ESL Teaching in China - Fact and Fiction About Teachers
Oct 9, 2008 English as a Foreign Language (EFL) 6945 Views
Billy, a former student has come to visit me in Huainan from Hefei, a two-hour ride by bus and a little less by train. He is accompanied by a university classmate, Danny who wants to take Billy's lead in setting up an English training centre in Anqing city. Billy has already launched his business with some success in Bozhou, the city he comes from.
Bozhou is said to be an important centre for trade in Traditional Chinese Medicine. I am told it's the birth place of TCM but knowing how many people like to glorify their hometowns and cities here, I take it with a pinch of the proverbial salt. Anyway, Billy and Danny call on me at my apartment and I am pleased to see them. I have known Billy for three years and know him to be a smart young man.
Billy's father is a teacher at a state-run school in Bozhou and his mother heads an agri-marketing society. They are quite well off. Billy's training centre trains middle school students during the vacations and closes shop for the rest of the year. They need a special licence to offer training throughout the year and that costs money and comes with the right guanxi (connections). That has been settled, Billy tells me, and his training centre will soon be operating all year-round. Moreover, he has also got the licence to operate in Hefei, the provincial capital of Anhui.
Billy is on his way to becoming an established businessman. He is due to graduate from university this year and has done well to get started early, without compromising on his education. Danny wants to open his training centre with Billy's expertise and perhaps, some involvement, too. Maybe, they will be partners or have some sort of a franchisee agreement.
Billy, or shall I say, Danny has brought two cartons of cigarettes (Hongmei, my usual cheap but good smoke) and two six-packs of Snow (good, and relatively cheap) canned beer for me. I protest as he lays the cigarettes on the centre-table and the beer on the carpet. It's nothing, he informs me. I know it means I am expected to return a favour. In China, no serious business is done without dinner or gifts. That's the Way!
We talk about the old times while I was still at the university where he studies and exchange notes about foreign teachers and some students. Then we talk about what we have both done over the past year and how we spent our time. I tell him about my stint with a BPO training company in India and show him some of my studies on esl teaching in China, the students' difficulties, market segments and esl training possibilities. Billy seems very interested and asks for copies of my studies. I say, no, they are not for distribution but if I publish them some day, I will be glad to send him a copy.
Billy asks if I can help him with his training centre and how much I make here as a teacher. I say yes, but only on a part-time basis, if I can find a job in Hefei that pays me better than my 5K salary plus benefits, here. I tell him I don't feel comfortable working full-time for a training centre because many are notorious for non-payment of wages on time (and sometimes, not at all for months), inadequate residential facilities, difficulties with paperwork (visa, residence permit etc) and the work-load they pile on their employees. Billy looks at me and asks if I know how much local teachers are paid. I tell him I do.
Foreign experts, as foreign teachers are often categorized, are paid a salary of RMB 3000 to 5000 a month at most universities for about 16 hours of classes. Some universities pay more and also provide good living conditions with well-equipped free housing, return airfare and paid utilities. Private training centres and schools offer a higher salary but they also pile on a lot more work. Billy listen as I tell him this. Local English teachers are paid about RMB 1500 but that is a base salary. Most teach 10 to 12 classes a week only and sometimes less. They are paid an extra sum of money for every class hour taught. Foreign teachers get a fixed salary and, often, they are not paid for the twelfth month, including those that work at state-run universities. Sometimes, they are paid half or even nothing when the holidays are on. Local teachers are paid throughout the year and they get a bonus at the end of the year. I ask Billy, what his father gets by way of an annual bonus. It's very little, he informs me, saying it's only twenty thousand at the end of the year.
I look at Billy and tell him 20,000 a year means almost 2000 a month when you factor in the unpaid months in Foreign teachers' salaries. Billy nods. And, what about those hongbao's (red paper envelopes, stuffed with money - a gift often given to teachers to by school students, in particular. Billy gives me a sheepish smile, saying that's not part of the salary. It's part of one's income, I persist.
I ask him if the FT's get any pension after retirement. Billy says there's no reason for them to get a pension since they work short stints. I agree, I tell him, but that amount can be factored in, anyway. Local teachers also get large, long-term, low-interest bearing advances which they use to buy housing. There's nothing similar for foreign teachers, I go on. It's time the myth was broken, I tell him as I clinch my argument. Billy is silent. It's not fair, I tell him, when you consider all these factors and especially the fact that many FT's are far better at their jobs than many local teachers, though, decidedly not in all cases. There are many FT's in China who take neither their work nor their students seriously and they end up doing considerable harm to the image of their countries of origin as also to that of all FT's in general. Billy agrees, but silences me with a 'who said life was fair'.
I know I have won the argument on facts but Billy has won it on something more.