Let’s face it, English teachers in China are not exactly viewed as people who have been a major success in life. Often the subject of diatribes on many an anonymous internet forum, it’s time to look at why these perceptions exist.
Perceptions by Non-Teaching Expats
On many internet forums devoted to expat life in China, the term LBH (Loser Back Home) is omnipresent. There is a firm perception that many people employed in the TEFL industry do so because they are completely unemployable in their home countries. Sometimes, there is a deal of truth to this. I myself have worked with people who can barely function, do not take their job seriously, are constantly late, and have a drinking problem that would make John Wayne wince. However, this is simplistic to say the least.
People come to China to teach for a whole myriad of reasons- to subsidize international travel, to make a few bucks whilst studying Chinese, to escape personal issues in their home country, to fund a gap year and even to possibly find a spouse. Some people are happy to simply earn a salary that is enough to live on while working a fraction of a Western work week. I feel that the real reason “professional” expats feel the way they do about English teachers is one of lateral aggression. Common insults include, but are in no way limited to:
You’re smart, for an English teacher
No wonder you’re stupid, you must be an English teacher
You’re an English teacher, I’ll TRY not to hold that against you
Why didn’t you just go and work in McDonalds?
English teaching is indeed the McJob of the expat community. Foreigners in China essentially wield no power or influence, so those foreigners who are perceived as less able or capable are targeted by those who feel more worthy- for want of a better word. This phenomenon has been researched extensively in relation to violence in ethnic-minority communities and to bullying in workplaces among people who want to gain favour with their superiors, but it can be equally applied here. China can be a very frustrating place to live, and expats who are perceived as “losers” are a convenient target for vitriol.
There is also a prevalent belief that teaching English is a very easy job that basically involves singing funny songs and dancing in front of small children, this ignores the massive range of classes that foreign teachers conduct here and the hard work that many teachers put in to improving the quality of their lessons. Though in general from my observation the quality of classes from English teachers in China varies hugely from outstanding to embarrassingly bad.
Perceptions by Chinese Employers
In my honest opinion, I think most Chinese people in general are absolutely baffled as to why any Westerner from a wealthy developed country would move to China to teach English. Many Chinese have aspirations to study or work abroad, eager to get into the same rat race that us Westerners ran away from. Also, language schools in China are businesses first and schools second and most owners employ foreign teachers simply for the purpose of “spending money to make money.” A foreign teacher in the classroom can be used to justify increased tuition fees for the students’ parents.
Most owners massively resent having to pay foreigners what they perceive to be a very high salary, for doing what is in their eyes a very simple job. A Canadian I know in Shenzhen who was recently hospitalized due to e.coli poisoning was telephoned by his boss after inquiring whether or not his school provided medical insurance would pay his hospital bill and was told “The medical insurance won’t cover this, and you’re not entitled to sick pay, so when are you coming back to work?”. I think this sums up the attitude towards many teachers in language schools.
Perceptions of Race and Ethnicity
Much has been made online about the attitude of Chinese employers in the TEFL industry toward non-white and non-native speakers, and how they would rather employ a white person from Russia than a black person from USA. In their defence, this is simply echoing the perceptions of the parents, who are their customers. There is a strongly held belief that white people from USA, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand are the best people for the job, so they are the recipient of favourable discrimination as they are the best for business. I haven’t worked in a school for over four years, but I’ll never forget one exchange I had with a foreign affairs officer:
Her: Alex, can you help me find a new teacher, do you know anybody who can work here?
Me: Possibly, I know of a couple of people who may be looking for a new job.
Her: Oh, I must tell you, they must be white people. Obama black would be ok, but not darker.
Another person I know, who is of Greek American descent, was threatened with having his contract terminated at a university where he held a professorship simply because he had gone on holiday to Hainan and lounged on the beach for a few days. When he returned his skin was very dark, which royally peeved off his dean.
What, if anything, can English teachers do to change these negative perceptions? Or do they really matter at all? I think that the best English teachers in China are successful because they don’t need a pat on the back from someone telling them that they’re doing a good job, and don’t care that the biggest source of resentment is from the very person that pays their salary.
