn't change one fact: if a parent pays for a legal native speaker, they want that. And the school will lie and manipulate, and that will make the parent angrier. Nothing to do with the teacher there, it's all on the crappy management of the school.
Jan 12, 2016 06:31 Report Abuse
Shining brow - in simple terms no. After the school said he had no experience in teaching at kindergarten level they already disqualified themselves. To reiterate the crux of the issue - if I sold you sight unseen a car cash in advance and deliver a three wheeler would you accept it or kick up a fuss. My argument - it still gets you from a to b, other point is I wasn't advertising anything to the contrary - unlike the school in question.
Nov 07, 2015 21:05 Report Abuse
I have mixed views. On one hand kudos to the school for defending one of its teachers, I live and work in Thailand and the parents are always right. On the other hand non-nes may do a great job when it comes to grammar,reading and writing, they are way behind when it come to the most important aspect with English and that is listening and speaking.
Nov 07, 2015 19:07 Report Abuse
As the husband of the lady in question ‘Sally’ – I feel it’s only right to dispel some of the ‘Chinese Whispers’ that may circulate. This whole saga started over a month ago, at the time we were on an holiday in the UK. The WeChat group in question was instigated by another mother that complained her son refused to speak English. This refusal to speak English sparked the group conversation along the lines of “…my son isn’t speaking English, what about yours? My wife was one of the other mothers invited into this group and was as finger happy on her phone as any of the others – it is after all a WeChat forum for mothers! Apparently one parent was told that the teacher in question was from the UK which of course didn’t help their argument later. For whatever reason someone within this group gave the whole thread to the school and they then sought to take legal proceedings against my wife and issued a letter to all other parents. The reason for my wife being singled out is based on their tenuous libel and slander arguments; my wife’s lawyer dismissed these as being unsubstantiated. I actually met with the teacher in question in an unplanned manner when picking my son and was ‘invited’ to talk to the head by my wife and another mother. The head was quite defensive to the point of arrogant and refused to acknowledge an issue with native English speaker or otherwise. It is here that the story gets confused by non-issues – the school actively advertised for native English speakers abroad and promoted the school as having such (job ad links below), hence parents expectations being what there were/are. The teacher in question has no experience at teaching in kindergarten – we were told he would pick it up (one of their own job ads states more important to have ‘willingness to learn about Chinese culture’ than qualified in teaching at kindergarten level). http://www.uccs.edu/Documents/international/milo/Milo%20Job%20Description%20and%20How%20to%20Apply_Mar%202013.pdf I have no issue with any qualified person teaching English or any other subject (many are better qualified than native speakers as this verbiage will attest), and certainly do not want to impede any one putting bread on the table. I actually have a lot of sympathy for the guy getting dragged into all this – he was only looking for a job, the school vetted and employed as they saw fit. In short, the school: • Misled parents about their offering and profited from this - it’s not about who teaches better English • Did not seek any form of mediation, but rather tried to strong arm (read – threaten) my wife into submission (unfortunately they picked on the wrong person) The school whilst not being cheap is not the most expensive, the difference is that this value (perceived or otherwise) is heavily diluted when they knowingly mislead parents and expect the same of level of fees to be paid i.e. profiting from lies. This whole episode is nothing to do with the nationality of the teacher, or being native speaker per se, the issue is the school knowingly misled its customers and resorted to unnecessary behavior when found out. At time of writing it would seem that the kindergartens website has been taken down. Job ad links: http://teachoverseas.tesall.com/esl-tesol-jobs?id=29461 http://www.chinasemester.com/en/jobview.asp?keyid=607 http://www.esljobscenter.com/jobs/milo-english-kindergarden-1396.aspx
Nov 06, 2015 21:56 Report Abuse
I'm curious - did you think this teacher would have been acceptable to you if you hadn't been misled? You said you spoke to the teacher, but didn't suggest any comments in regards to his actual English ability... (let alone, teaching ability).
Nov 07, 2015 12:31 Report Abuse
In countries like India, it will be an extremely rare sight to find a foreigner teaching English. Yet, many Indians have impeccable grammar. Someone who had to learn English, obviously knows the obstacles involved and has tools to overcome them. It seems that rather than the correct grammar, its the american accent that fascinates the Chinese the most. Command over a language can not be someone's birthright. Whoever works hard enough, can not only learn a new language, but teach also.
Nov 06, 2015 17:46 Report Abuse
A) I think you don't fully understand the word 'impeccable', given the penchant for using Continuous forms for what clearly should be Simple. B) language is more than just grammar. Pronunciation is extremely important - especially if you want to be understood by people from other places in the world.Obviously, this doesn't just pertain to India, nor for that matter, only Non-native English speaking countries - many native speakers have horrendous pronunciation. But, yeah, I totally agree with your comments on someone's will to become fluent enough to teach!!! And often, yes, understanding the difficulties in acquiring the language are important - though I'm not sure that it needs to be a 1 to 1 situation. I've tried a few languages, surely it means I can understand how others might have difficulty learning English??
