Teaching Chinese (and China) in the United States

Full disclosure: the author of this post is a Chinese language teacher in the United States.

I have written on this topic before, but the New York Times has published another fascinating article on Chinese language teaching in the US, and the experiences of Chinese teachers who come from China to the US for the first time to teach their native language.

“My life in high school was torture, just studying, nothing else,” said Ms. Zheng (pronounced djung). “Here students lead more interesting lives,” partly because they are more involved in athletics, choir and other activities.

“They party, they drink, they date,” she added. “In China, we study and study and study.”

High school may be where the most severe gap between Chinese and American schools exists, but having worked in both systems, I wonder if the best way to run an education system isn’t somewhere in the middle of these two. The Chinese system, aside from being a bit inhuman, does nothing whatsoever to foster well-rounded kids or help them develop their social skills. The American system, on the other hand, tends to produce kids with an excess of social skills and a dearth of academic abilities. Given the sharp contrast here, it’s not difficult to imagine the culture shock Chinese teachers face when they move to the States:

In interviews, several other Chinese teachers said they had some difficulties adjusting to the informality of American schools after working in a country where students leap to attention when a teacher enters the room.

[…]

Ms. Zheng said none of her students had been disagreeable, and Samantha Weidenmaier, an assistant principal at the school, MacArthur High, said that in Ms. Zheng’s classes “the respect levels are kicked up a notch.”

Still, Ms. Zheng said she believed that teachers got little respect in America.

“This country doesn’t value teachers, and that upsets me,” she said. “Teachers don’t earn much, and this country worships making money. In China, teachers don’t earn a lot either, but it’s a very honorable career.”

Zheng makes a great point here. We can’t blame the flaws of the American education system wholly on its informal atmosphere or its emphasis on extracurriculars. The fact is, very few of America’s outstanding students go on to teach in public schools (or even private schools), and why the hell would they? Generally speaking, teaching jobs offer terrible wages, schools provide little to no training or support for their teachers, and while the vacations are hard to beat, working hours when school is in session can be brutal. This is all true in China, too, but the upside is that saying “I’m a teacher” often garners respect, whereas in the States it’s just as likely (if not more likely) to garner contempt, derision, and pedantry. “Those who can’t do, teach,” as the old joke goes, and teachers in the States are frequently forced to deal with parents who assume that they are stupid, incompetent, and “out to get” their children. Parents in China thank you for teaching their kids, but parents in the US lecture, demand, and blame you for their children’s failures real or perceived ((Of course, this is a generalization. Many American parents are great, and there are certainly Chinese parents who do these same things too.)). It’s no secret why American schools constantly lack teachers.

Continuing in the NYT article:

Ms. Zheng said she spent time clearing up misconceptions about China.

“I want students to know that Chinese people are not crazy,” she said. For instance, one of her students, referring to China’s one-child-per-family population planning policy, asked whether the authorities would kill one of the babies if a Chinese couple were to have twins.

I have found this to be a remarkably widespread and virulent misconception. I’m not sure where it comes from, but I have read dozens of student papers on China that explain how the One Child Policy means the Chinese government will summarily execute any children you have after the first one. I get these papers even after we’ve covered the One Child Policy in class and I’ve stressed repeatedly that the government is not in the business of murdering children. It’s frustrating, and it’s probably also pretty horrifying for native Chinese teachers when they inevitably discover it.

That afternoon, Ms. Zheng taught classes at Central Middle School, drilling 22 eighth graders on how to count to 100 in Chinese and explaining some Chinese holidays before turning her back to write a Chinese tongue twister on the board.

Out of the blue, a girl with long brown hair asked her classmates loudly: “Where’s France at?”

“In Europe,” a boy with baggy jeans called out from across the room.

“France is not in Europe,” another boy said.

Ms. Zheng just kept writing Chinese characters on the board.

This scene will sound familiar to every American teacher, but it’s hard to imagine in China. I’m not referring to the geographical ignorance, but rather to the widespread belief among American students that silence on the part of the teacher — especially if the teacher is writing on the board — signals an invitation to engage in private conversations.

