|Three years and happy at David Perry, Wuhan|
| I have been happily teaching at the David Perry English Training Center in Wuhan for nearly three years, and I'm not the only veteran native speaker: another of our teachers will begin his third year there in January. So I was incredulous when I came across a post by Bruce and Beryl Dwyer denigrating the school. Their list of complaints, besides being poorly written, is full of lies, distortions, trivialities, and things that have nothing to do with the David Perry school.
Beryl starts off by complaining that they had no desk or drawer in the teacher's room: "is it too much to ask," she says. It's true, no one has his or her own desk. Everyone has to share, but perhaps that was too much to ask of the Dwyers. After all, they seem to begrudge the Chinese teachers the right to even be in the teacher's room: "It's always full of Chinese teachers!" they grouse. (The school, however, doesn't believe in segregation.) Though we share desks, drawers are a different matter. I've never had, needed, or wanted a drawer during my three years here, but I know that two of our native speakers have had one, which makes me wonder: did Beryl and Bruce even bother to ask?
The middle-aged couple then talk about the computers here, complaining that they are all in Chinese. I'm not sure what else they were expecting: this is China after all, and everything's supposed to in Chinese. But really, if you know your way around English computers fairly well, you'll have few problems on Chinese computers. Almost all things you can click on have the Chinese name and then an English letter in parentheses. This English letter is the keyboard shortcut, but it also gives you a clue as to what it is. And if you're still not sure about something, many options have the icon next to them. Seem easy? It is, though not for Beryl and Bruce.
The slow internet connection at the school was a valid complaint, though recently they've sped it up, and it works much better now. It's a DSL line, but it can be slow when you're downloading data from the other side of the world, which then has to go through who knows how many government filters. It also slows due to the swarm of popups, adverts, and Flash animations that plague the internet these days, and sometimes it depends on the website. But if you really want to talk about slow, when I first came here three years ago, they had a simple dial-up which didn't work much of the time. Frustrating? It was, but I'm not a whiner. I understand that you have to be able to adapt if you're going to live in another country. The internet bars all over Wuhan were a good alternative: they cost a mere 2 yuan per hour, which is about 25 US cents. They can be smoky and noisy, as Beryl complains, especially at peak times, but just about any place you go in China is smoky and noisy.
Beryl says that she was unable to use the internet for class, but I use it every week to search for and print an article for my New York Times class, and never once have I not had an article. During the summer I taught this class three times a week (I.e., three articles a week) with no problems.
Next, Beryl says the cleaning lady turning off the water dispenser's heating switch in mid-winter. She may have done this during the summer, but not during the winter. I certainly have never had this happen. Even if it were flipped off, is it too difficult to just flip it back on? And if it really had been a problem, then I would've simply talked to the cleaning lady and told her to stop. (Using one of our Chinese staff to translate of course, though Beryl may not have been able to think of this. After all, this is the Beryl who, finding it difficult to make herself understood at a restaurant, yelled at a waitress in English, "No meat, dammit! I want NO MEAT!")
Beryl claims she taught 8 hours straight on Saturdays and Sundays, but this is a lie. Beryl never even taught 8 hours in one day! For the record, no one has ever taught 8 hours straight at the school, for the simple reason that it's impossible: there is always a lunch break from 12pm-2pm in which there are NO classes whatsoever, and they're only open from 8am to 8:30pm. And Beryl neglects to mention that her husband, Bruce, had no hours at all because he couldn't get anyone interested in studying with him.
Some have chosen to teach 8 hours a day, and I taught 8 hours a day once when I took over another teacher's class. But most of the time I've taught no more than 6 hours in one day, as I currently do on my busiest day, Sunday: 10-12, 2-4, and 6:40-8:30. The weekends are the busy times (as they are at most private schools), and the school has always been open about that: it's right there on their website. Beryl implies that she worked 14-15 hours on the weekend, but in fact she only worked 10, 6 hours on Saturday and 4 on Sunday (I have her schedule right here in front of me).
As everyone who's been to Wuhan knows, it's really hot in the summer (up to 40 degrees C) and pretty cold in the winter (just above freezing). Does anyone think I would've stayed at David Perry through three sweltering Wuhan summers and three freezing Wuhan winters if the air-conditioning wasn't working? No way! In my three years here, only one classroom has had a problem with its AC/heating unit, and that was fixed long ago. All the other AC units are fine. The real problem is with Beryl and Bruce, who seem to have no compunctions about blatantly lying.
Some rooms have a disconnected outlet or two, but every room has at least one working outlet, and most rooms have two or more. There is no technical problem in any classroom if a teacher wants to play tapes or CDs.
I have to make copies every week for my New York Times class. After I print out an article, I simply hand it to one of our staff members about 20-30 minutes before class, and it's always ready before class begins. I also have copies made for other classes or my own personal use from time to time. And the few times I want to copy something myself, there's been absolutely no problem. The photocopier is in the book room, which is locked because of the books and money in there. But there is always somebody at the school during opening hours who can open the room. All one need do is ask. Also, the staff members usually do the copying, partly because the copy machine is in Chinese (remember the Dwyers' complaint about the computers being in Chinese?), and partly to save teachers the time and the trouble. If, however, Beryl was so keen on doing the copying herself, she could've just asked, but I think she preferred to whinge..
Teachers do not get half the amount of copies they ask for, as Beryl claims. Only for our open house, when lots of people pack into a classroom to decide whether they want to register for a class, do students have to share copies. But for class, teachers can get however many copies they need. I wouldn't be having my successful New York Times class if the school's policy were otherwise.
