Saturday, April 1, 2017

You Want Me to do What???

As foreign teacher, I am contractually obligated to participate in English club activities and other occasions, such as speech competitions, that pertain to English. As the only foreign teacher here, I am called on to participate in all activities that pertain to English. You might think that, above and beyond my already full schedule, attending such events is strenuous and time consuming, but it really isn't that bad, especially seeing as both of our English clubs have been fallow these past few years. And besides, I am only called on to participate or attend, never to coordinate or plan.

Of course, participating with no real knowledge of what is expected of me is problematic. Everything gets planned, and all instructions are given in Chinese, which has led to confusion and, sometimes, hilarity (See Exploding Students entry, posted December 2015). Still, I enjoy my students and relish any chance to mingle with them outside the classroom.

And then, Helen Wang started a club called Mr. E. She is an English teacher who instructs non-English majors, such as International Trade majors or Engineering majors; classes I don't teach. I can see where these students need  exposure to a native English speaker, but I don't like the way she runs her club: setting up activities, and then blindsiding me with an engraved invitation to speak to students too shy to use any English skills they might posess, at a moment's notice.

These instances, of mingling with students I do not know, tend to be awkward and uncomfortable because Helen devises activities – paltry activities that don't require a bunch of time!, and expects me to lead them with no help or input from her. Also, the students don't understand anything I say, which makes giving instructions difficult. And she expects a full hour and a half of my time, leaving other teachers to supervise while she disappears, presumably to ensure I do not disband the students before their allotted time is up.

Fortunately, she has not called on me to conduct activities this year. Yet.

And then, there is a fourth group. I don't know what their major is, but the clan is billed as The Morning Reading Group. As far as I know, they are not even a formal club.

Last November, a student named Steven contacted me about conducting an activity. He said he got my number from Ms. Wang, presumably the same Helen Wang that formerly coordinated uncomfortable activities.  However, she has not contacted me, so I have no idea what her motivation is for having this student make an appeal on her behalf.   

In Steven's initial message, he stated he had no idea what we should do, but an activity must be conducted and he hoped I could come up with some suggestions. I suggested a movie. Remembering how non-English major students act around me – too shy to say 'boo!' and balking at my - to them incomprehensible - instructions, a movie in English would fit the bill perfectly. And, if students were of a mind to do so, we could discuss it afterward. Except for some students walking out, the event went fairly well.

Last week, another message: another activity? Do I have any suggestions?

And here's the problem: these people don't understand me, and I have little patience for being put on the spot, required to coordinate and host events that leave people scratching their heads and giving me blank stares. Still, Steven is a good kid, and he tries hard to make the best of things, so I told him of my qualms and returned to a movie (with Chinese subtitles) as the best option. He agreed to discuss it with his group leader and get back with me. The group leader averred that a movie would not be sufficient. I should come up with something better. Oh, no! Echoes of last year, when the school leaders demanded better entertainment!

I am getting a little fed up with people demanding better entertainment from me.

And who is this leader, anyway? Why can't s/he manifest herself and plan, or at least coordinate with me? Keeping my temper in check, I messaged Steven to that effect. He then offered to let me meet their leader.

And so it came to be that Glen messaged me. He is a kid I met at our movie event last November. He wanted to come over and discuss the matter. I agreed to a meeting, but not at my house. After all, my house is supposed to be a sanctuary, not invaded by students wanting quality entertainment.

Imagine my ire when, on Sunday, a couple of students climbed onto my balcony and peered into my house as I was cleaning. At the same time, Glen calls to inform me that he and a few club members are right outside my door, could I please let them in?

It took my counting to 10 twice before I could stifle my rage enough to open my door.

All conversation I had had with Glen, both by text and by phone, was in Chinese. Furthermore, he and the other 2 students he showed up with could not/did not converse in English. We resorted to translation software to communicate until Steven showed up (sure! Why not? My house is already invaded!). At least Steven can communicate in English, so I was happy to see him. Besides, he really is a good kid.

The irony of students who cannot use English but want the school's foreign teacher to plan, coordinate and host an event in English apparently escaped them. And, as irony doesn't translate well into Chinese, I had no way of explaining the satire. 

For Steven's benefit, I came up with some suggestions: a cooking demonstration – provided he could arrange for us to use one of the campus cafeterias. It had been tried before, and didn't go well. A swap meet: get rid of clothes and books. A fashion show: Steven shot that one down, alleging students to be too shy. A blood drive: too contrary to Chinese culture. A cookout: the school will not allow club activities off-campus. Maybe on campus?

What about a bike ride? Nearly everyone has the Mobike app, a bike rental system (see Getting Around entry). We could have bike races, play bike polo. What about those who cannot ride? Hmmm.

Apparently my role is now club leader. I am to come up with activities and coordinate them and participate in them, all for students who do not use English?

I am contractually obligated to participate in activities of the English clubs. Nowhere does it say I am to participate or coordinate activities for any and all clubs.

I am here to teach my assigned students, but not to teach every student, or even every person in China. Several years ago, I drew the line in being accosted while out and about by anyone wishing to practice their English – I tell them (in Chinese) that I am French and speak no English, I am drawing the line in leading this group of students. Their attitude and rudeness (except for Steven) is a part of my decision, as well as the fact that they do not and apparently cannot use English, meaning they have no need for a native English speaker.

Maybe they will have better luck with the next foreign teacher.   

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