■ 13:31 (UTC+08:00), 20 OCT 2011 | CHN HARBIN
I’m not kidding you people… in I think it was 7th grade (or 8th), I was charged with teaching 8th graders — things about Chinese characters. My knowledge of Chinese was basically zip, zero, nada, zilch, nothing — back then, so I considered it a living miracle that I managed to finish the lesson without having eggs pelted my way. (Thankfully, mom got me through by helping out!)
That was the first case where I potentially could have taught someone who was older than me. That very same phenomenon would repeat itself about five years later, when in late 2000 the teacher for the China Today course (required for all international students coming into China, which contained a little compulsory Party politspeak) suggested I teach the vocational middle school (now absorbed by the university I was then in) English. I was a bit of an academic darling: probably because I looked “too” Chinese (the class was 70% Korean), that endeared me to the maths teacher who, despite failing me in the exams (20%!), “upgraded” me to the position of Class Vice-President. The China Today course teacher gave me a task — to teach 19-year olds (I was 18 back then) — bang, smack on Christmas Day 2000. (I remember that I went into a restaurant that same day that sounded like a freaking war zone. Welcome to China…!)
I now have 11 years of teaching experience since my first late 2000 schtick, although I admit teaching was very much on-and-off in 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010. In those years, I’ve taught all folks from elementary school (me in charge of 2nd grade proved a little too much for them: their teacher (me!) was apparently 1.91 metres tall, which made me look like an oversized Redwood in a mere grassland), as well as from middle school (vocational school), university, international students, adult education students and one-to-one students. I’ve had a few crazy cases of Chinglish in these lessons (and I’ve “ousted” a Chinglish teacher once), but the real teaching began a few days back, when I was “officially” appointed as an international teacher of English at Harbin’s new Chenguang Education School. This is very much little-league, but the reason I’m doing this is because this is my first edu gig outside the major cities (basically, outside Beijing). I didn’t feel like I’d want to restrict the “pooping” of my linguistic prowess to the major cities, so off I went with wife Tracy into the heartland of what used to be known as Manchuria. We braved the (relative) cold and taught a fair number — there were 10 students last night. They laughed at the Chinglish, but also got to know how to avoid such bloopers (“F##k the certain price of goods”, for example, was classic Chinglish).
On Facebook, I’m in very frequent contact with folks in Tianjin, Shanghai, Nanjing and Lanzhou who are all — educators. That kind of hit me just now as I’m with Costa at their first Harbin store: being a teacher might have very well been what I had wanted to do all along.
You see, the edu world is very different from the £££ world. The latter is dog-eat-dog, and increasingly, not too far away from man-eat-man (!) in a People’s Republic where morals are alienspeak, and all successful bosses have millions of mistresses (or supposedly). That’s extremely dirty business that I’d not imagine myself getting into. Loads of folks who suffered from the biz world turned their brains to education “just to escape that stuff”. To them, education remains pristine, un-polluted, and a place where they’d like to call home.
While outright denouncing such capital sins such as financial cheating and the tonnes of mistresses, I “feel some sympathy” for those harmed by “the biz system”. I don’t think I would want to do a startup for at least the next couple of years. But in the edu world — yeap. I like changing people — but I don’t want to be a money-driven social dictator or money machine — as in one where morality gives way to the big bucks. I like to change people for the good, and you can only “save” these souls if you get into the act early on — such as when they’re still at school.
Even if it is for such tiny bits and bobs — like writing proper English such as DRY GOODS WEIGH DESK instead of F##K THE CERTAIN PRICE OF GOODS… ■ ■ ■