This sort of thing is something American teachers quickly learn to manage (or are ultimately destroyed by). But it strikes me that “classroom management” probably isn’t even a topic of discussion at most Chinese high schools, where students don’t tend to speak up much during class for any reason, let alone to disrupt it. For Chinese teachers moving to the States, it must be very difficult not to take this kind of behavior personally, not to take it as a slight against China or Chinese.

Education is a valuable tool for intercultural communication but it can just as easily lead to frustration and disillusionment if one isn’t careful. The article doesn’t really discuss it, but I suspect many of the teachers the Chinese government sends here aren’t getting proper training or adequate preparation for what they’re going to face in American classrooms.

And teaching Chinese might well lead to more trouble than teaching some other random subject. Many Americans (and more than a few Chinese) believe there is something ineffable about Chinese that makes it impossible for average people to learn. Remarkably, this phenomenon exists even among students who are learning Chinese and have memorized characters or distinguished tones (for example) successfully in the past. In my scant year of teaching Chinese, I have had multiple students tell me that they’re not physically capable of reproducing characters. They have functional hands and no problems with English writing, so the suggestion is obviously preposterous, but it seems possible to them. After all, it’s Chinese. Some people, probably even most people, just can’t do it.

Right?

New on ChinaGeeks

A word of apology for the recent lack of posts, as well as the rather slapdash one you see above: May is the busiest time of the year for my school, and my workload is compounded by the beginning of work on a new ChinaGeeks-related project. I can’t reveal any more than that at the moment, but we’re hoping to keep pushing the boundaries in the wake of becoming one of the first bilingual bridge blogs on China. (All praise due to China Dialogue, who’s been doing it for years on environmental issues, and of course Global Voices Online, the ultimate super bridge blog.)

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0 thoughts on “Teaching Chinese (and China) in the United States”

  1. I believe teaching is more of an art. It requires patience and very thick skin. For those that belittle teachers, I suspect that they would not last very long if they were put into a teaching position.

    I’m a bit surprised how students in China (as Ms. Zheng pointed out) are similar to Japanese. Yes, I agree that there needs to be a balance between school and extracurricular activities.

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  2. The problem isn’t really a lack of respect for teachers–that is a symptom of the complete lack of respect for intellectual pursuits. Americans always think of people who excel at natural science and math to be unsocial nerds who suffer from Asperger’s syndrome.

    This is why Americans are dumb as dirt and still running a theocracy when the rest of the developed world has already caught on that, for example, fossil evidence looks pretty convincing.

    –oh yeah, before anyone gets their panties in a bunch, I am a US citizen.

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  3. So typically one sided. Yes, all parents thank teachers in China. Yes, all the students jump to attention in China.

    China does have forced abortions. So this isn’t too far out for the US students to think. That Chinese teacher, of course, has no knowldge of this in her harmoniously Chinese molded mind.

    “For Chinese teachers moving to the States, it must be very difficult not to take this kind of behavior personally, not to take it as a slight against China or Chinese.” What? Why would it even be a slight against China?

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  4. @ Dave: Read the footnote, dammit.

    As for forced abortions…yes, it has happened, but it isn’t government policy, nor is it even remotely common. How many Chinese people do you know who have had children killed by the government? In the US, torture and murder of black people, homosexuals, etc., has happened under the supervision of local government folks too, but they obviously aren’t allowed or tolerated under US law…so wouldn’t you be horrified and somewhat offended if Chinese people suggesting that the US gov’t murders black people?

    It could be taken as a slight against China in that Chinese teachers may assume their students are acting that way because they’re Chinese. Given the close associations many Chinese make between nationality and ethnicity/race, some might also take it as a slight against China, especially when combined with ridiculously misguided stereotypes like “China murders babies.”

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  5. TO: C. Custer, et. al.

