I am once again facing an uncertain future. I will teach my final class tomorrow in Huzhou. Their beloved American will arrive Saturday and can start teaching Monday which effectively makes me irrelevant. In order to assuage the concerns of Chinese contacts I agreed to at least grant a hiring agent an audience. It was supposed to be for a well-regarded boarding school in Zhuhai, just across a narrow strip of water from Macau. It wasn’t that at all. It was an agent for a Chinese firm that places language teachers with foreign nationalities with schools that need them. Despite my disgust I went along with it just to get it over with. No need to be rude to strangers, she didn’t mean any harm.

She asked a question which enraged me – so much so that I could taste the bile inching up my throat. She asked me why I “quit” after only a month. No, my good lady, I did not quit – I was forced out for the temerity of having been born in Europe and for being very much a product of the continent of my birth. No, Madame, I did not quit. Whatever the faults of the school are I very much enjoyed working with most students. I was getting better and making due with a difficult situation. I did not wish to argue or kick up a fuss. To avoid a conflict I had to lie which made me feel sicker yet. I told her that I asked to go elsewhere because I was ill-suited to work with children.

Over the last week I sussed out the circumstances surrounding the early demise of my Chinese teaching career. The school in the recent past was excellent and its tuition reflected that. However, in recent years the school has declined markedly, mostly due to poor administrative choices and the inability of the school to retain enough qualified teachers. I was merely a sacrificial lamb by an incompetent head teacher who wanted to look resolute without actually changing anything. This will buy him a few months. It was also assumed that I’d quietly fade away – take a few thousand pounds, transfer to another city or even province and then leave. Instead, I’ve refused transfer, will still receive several thousand pounds in damages and leave China by the end of the month. This will force them to pay fines for cancelling a work visa early.

At first I will fly to California for a few months, just to collect my thoughts. I will continue to work part-time at college and resume my responsibilities at the state park where I volunteered before. In February I will probably go to Germany for a few weeks before flying to Spain to start my next adventure.

Author: Christopher-Dorset

A Bloody Kangaroo

12 thoughts on “Decisions.”

  1. A friend of ours from Kent, who has a brother who is doing ESL for more than twenty years in China said to me, that you should not take it personal, but the situation for foreign teachers in China seems to become more and more difficult

  2. Sheona: thank you.

    FoE: in China they often treat employees very poorly and do as they please with them. Chinese employees accept it but Western employees rarely do. In many ways China is an increasingly nasty, unpleasant place. Although there is much more money than there was a few decades ago expectations are also increasingly unreasonable. They pay better than they did in the past but fail to realise that it’s not unremarkable. I simply cannot be bothered so, in the words of the great Dame Vera Lynn,”Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye, cheerio here I go on my way”!

  3. Good when a plan works out, Christopher, hold your nerve and I doubt if you will shed many tears when you leave China. It’s not on the whole been a happy experience in many ways.

  4. Araminta: I had some good colleagues and a number of excellent students. I ignored the bad and embraced all that was good. It was heart-wrenching for me to lose these children because we were building a strong rapport with each other. Still, given the choice of grovelling for whatever scraps they wish to toss in my general direction or leaving on my own terms I’d rather leave on my own terms.

  5. A good and inspirational headteacher can turn a school around. Sadly, the opposite is also true – a hapless, all-at-sea headteacher can wreck the reputation of a school in a matter of months. His or her first defensive ploy is to turn on individuals whom they can use as scapegoats – invariably new staff who are still finding their feet.

    You arrived at the wrong time, probably through no fault of your own Christopher. A strong headteacher would have given friendly survival tips. A weak one is more concerned with saving his or her own skin before the Board of Governors.

    Just put it down to experience and move on. Headteachers are a bit of a lottery. Solution? Aim to be one yourself on a reasonable time scale – say 10 years in your case. Study the goals and psychology of headteachership. Regard the failures you encounter personally on the way up as part of your route-to-headmastership learning curve.

  6. Perhaps nothing has changed since Madame Butterfly in Puccini’s times. I have never been to China, only know it second hand, but it seems to me as a great opportunity to study something like an ‘unfamiliar culture’, but to stay there longer, I don’t know, you perhaps might need a bigger sense of adveneure than most people have. In the end it is not about teaching or career, it is about living with other people.

  7. Some folk are harder to live with than others, as we all know. Of all the places I’ve been to, China is the least easy.

  8. Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.

    In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
    Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the Horror of the shade,
    And yet the menace of the years
    Finds and shall find me unafraid.

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
    I am the master of my fate,
    I am the captain of my soul.

  9. Colin: one reason why I was recommended to this school was my experience working with Chinese students abroad. I knew how they spoke, how they wrote and what the problems in their language education were. However, there is a difference between knowing what problems are and knowing what to do about them. The head teacher never spoke to me. I never knew who he was. From the beginning things were done behind my back with no warning or notice.It was well and truly a pit of vipers. Good children, many good teachers but an administration that would make Kafka struggle to describe. This is typically Chinese. They refuse to acknowledge what their problems are.

    FoE/Janus: it is very much possible to do very, very well in China — even as a mere foreign language teacher. It takes some time to build a reputation and learn the rules, but once done, someone who was a first-year language teacher a mere 3-4 years before can become a head teacher/administrator/regional vice-president, etc. At the same time one must pay a high price for that, survive intrigues, incorrect casting of blame, immeasurable levels of incompetence and breath-taking disregard for people.One is also required to accept that life in China is at best a roller-coaster. You can go up just as quickly as you can go down. You’ll survive in the end, even be a stunning success, but you will pay dearly for it. This is why, honestly, I learnt Japanese. In Japan there aren’t many avenues to high positions for non-Japanese. One can survive and live comfortably, of course, and the Japanese are generally very gracious people. It takes time to understand Japan, but Japan doesn’t change so quickly. There are fewer ups but there are also fewer downs. It’s a most civilised of countries.

    Jazz: smiley thing.

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