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Keywords: Teaching English China China English Teachers Perception
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You're an English teacher and you don't know it's "you're not happy" and not the possessive pronoun "your not happy?" I teach geography and history and I know the difference between possessive pronouns and contractions. You just proved you don't know English syntax. You also don't know grammar as you forgot a comma. If you're good, you can spot your mistake. Next time, get off your high horse before attacking someone who speaking truth.
Apr 06, 2015 21:52 Report Abuse
You teach geography and history and you can speak english aswell! Mind=blown. Apologies to everyone who got annoyed at my school boy errors, I shall flay myself tonight as punishment and come back in the future and beg for mercy. "attacking someone who speaking truth" ←what is this rubbish?, now I want ten our fathers and you are forgiven. Your name's not Manuel by any chance? You speak english well? You learn it from a book?
Apr 07, 2015 18:00 Report Abuse
No, my name is not Manuel. English is my native language. I guess you can say I learned it from a book, as English is part of all New York schools' curricula. Cheers. Your syntax and grammar is still terrible there "English teacher." Maybe you should find a job knowing English rules isn't required.
Apr 07, 2015 19:02 Report Abuse
Seriously lad. (no comma. A period is needed). It's (captialize the I in it's). not my fault she doesn't love you (non-sequitir) but it's easy to see why. You're (you're, not your) too stupid to realise your posts are also full of errors but I'm not petty so I don't point them out (this is a run on sentence). Keep digging that hole proving most English teachers here in China are, as the article stated, "LBH."
Apr 08, 2015 12:49 Report Abuse
Ahhh, you grammar nazis need to chill out man! Leave people alone. Indeed, in a way you represent the type of person whom Fada speaks of, except in this case you scrutinize and insult one's written English instead of how they make a living.
Apr 08, 2015 13:52 Report Abuse
Actually, they don't. My mother died of cancer when I was seven. My father died in a car crash when I was twelve. I was raised by my grandmother, thank you for bringing up something hurtful. Why not attack the German Shepherd that jumped the fence and got hit by a car when I was five? Or watching my grandmother whither away under Alzheimer's Disease? Is there a way I can block this guy? His arrogance is pathetic and his personal insults are just wrong.
Apr 08, 2015 14:15 Report Abuse
In his day job he has very little control, thats why he feels the need to argue symantics on the net, it gives him a sense of worth cause he believes what people write about teachers in china. I suspect everyone else is the problem and not him.....no, never him.
Apr 08, 2015 14:17 Report Abuse
“Christ all mighty, no body cares, seriously. I teach English and I have never encountered any derogatory remarks about me due to my work. Ever. Another fantastic article” I don't even need to mention how ridiculous and juvenile Fada clearly implying just because HE never personally encountered such (which is of course fully reasonable) it means no one else possibly has or could either. Then he just went into self-parody in trying to criticize the writing of others (and touting himself as an English teacher) with consistently laughable English like "no body cares" and the especially ironic "your to stupid to realise." Fada just perfectly illustrated why others will be the ones writing the articles while he just complains about them in as ironic and comical of fashion as possible. :) So let him. Bye gentlemen
Apr 13, 2015 04:33 Report Abuse
How is my comment ridiculous and juvenile while at the same time being perfectly reasonable? I didn't criticize anyones writing style or ability. My critique is with the subject. I should have made that clearer for you GeoHist. I'm sorry if I insulted you and shone a spotlight on your insecurities that has made you afraid to post under your name, I truly am. Let's call a truce ok!
Apr 13, 2015 06:57 Report Abuse
Disregarding the personalities and personal attacks, I actually also find it very disturbing that a person with that bad English skills is working as an English teacher. He / she is teaching Chinese children incorrect English. It is not about being a grammar nazi, it is about taking your responsibility as a human being. If you have no grasp on English grammar and spelling, then you should not be an English teacher. This post may also have one or two minor grammatical mistakes, but English is not my first language and I am for sure not teaching English.
Dec 16, 2015 23:53 Report Abuse
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