    I do believe that some are forgetting the context to which these Chinese teachers are dealing with, when it comes to teaching in American schools, i.e. Visable and Vocal Religious Beliefs. When some students are writing that the P.R. Chinese government is killing babies – they are refering to the unborn. Whether the teachers, or the folks that are participating in this discussion believe that, is neither here or there – but that realization does need to come into play.

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  6. As for teaching itself… my sister is a teacher, and is doing something I could not do, even as a sub. No joke, children smell fear… and my time in the classroom was a karmic payback of epic proportions. To quote Kindergarden Cop:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099938/quotes

    Detective John Kimble: How do I look?
    Phoebe O’Hara: Take off the gun.
    [Kimble realizes he has strapped on his shoulder holster]
    Detective John Kimble: That’s a good idea.
    Phoebe O’Hara: Little bastards are gonna eat you alive.
    Detective John Kimble: Get some rest and don’t worry. I’ve been working undercover for a long time. They’re six-year-olds. How much trouble can they be?
    Phoebe O’Hara: On second thought, take the gun.

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  7. C Custer,

    While you make some important points, I don’t totally agree with you about the teachers thing. I think part the problem with teachers in the US is Unions. In many of parts of the school system, teachers are paid based on tenure. So he/she can be worst teacher out there but gets paid alot because he/she is there the longest. I know the worst unionized school systems is in NYC and I recalled that in one of the years only 2 teachers got fired, and that’s for misappropriate behavior. The teachers who were not fired are left in these ‘rubber rooms’ where they sit around all day doing nothing.

    In many of the charter school systems, teachers are being paid based on merit and not experience. This way, they can attract teachers who wants to teach and parents send their children who wants to learn.

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  8. @ Matthew: No, the kids that I’ve heard this from literally believe that the Chinese government will come to your doorstep and execute one of your children if they find out you have more than one. Obviously, attitudes about abortion are vastly different between China and the US, but that isn’t what we’re talking about here. The kids — again, at least the ones I’ve talked to — are talking about executions of living children, generally with guns. They aren’t talking about abortion.

    Though it should be noted that even if they were, there’s no situation where a Chinese citizen would be required to have an abortion under Chinese law (at least as I understand it; I’m no expert though…)

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  9. @ pug_ster: That’s a good point. Additionally, when layoffs come around unionization tends to require that the younger teachers be the ones to go, regardless of whether they’re better than the older teachers.

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  10. @ C. Custer: While there may not have been systematic murders of children under the guise of the One Child Policy, there have indeed been required (and uncomfortable) sterilization procedures for women who have had a child already.

    I know that because this is an open-minded China blog, you sometimes need to take the role of apologist to get a discussion going, but isn’t that pretty bad too? Maybe it’s just the natural logical progression for a HS student with awareness of something called “one child policy” to assume that a gov. that would implement such a law at the national level wouldn’t have qualms about what the students assumed was actually happening.

    Factually inaccurate? Yes. “Ridiculously misguided stereotypes?” I don’t think so, but again, maybe you’re just doing the open-minded apologist thing for the sake of the blog, in which case you should keep it up because this is a great site.

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  11. I agree forced sterilization is wrong and does happen, although if I understand the law correctly I don’t think that’s generally legal either. But either way, I still think there’s a huge difference between that and the government coming to someone’s house, shooting their child, and then leaving. And I do think that it’s pretty ridiculous, misguided, and stereotypical to think that could be an official government policy in a country with over a billion people that’s part of the UN Security council, etc.

    I’m not saying the One Child Policy is great or anything, I’m just saying it isn’t something where government agents come to your house and murder your offspring in front of you. It’s a bit terrifying that kids believe that could be true, but it’s even scarier they don’t seem to care too much. Too far away, I guess.

