|NISS, the place to learn life long lessons!|
|Now on to the more pressing matters. The school. My girlfriend and I taught at Northwest International Secondary School (NISS). The school boasts having a Cambridge certified program for students interested in studying abroad. The Cambridge program, in theory, is quite unique and offers a 2 year program of classes taugh in english. After successful completion the student does not have to write entrance test/examinations like TOEFEL when applying to universities/colleges abroad. However at this school the programs main objective is to grab cash. Students have to pay 20,000RMB per term. They live at the school in dorms and as you can guess from the tuition fee they are part of the elite in China. They are also a bunch of unmotivated and pathetic individuals. They rarely attend classes and when they do (as they have run out of money for the week) they proceed to cut their hair or nails, paint their nails, talk amungst themselves, sing (yes out loud), talk on their cellphones, or play music. The bright side is that classes are small as the school has no idea how to market itself. The school is a building that would be condemned by western standards and has one computer for the international staff to share. Apparently though the school is a sister of a larger group of schools in Beijing and is going to be moving into a new "Technology Development Zone" on the outskirts of town in the next few years. But in the mean time the school is basically a public school with the word international in the title.
The school also has ties with Northwest University and subsequently its middle school. This is where my girlfriend was teaching. Class sizes of 50-60 kids (and don't be surprised about having 4 classes back to back) ranging in skill level from junior 1 to senior 3. However the kids are more motivated and the ones that want to learn are the ones you teach to. However, some things to take into consideration are that you will get very use to hearing the words "be quiet" coming loudly from your mouth and when saying this never under any circumstances add the word "please", students know that you do not want to be saying what you want to say and will not take you seriously. Just as they are rude in the way they get attention from you they expect the same in return. So, get in their face. Tell them in plain english what you want from them. Oh and it doesn't help if you are young because they will think you don't have any backbone. So, stand your ground and get their attention. They will follow. The Chinese teachers demand respect and so should you. If this means yelling then yell. Oh an don't be surprised if one of the other teachers sits in on your class or if some of the other teachers peek into your class. They are just checking up on you and seeing how you handle a class. The other beef I have is every student has a pocket dictionary (electronic of course) and they use it like a person learning math uses a calculator. I finally got fed up with it and made them all give me their dictionaries one day. This is just a personal beef I have but just be fore warned. They LOVE these things.
Now, that we have covered the bases lets get back to life at NISS. The Chinese staff is composed of old retired Chinese teachers (mostly) who believe in old teaching methods and the same problems that would arise in our schools with a mix of young and old hold true in this school as well. However, the only problem is that the none of them know or want to know english. This creates big problems because they will never understand why watching a movie would be a great idea to learn a language. Or why it is so difficult for a teacher to sit with a single student for 2 and-a-half hours everyday (mon-fri) in a non-stimulating classroom and carry on an energetic conversation. So yes some compromises are going to have to be made on your part. But the one piece of advise I can give is to just do what you want. Most of the time this will be fine and if they get mad just say the ones complaining have obviously never learnt a language in their life otherwise they would understand that stimulating environments are needed to teach and learn conversational techniques in the language being learned and if you are lucky enough to have rich students (like we did) then just say "they" demand we go out.
However it all stems from the one child policy and how the child rules the roost. Everytime I had a problem with a student it was ignored. Yet, if I was doing something wrong it was discussed at length and brought to my attention. The staff made every accomodation for the student and when it came time to helping me I was left to fend for myself or rely on the other foreign teachers. After being treated like this for a while one tends to lose respect for those looking out for them. Just keep it in the back of your mind that in China the child rules. And understandably so, each family, at least in urban centres, mainly has one child and if they come from promenent families rest assured they will get away with whatever they want. The best way of describing NISS is a waiting lounge in an airport where the rich students sit before they leave on an airplane for greener pastures even without a ticket. Yes that's right the majority of students do not complete the program and are waiting for visas and documents to come through so they can go and join other family members or attend different schools through family connections. While NISS does provide regular curriculum classes for families that can not afford the Cambridge classes there is little to no emphasis placed on these classes. The building speaks for itself. The school is out for money and that's all. Having international teachers at it only ensures that it will not go bankrupt and will be around for another year. The school will benefit from having a white person at it more than the white person can ever imagine.
Next the contract. If you are thinking about joining a school in China take careful note of the contract. Especially the Utilities area. The school will enforce this to no end. As my girlfriend and I found out. Picture if you will the last day of a three month adventure. Meeting all sorts of new and interesting people. Seeing a plethora of monuments and sites one only dreams of seeing in a lifetime. Only to be stuck in a room four and-a-half hours before your suppose to be getting on a flight to come back home and receiving a bill for 3000RMB in over utility charges incurred during the course of your 3 month dream (yes the charge is between 2 people). Take into account you are only paid 1000RMB per month and you have been site seeing and buying gifts for friends and family. The point is the Chinese will let you know on a need to know basis. Basically when they feel the need to tell you something they will and they will not hold back, especially on financial matters. And they will not produce documents for the charges. Now the price they quoted us is not what we paid but let me tell you I was not a person who was in a very good mood when I got on my plane.
The other area to make sure you have locked down is airfare. If the school says they will pay for the flights and send you the ticket then you are okay. But if they want you to pay upfront then you need to be a little more careful. I would recommend having it stated that they will pay you the flight fare in American dollars because it is just easier to calculate for yourself how much they are paying you. The last thing you want is to arrive back home and when you go to exchange your money find out they have stiffed you for another couple hundred dollars.
Another problem is that the Chinese do everything on a needed basis. Case in point is getting students to come to the summer classes. Recruitment was done one week before classes. I couldn't believe it because you would think that a school, which makes money from having students registered, would have been looking for students long before. No not here. My girlfriend and I also helped hand out flyers. Yeah flyers. This lead to no classes except private tutor style classes for August. No pressure obviously but it only strengthens the point that the Chinese are really having a hard time catching up to the way the rest of the world lives and acts.
Having said all of this I would not want to live on main land China again. I would definitely visit again but not live. I would much rather go to places like Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or South Korea. In short, places that have a different government from communism and where the markets are a little more open. Also to deal with people that are more a kin to dealing with western people. I am not asking to live in a place that makes me feel like I have never left Canada. That is not what I'm interested in. I never would have gone to China in the first place if that is what I was looking for. No, what I want the next time around is to have people that are more rooted in dealing with western strangers to their land and ways of doing things. I had to learn everything about the people and why they did the things they did as I went along. It would be nice to have someone in a position looking out for you that thinks on the same wave length as you. Which is why it was so nice to have other foreign teachers around. But all you can do with them is bitch and last time I checked that was not an effective way to solve problems.
All in all it was a blast and I would not trade one minute of the summer for anything. But I just wanted to let people know that if they are thinking about joining the NISS or Chinese family there are a few things to look forward/out for.