Nov 06, 2015 19:24 Report Abuse
It is much simpler to point a finger at myself and just say my name. People will understand. That is also a form of a simple communication. But we strive to do better than that. Pronunciation is something which comes naturally. You don't have to work for it so you can't take credit for having A type of accent and discredit someone for having B type of accent. While Grammar is something that you need to learn. And hey, while we are at analytical dissection of my remark, it might be worthwhile to note that 1 in 5 Americans can not read or write English. 23% Americans are illiterate !! Here, I do not wish to belittle a nation because of its minor problem, but I strongly dispute the myth that native English speakers can teach better English. Grammar is one dimension and pronunciation is another dimension. We can not say that having only one without the other is good enough. I work with many Chinese people and if I close my eyes, for a moment I would think that I am listening to an American person!! But the quality of Language, basic sentence structure .... I better not say anything. Having said that, I never believe that it is wrong for Chinese families to want their children to learn from native English speakers. If someone can provide them with both the dimensions, then why not? If they want to send their children to America or Australia for higher education, it is better to learn from them. After all, It is wise to learn the ways of the adversary. And as for not having having foreigner English teachers in India, I guess Indians don't feel the need to ape the accent of native English speakers. Having impeccable grammar is just fine !
Nov 08, 2015 11:44 Report Abuse
I am very surprised that the school sided with the Russian over the whims of the parents, usually if the parents complain about anything at all they get their way. I wrote two extensive articles on perception of foreign teachers on this site and in those I said that challenging perception in China is just pissing in the wind. The parents want native English speakers with white skin in their classroom, in most cases they're prepared to pay for it, and the schools discriminatory hiring practices reflect that. I do wonder though- if a language such as Russian was suddenly imposed as the World's langua franca (Could have been if the Cold War had gone differently or Stalin had gotten his way) and I could speak Russian fluently would I get a fair shake at teaching Russian or would the Russians cry wolf??
Nov 06, 2015 14:15 Report Abuse
I am always amused by these stories about non-native teachers teaching ESL. I am not sure if it ever happens to have enough number of qualified ESL teachers in China. Especially considering Chinese mentality about importance of education. And as for native teachers, it is possible to move up the teaching qualification bar a little and say that all ESL teachers should speak the host country language. This is the case in my home country and I think it is quite sensible to require from teachers to speak the language in which they can communicate with students effectively just to be able to know when they want to go to toilet for example. I agree with what I have read recently that perhaps IELTS score of 7.5 or 8.0 together with relevant studies and appropriate methodological approach makes a good ESL teacher. PS. To those native speakers of English from "the big 5 five'' - how they often like to call themselves, who feel superior when reading comments of non-native speakers of English - I am not an ESL teacher!
Nov 06, 2015 11:17 Report Abuse
You do know that the "Big 5" really is a China thing... admittedly, I think first coined by either Kachru or Crystal (I forget who... I recall both wrote about it - not sure who was first). And, no, we consider ourselves individuals. As for the IELTS score - perhaps, but with 1 caveat - minimum scores in Speaking and Writing. I see a few 7.5's cos they scored high in the reading and the listening, but still suck at the production skills!
Nov 06, 2015 19:20 Report Abuse
How long have you been in China if you still find things hard to believe? Anyway most of the foreign teachers in China are sex freaks, drug/alcohol addicts or idiots being not able to handle their lives. And actually these are usually native speakers of English as non-natives can appreciate China is giving them a chance. And if I had to employ a teacher who does not speak perfect English but is a decent candidate or a native loser then I would chose the first one. On the top of this there is the demand for teachers in China and then there is the whole story about the market here. Again, it is not going to change soon, if ever.
Nov 07, 2015 20:01 Report Abuse
Wtf man...get off your high horse. You accuse native speakers of the same mentality you have. I am a native speaker. I appreciate China just as much as you. You complain about teaching aspect. I wonder if the white worship aspect disappered here would you feel the same way. Despite the fact that you are not native; you would still get hired over me because you are white and I'm black.
Nov 08, 2015 06:26 Report Abuse
I am not accusing anyone just stating facts and trying to explain why many schools choose non-natives which is later the cause of native teachers disappointment. The colour of skin of foreign teachers is another thing and admittedly it is ridiculous but everyone has to remember that the history of modern capitalistic China is quite short - many Chinese are just still convinced about white being better. I can't help you with this.
Nov 08, 2015 10:02 Report Abuse