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  12. I was a teacher’s assistant in Canada for six years and I spent seven years teaching English in China and Taiwan. Both of those teaching experiences were wonderful, rewarding and challenging in their own way. I think there is a misconception in the west that all Chinese students are well behaved academic wonder-kids.
    I saw the same diversity of academic ability and personality in both systems. The Chinese students are generally more respectful, but you also get many more who seem burned out and detached. I’ve had a few who were down right destructive. A colleague of mine had two fires lit in his high-school classroom. The principal seemed completely uninterested and wanted the teacher to drop the issue lest it make the school (or rather the principal) lose face. So, the stories of harmony and respect in the Chinese school system are more often what China would want you to believe rather than the complete truth of the situation. In my experience, Canadian schools seem better run and have more effective and well thought out teaching methods. In the Canadian schools I worked at, the teachers were continually involved in exchanges of teaching ideas, and I felt a lot of support and encouragement from the administration. In the Chinese schools, a senior teacher or administrator would dictate exactly what curriculum would be taught and what results they expected. I preferred teaching Chinese students because on general they were more polite and respectful, but I found the Chinese school system to be more concerned about status, grades and public appearance than continually striving to find the most effective methods of education.

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  13. To: C. Custer

    Ouch! Then again, kids do say the damnest of things at times. Have to wonder where that particular rumor or meme started. Oh… maybe from stories like this:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=9766870

    Or…

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/china-admits-women-were-forced-to-have-abortions-507688.html

    Or (for a change of pace, corrupt officals taking kids to be sold as slaves)…

    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSPEK27749620080429

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  14. Forced sterilizations happened mostly in the 80’s and the 90’s. I know someone who has had that procedure. It doesn’t happen as much anymore instead a couple get a big tax if they choose to have a 2nd child.

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  15. All rumors are rooted in some truth. But just because there were some instances of forced abortions doesn’t make it any less ridiculous to suggest the government comes to people’s houses and shoots children. After all, the forced abortion thing has never been a government policy. As BOTH the articles you linked state, forcing women to have abortions is illegal under Chinese law and officials who get caught get in trouble. Now, we can argue about how seriously the gov’t really takes it or how much trouble those officials get in, but suggesting (as you seem to be) that some cases of illegal forced abortions by local officials justifies Americans believing that it is government policy to murder children…it’s pretty weak.

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  16. @ Gary
    Yeah, I have to agree with everything you said there. Especially Grade 10 students who have just gone through (sometimes several years in a row) the Grade 9 big exam – they’re totally burned out and just don’t give a sh#t about anything. But still very polite and respectful in the classroom, for the most part. By that comment I mean that they often act out against Chinese teachers that don’t treat them with any respect, but as long as you show them “respect is a two-way street”, you almost never get any problems at all.

    I think the biggest problem with kids in China is all the pressure they feel to succeed for their family. I remember one kid starting at our school in Grade 10 with huge patches of hair missing on his head, due to stress (I asked him about it later in the year and that’s what he told me). This leads some of them to just shut down, or seek escapism like the local internet bar.

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  17. There is a way teachers deal with poorly behaved chinese students (who aren’t terribly uncommon): fear, abuse, threats, shouting, etc. America still too has corporal punishment in some places, and fear/shouting/threats/violence seems to be something not wholly rejected in China either. It’s hard for me to imagine a chinese teacher getting reprimanded for yelling at a student who was misbehaving in the same way you would find in many places in america.

    And can we stop with the “under Chinese law” stuff? I mean, really.

    There’s kind of a culture clash here between “respect and “honor” which Ms. Zheng doesn’t seem to appreciate. In China teaching is an “honorable profession.” Sure, whatever that means. Like compared to the non-文明 80 percent of the country that does manual labor and farming? What she means is the kids should shut up and listen and respect her unconditionally. America is a little bit (or a lot less silly) in just assigning respect and value based on someone’s uniform/station/degree, etc. I don’t think Ms. Zheng really has any interest in dealing with that.

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  18. >As for forced abortions…yes, it has happened, but it isn’t government policy, nor is it even remotely common.

    From the Washington Post:
    Yet, coerced abortions, as well as involuntary sterilizations, are commonplace in China, Beijing’s protestations notwithstanding.

    Such has been the fate of activist Chen Guangcheng, who is serving a four-year sentence after exposing 130,000 forced abortions and sterilizations in Linyi County, Shandong province, in 2005.

