Beijing Diary

Now, I thought I had been prepared for this new teaching post. I had interviewed successfully over Zoom, and I had read over the contract (though not nearly as thoroughly as I should have, I now realize to my chagrin). But when I reached this school, and our two weeks of orientation were complete, and classes had begun, I noticed some fairly disturbing things.

In fact, I noticed a few things right after I had accepted, moved out to Shunyi District from Dongcheng, and tried to settle in to my new surroundings. The obvious thing? Absolutely no help settling in from the school. I have to say that the school at which I currently teach is the first school at which I have worked that had absolutely nothing to do with their foreign employees apart from actual on-site work responsibilities. Many of these foreign teachers may be new to China, and do not yet know how to navigate life, here. Yet, there is no help in learning how to do anything. There is no help in finding accommodation. No one to teach us how to pay rent ourselves, or how to pay utilities, or set up internet connections. No one has shown us how to use the local hospital systems. No one showed us how to use public transportation; not even public transit maps were ever provided. Along with that, no one ever showed us how to get from our dwellings to our place of work. No one advised us as to distances or travel times. Where do we shop for groceries? Where can we buy ready-made food? Are there department stores or malls nearby? How to we shop online in China? We were instructed to open accounts at a local bank, but no one helped us to do so; yet it is quite difficult for a foreigner to do this on their own. Where is the police station? Do people know that we have to register all our comings and goings at the local police station when we travel? In short, no one is there to help us or instruct us in navigating basic daily living in Beijing.

Even if a foreign teacher has some experience in these matters, it is extremely rude as a host to neglect them. I personally have the feeling that the school really doesn’t care. I had difficulty with many of these things, and I not only have lived in China for three years, now, but also speak Chinese! What happens when a new teacher arrives for the first time? This is a terrible example, and shows us that we are not truly valued as colleagues.

Now, again; I understand that this is not strictly the school’s responsibility. But there are rules to being a good host, as there are to being a good guest. This school violated, and continues to violate Xenia.

The next thing that I learned within my first two weeks of working at this place, is that there is no curriculum for middle school, nor is there a standard code of discipline. While I understand that things like curricula and classes are works in progress, there is no excuse for the kind of bait-and-switch to which we have been subjected. There being no curriculum, there is no textbook. When we asked about the textbooks, at first we were given books that had already been used last year by the classes. And then we were told that a government edict declared that we could not use “foreign textbooks” to teach. We then asked for the standard Chinese English language books, but were told that they didn’t want to use them because the parents, thinking that they were sending their children to an “international school,” would then (rightly) complain that if we were using the public school standard texts, why should they spend the extra money to send them to this private school?

And so, every week, we English teachers have to create our own materials from wherever we can find them. Our immediate supervisor has given us photocopied packets, but they are texts from Singapore, partly in Portuguese, contain errors, no answer keys, and are worthless. Even more maddening is that administration thinks they still have the right to tell us what and how to accomplish our teaching goals, even though they contribute nothing themselves. I had been under the impression that I was there to teach middle school ESL, not create curriculum for them. It seems that we are responsible now for, not only teaching, but for creating lessons, curriculum, exams, assessments, and adhere to some system called MYP for an International Baccalaureate program for which we do not qualify.

And furthermore, because this isn’t enough aggravation by itself, there is no office, or teacher’s lounge in which we can work on lesson plans correct homework, or mark tests. The idea is that we are supposed to be homeroom co-teachers (along with the Chinese teachers), and they want the students to see us out in the classroom with them, to assist with the fiction that we are “real” teachers, and that we should offer assistance to the Chinese co-teacher, or active teacher in the room. But this means that we are unable to sit quietly and plan for the week. And this means we take up time after hours and over the weekend to work for the school. Of course, from time to time, we must put in the extra time for our pupils; that is understandable. But the constant continual work is draining. Things are so poorly scheduled, and facilities so restrictive, or lacking, that we constantly have work on our minds, without respite.

Ah, but there is yet more….

About Michael Butchin

I was born, according to the official records, in the Year of the Ram, under the Element of Fire, when Johnson ruled the land with a heavy heart; in the Cradle of Liberty, to a family of bohemians. I studied Chinese language and literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I spent some years in Taiwan teaching kindergarten during the day, and ESOL during the evenings. I currently work as a high school ESOL teacher, and am an unlikely martial artist. I have spent much of my life amongst actors, singers, movie stars, beautiful cultists, Taoist immortals, renegade monks, and at least one martial arts tzaddik. I currently reside in Beijing's Dongcheng district
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