    As you said:
    >forcing women to have abortions is illegal under Chinese law and officials who get caught get in trouble

    But China does have a policies which creates incentives for coercing abortion, meaning that arresting a few officials will not put an end to the practice.

    From the article:
    According to a 2009 State Department report, monetary incentives and penalties are attached to population targets, creating what amounts to bounties on the unborn.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/10/AR2009111013891.html

    One last quote from the article:

    Late-term abortions are problematic, but the Chinese are nothing if not efficient. On one Web site for Chinese obstetricians and gynecologists, doctors recently traded tips in a dispassionate discussion titled: “What if the infant is still alive after induced labor?” ChinaAid provided a translation of a thread regarding an eight-month-old fetus that survived the procedure.

    “Xuexia” wrote: “Actually, you should have punctured the fetus’ skull.” Another poster, “Damohuyang,” wrote that most late-term infants died during induced labor, some lived and “would be left in trash cans. Some of them could still live for one to two days.”

    >that some cases of illegal forced abortions by local officials justifies Americans believing that it is government policy to murder children…

    Depending on your opinion of when human life starts, of when a fetus becomes a “child”, the policy of performing late-term abortions is enough to justify the belief that it is government policy to murder children.

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  19. Custer, Chinese government does not randomly go to anybody’s home to shoot anybody, period. Don’t be distracted by some unreasonable comments.

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  20. @ pug_ster: I’m not sure that quoting an opinions piece saying forced abortion is “commonplace” with no statistical evidence cited is particularly convincing. Of course it happens. But if she wants to convince me it’s commonplace, she’s going to need to cite some actual evidence, not just pick out two scary comments from a medical online forum. Why, one wonders, didn’t she quote any of the people who “expressed concern for the rights of the child”? Why didn’t she suggest which type of comments were more numerous? Because it’s an op-ed and she’s not particularly concerned with presenting the truth as much as presenting an agenda.

    @transliterations. There probably are some plugins for that, care to recommend one? FYI, 80% of China is not farmers, and I don’t think Ms. Zheng is asking for unconditional respect. She’s also probably not just talking about students; in my experience, students’ respect can be earned and some students come into classes respectfully, but MANY parents begin teacher interactions with the assumption that the teacher is an idiot and a failure, and that they know way more about the subject area than the teacher does. It may sound crazy, but I teach Chinese and I get this attitude even from parents who don’t speak any Chinese.

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  21. Remember C. Custer – Rumors and memes can be just that, rumors – but as all of us have seen, tell a rumor long enough and it will become the “truth” in some peoples minds:

    http://www.cracked.com/article_16101_5-most-ridiculous-lies-you-were-taught-in-history-class.html

    #5.Columbus Discovered the Earth is Round
    #4.Einstein Flunked Math
    #3.Newton and the Apple
    #2.Washington and the Cherry Tree
    #1.Benjamin Franklin, the Kite and the Thunderstorm

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  22. That afternoon, Ms. Zheng taught classes at Central Middle School, drilling 22 eighth graders on how to count to 100 in Chinese and explaining some Chinese holidays before turning her back to write a Chinese tongue twister on the board.

    It’s hard for me to imagine a worse lesson.

    I think that you’re right to say that “many of the teachers the Chinese government sends here aren’t getting proper training or adequate preparation for what they’re going to face in American classrooms.”

    I suspect, however, that the lack of training applies to more than just these teachers’ classroom management skills.

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  23. >I’m not sure that quoting an opinions piece saying forced abortion is “commonplace” with no statistical evidence cited is particularly convincing.

    If you want reliable statistics about coerced/forced abortions in China, they don’t exist. For an independent assessment, here’s a decent report from 2002, Report of the China UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Independent Assessment Team:

    http://www.state.gov/g/prm/rls/rpt/2002/12122.htm:

    One non-statical quote:
    Even though qiangpo measures were nominally banned as of 1984, there is ample evidence that coercive practices, including coerced abortion and involuntary sterilization, were widespread in PRC population control programs as of 1995.

    This is in reference to the article where the teacher wants students to know that Chinese people are not crazy. No, the government will not kill one of the babies if you have twins. But if you do have an illegal second child, “fees for the first “out of plan” child are often set at two to three times the couple’s annual salary for the previous year, a level which for many must be so punitive as to be, in our view, coercive”. I’m fairly sure she’ll leave that information out when she explains how enlightened China is. (Although, in fairness, she may not know, and things may have changed.)

    So, that mistaken impression of China is ignorant, but not so strikingly ignorant as the student who doesn’t know that France is part of Europe.

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  24. I don’t use wordpress.org, but a quick search turned this up:

    http://txfx.net/wordpress-plugins/subscribe-to-comments/

    In wordpress.com’s dashboard under the settings tab, discussion subtab, there is also the option for ‘Comment Reply Via Email’

    As for an rss feed for individual posts/comment threads, that’s possibly also a setting, but it may be enabled for some themes and not others. I don’t think it should be too difficult to enable that. Language log, which appears to have an older theme or settings for wordpress, has rss following with no email following, not sure what their reason is.

    Disqus is something you should look into, it’s getting a lot of traction.

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  25. I mean, as a Chinese, I totally understand the one child policy. You just can’t imagine what such a hudge population means to the coutry and to this planet, and how disastrous it maight be if we don’t control it. But surely the policy will lead to some cruel ways to carry it out. And in China, people tend to accept that a baby not born can’t be counted as a life, though you may protest it. This,of course, doesn’t mean that they are not sad when it is miscarried.
    As for the respect toward teahcers, I would prefer to call it a respect of the one who helps you. There were times people learn from their teachers or masters and gain the talents to live better. But nowadays, teachers don’t demonstrate such a great function, they are just like a small parts in the great machine of Society, so students won’t feel gratitude toward them anymore.

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  26. “That afternoon, Ms. Zheng taught classes at Central Middle School, drilling 22 eighth graders on how to count to 100 in Chinese and explaining some Chinese holidays before turning her back to write a Chinese tongue twister on the board.”

    “It’s hard for me to imagine a worse lesson.”

    Oh god yes – torture. But that’s she learnt it so that how she’ll teach it. I always think its better for non-native speakers to teach the language – they can remember how they learnt to speak the language..and know the challenges etc.

    I would also suspect that this is partly driven by the fact that the teachers being sent to the USA are possibly (probably?) chosen not exclusively for their ability to teach a subject in an effective manner but their relationship to the principal and in turn his relationship with the local education department etc. If you’ve ever seen a Chinese teaching competition you’ll know what I mean (bonus points for ppt presentations with ‘wizz’ sounds when introducing a bullet point and ‘applause’sound effects added).

    Middle and High School Chinese teachers (in my experience) in general are measured primarily by exam results and to a lesser (but increasing) extent by their ability to collect fees and sell supplementary services to students and their parents.
    Rote memorisation is rewarded by the system and ‘teaching skills’ including lesson design, classroom management are not (as far as I know) given any kind of attention at ‘normal universities’.

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  27. I dunno, I think you guys aren’t being very charitable, that could be an OK lesson for middle schoolers, depending on the group and how she taught it. This is exactly what I’m talking about, actually. Many of you aren’t teachers, you know nothing about her students and their likes or dislikes, what’s worked before for her and what hasn’t, etc., and yet you want to assume you can teach the class better than her because you read a brief description of one class in an NYT article.

    Also, I disagree @ Pedro about non-native speakers making better teachers. In my experience, students who’ve had non-native speakers as teachers almost always have horrible accents and tones, and it’s really hard to fix later (I saw this a ton in college when kids who had non-native speakers as teachers in high school were trying to adjust). Obviously that’s not true for ALL non-native teachers, but there are plenty of native teachers who have an excellent grasp of modern pedagogy, and plenty of non-native teachers whose accent is so bad their pedagogical skill is irrelevant.

    My school is currently in the process of hiring a new Chinese teacher to replace me, and has brought in 4 non-native teachers to interview. Of these, only one had good spoken Chinese or accurate tones, but ALL of them will get jobs quite easily because there are so few Chinese teachers.

    Anyway, let’s not be so quick to judge Ms. Zheng. What works and what doesn’t in varies to a HUGE degree based on who is in the class, which is something that SHE experiences every day and that NONE of us know anything about.

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  28. Ms Zheng gave a sincere interview and you have commenters here attacking her in the most vicious way possible. She’s ignorant, dumb, drone-like, incapable, she tortures children and went to America not because of her abilities but of her ties with the local authorities.

    I didn’t recall this many trolls on the old blog.

    All because she didn’t say something to make some American douchebags feel good like “I flove America!” “Compared with America, China is horseshit!”

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  29. “In China teaching is an “honorable profession.” Sure, whatever that means. Like compared to the non-文明 80 percent of the country that does manual labor and farming? What she means is the kids should shut up and listen and respect her unconditionally.”

    You got that contrast from her comment about how teaching is a honorable profession? How is the remark in itself wrong? Teaching is not an honorable profession? Where in the article does she show contempt for other professions? And where does she show her tendency to go all totalitarian on her students? Yeah, sure, American kids are world famous for respecting their teachers.

    Just read one of Custer’s other articles where he quoted the 90-9-1 pattern, 1 being excrement. That cynicism and the happy willingness to attack and automatically assume the worst of a stranger rightly belong to the 1 percent.

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  30. To C. Custer “Also, I disagree @ Pedro about non-native speakers making better teachers. In my experience, students who’ve had non-native speakers as teachers almost always have horrible accents and tones, and it’s really hard to fix later (I saw this a ton in college when kids who had non-native speakers as teachers in high school were trying to adjust). ”

    I can vouch for this issue – try learning Spanish from a teacher with a thick Irish Brogue – not pretty.

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  31. To quote urusai, “I didn’t recall this many trolls on the old blog.”

    Take a good look at ChinaSMACK and other China related blogs – they are all getting the “China Daily BBS” Treatment. Then again, once a website hits the FARK/Drudge/Huffington Post level – it is bound to attach gadflies.

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  32. @urusai

    Hi urusai, thanks for following up with a response.

    “In China teaching is an “honorable profession.” Sure, whatever that means. Like compared to the non-文明 80 percent of the country that does manual labor and farming? What she means is the kids should shut up and listen and respect her unconditionally.”

    You got that contrast from her comment about how teaching is a honorable profession? How is the remark in itself wrong? Teaching is not an honorable profession? Where in the article does she show contempt for other professions? And where does she show her tendency to go all totalitarian on her students? Yeah, sure, American kids are world famous for respecting their teachers.

    I got that contrast from the facts I know about 1, chinese teachers I know, have been taught by, have taught, etc, 2, the chinese teachers I know who get shipped to america to teach high school, 3, my experience and discussions in both in China and other places about just why “teacher” is such an esteemed, honored, respected, profession, etc.

    Key words like “honorable” are important.

    Is it wrong to assume things about inviduals based on the culture they grew up in and make judgments based off of key buzzwords you’ve heard a million times and you know pretty much what people are talking about when they say that? No, it’s absolutely horrible. I apologize 10,000 times.

    I’m not attacking a stranger, the mindset is common. The article just happened to interview her.

    Do you really want to get into a deep cross-cultural discussion of what ‘honorable profession’ means in China and the US and what jobs are deemed ‘honorable’?

    The respect/honor reserved for teachers is a product of a class system. Mao tried to overturn this shit (closing the universities, proclaiming the common workers to be true heroes, etc, etc.) It didn’t really work.

    I never said she goes totalitarian on her students. I said corporal punishment/fear is a tool used in China, and America.

    No one ever said American kids are world-famous for respecting teachers. I doubt they are.

    How is the remark in itself wrong? The remark in itself isn’t wrong, it simply betrays an attitude which I tried to point out. I imagine if you ask her what she means by “honorable” and deserving more respect, you would find she means something close to 乖, 听话 students. Is this controversial?

    I also didn’t imply she has contempt for other professions, but that is present in the culture, which Mao didn’t effectively stamp out. 文明 or “cultured/civilized” is what is the goal of many people, both in china and America. I could go into why it appears more crudely demonstrated in China and why farming is a much poorer occupation, represents “backwardness” in China in a way that doesn’t in america, interlaced with history, word usage, and judgments embedded in such word choices/attitudes, but this comment is already very long. I don’t think these things are controversial or even noteworthy to people who live/have lived in China.

    And yes, I know arguing with you is silly and futile, but for some reason I still feel like I’m going to post this.

    I think the people on here are happy to call out America’s wrongs any time, criticizing is a full contact, all sides sport.

    And I think the comments I read at least were more interested in dealing with the “what? forced abortions? Never heard of them.” tone struck in the article and some of the comments (oh, it was just forced sterilizations and incentive structures, and it was 15 years ago, and oh, ok we can’t really get info now, but yknow, the laws don’t sanction it.)

    And as for critiquing lessons (counting back and forth to 100), if that’s off the table, what exactly are we supposed to talk about here in the comments? As for her attitude about the kids not remembering except being dazzled and loving the beauty, can we at least talk about why we think that’s horrible?

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  33. “Rote memorisation is rewarded by the system and ‘teaching skills’ including lesson design, classroom management are not (as far as I know) given any kind of attention at ‘normal universities’.”

    I took Chinese pedagogy (对外汉语教学) classes at a normal university (ECNU) in Shanghai. FWIW, we definitely learned lesson design, but not so much about classroom management. The students I taught on my practicum, and most people I know who study Chinese in the PRC, were well behaved. Those that didn’t like classes just skipped. I can see how having those expectations would be problematic in North America.

    The profs said they had probably the best program in the PRC for training Chinese teachers. I met a lot of first-years in the program who hardly knew what it was about until after they were enrolled, and didn’t have much interest in teaching Chinese.

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  34. I thought your article was insightful, but speaking as a foreign teacher in China at one of the top high schools in China (No. 1 Middle School attached to CCNU, 华中师大一附中), I think you overreach a little when you talk about the amount of respect students give their teachers in China. There is a class at this school committed to winning academic competitions.

    The respect teachers receive at my school is based upon what subject you teach, and how important it is for them to pass the GaoKao. Students may greet their physics, math, Chinese English teacher by standing and saying “老师好 (Teacher Hello)”, but a foreign teacher. Foreign teachers at my school receive good payment, but they are not given the same respect as some other teachers. Also, it is not always respect, but fear masquerading as respect when it comes to some Chinese teachers. As the students get used to having foreign teachers, and their big exam starts to approach it becomes more common for students to just study for classes that are deemed important by their head teacher. Asking students to volunteer or speak is like trying to put a square bolt in a round nut, though I have learned that it is sometimes because they are afraid to be wrong so they wait until they think they have the perfect answer.

    Whether you are teaching in China or America as a foreigner you are bound to run into difficulty and misunderstandings.

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  35. As a new teacher in China, yes, the students are much different. It is startling how well-behaved the children are and informally educated they tend to be.
    I am curious on why the teacher mentioned in the article enjoys teaching in the US compared to China. Although, the students tend to be more well-rounded and there is more creativity, it is known that teachers aren’t respected in the US and kids are unruly.
    I wouldn’t want to teach today’s youth. This is why I decided to do it in China!

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  36. Most average Americans do not have a clue about what China is really like. Many have been brainwashed by old school thinking of communism. They are very closed-minded about the positive changes happening in China.

    As an American I hate to say it but many (not all) of our kids do not have the mental discipline and studious work ethic needed to excel academically. It’s appalling their lack of knowledge of such simple things as geography. I think the hippie baby-boomer generation with their liberal thinking has spoiled their kids. You know like ‘my kid needs to have everything’.

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