The school has a great library, and I frequently avail myself of it, so I was puzzled by Beryl's complaint that they were unable to access it except when Bruin was there, and that moreover the books were under lock and key. This is a distortion of the truth. The library consists of two parts: a classroom on the one hand, and Bruin's office on the other. In the classroom part, the books (most of them in Chinese) are under lock and key to keep students from messing with them or stealing them. Perfectly understandable to me! And if Beryl and Bruce ever wanted to look at those books, they could easily have asked the front office to unlock any of the glass cases, just as I have done on occasion.
The office part of the library, contrary to what Beryl claims, is accessible anytime. The front office has a key to Bruin's office, and all anyone need do is ask for it. None of the books in this part (mostly British and American books) are under lock and key, so there's no problem browsing the shelves and selecting what you want.
It's true Beryl wanted a business class and didn't get one, but much of that has to do with market shifts which schools can't control. When I first came here three years ago, I taught adults all the time. But now there are far fewer adults and far more younger students (high school down to primary and pre- school). My wife has worked at two other private English schools in Wuhan, and she noticed the same thing happening. Beryl implies that she taught 2-4 year olds, but the youngest group of students she taught here were from 8-12, and as her resume mentioned experience with elementary school students, she should have had no problems with them.
Teachers are supposed to have one day off a week, and the school has been good about it 90% of the time. There were times when I and others handed out flyers for 30 minutes or did some demo classes on our day off, but this was stopped after we talked with Bruin about it. And it's true that Beryl didn't have a day off for seven weeks, but it was no mistake, as she lies. Beryl agreed to the schedule beforehand because she wanted more hours! Moreover, she was told that she would be given a week off to make up for it (she didn't force the issue at all; she's a whiner, not an action-taker). With these days off, and the three days off for Christmas and New Year's, she and her husband were able to take a trip to Guangxi, and they seemed pretty happy when they came back.
There are faculty meetings from time to time at the school in which some teachers give demonstration lessons, and the other teachers (Chinese and foreign) give comments and suggestions. I don't know what sensitive souls Beryl was referring to who couldn't go on teaching because of this. The feedback is constructive and positive. Here, for instance, is some feedback for Beryl: "Your body language and intonation are quite helpful and useful for the students to understand. We think that's very good. Our suggestions: you can plan more activities for the students to communicate with you or with their classmates." And this was for her husband, Bruce: "The atmosphere in the class was a little dull, because there were no interactivities between the teacher and the students, and the teacher's voice is a little bit soft, and the intonation has no changes, then the students attention won't be concentrated, gradually the students will feel bored." Any teacher who gets his or her ego bruised because of such comments has absolutely no business teaching English.
Incidentally, Bruce had extremely few students sign up for his classes because of these very problems, but he refused to do anything about it, and when the school arranged for him to sit in on some classes so he could learn how to teach better, he threatened to quit.
The Dwyers' claim that Foreign Experts are treated worse than the cleaning lady is so preposterous as to be absurd, and moreover the cleaning lady has never gone into classes and given exams. Exams are administered by staff members on the last day of class, and they are specially prepared to see if students can move on to the next level. I have given exams in some of my classes, and I'm sure Beryl could have done the same if she really wanted to, but I doubt she ever asked.
Two of the school's textbooks are indeed old, specifically 'Look, Listen and Learn' and 'New Concept English'. (And they are 30 years old, not Beryl's 50). But they are still pretty popular in China. I have taught both of these books, and have had great success with the former, and moderate success with the latter (I never liked New Concept English book 3). Even though these textbooks are old, they are still useful and teachable. English hasn't changed that much over the last 30 years, and I don't feel limited by some of the outdated expressions or not-so-interesting topics. It's quite simple to tell my students, "nowadays we say this…," and if my students feel bored by something, it's up to me, the teacher, to make it interesting for them.
All of the other textbooks, however, are new. They include Expressways, New Interchange, In Step, Look Ahead, Direct English, Cambridge Young Learners, Superkids, and English for Happy Children.
I have to wire money back home every month for college loans, and the school has helped me out a lot with this. When I first came to China, someone from the school went with me to the Bank of China to set up an account, but I didn't like their remittance service, so I asked to have a different bank. We then went to China Merchant's Bank, which seemed to have the best service for me, and set up an account there, and I've been happy with the bank ever since. Some other teachers had different banks, though most were at the Agricultural Bank, but this was certainly not part of some conspiracy, as Beryl implies. In fact, Beryl and Bruce chose the Bank of China because there was a branch in Australia, and it was easier for them to wire money home.
If the Dwyers had any problems withdrawing Australian dollars, that problem was with the bank and had nothing to do with the school. I checked into this, actually, and it seems that the bank doesn't keep Australian dollars on hand; the only foreign currencies regularly available are American dollars and British pounds, so when they tried to withdraw their money, they had to wait. I think Beryl and Bruce would have the same problem if they went to a bank in Australia and demanded Chinese yuan.
My electric bills are far less than what I paid at home, and the current tenant of the Dwyers' former apartment says the same. Electricity costs .54 RMB per kilowatt-hour, and the highest I've ever heard anyone having to pay was 600 or so RMB (because of a microwave), which isn't even 75 US dollars. My bill is usually no more than 200 RMB a month, and I pay it directly. Beryl and Bruce didn't have an account for utilities, as they said in their post; the building management paid their electric bill and then billed them. There was no doubling and tripling of anything, as Beryl claims, and no one's had to pay up again. In fact, when they whinged once about a high electric bill, their landlord kindly gave them 20 kilowatt-hours for free.
Payday at the school is the 15th of every month, and never once in my three years here have I not gotten paid on this day (or slightly earlier). Often, they have to remind me that it's payday because I'm not paying attention to the date! The only exception I know is when Beryl and Bruce left-it was one day late. That was because they gave a sudden, 10-day notice that they were going to leave in the middle of their yearlong contract, and they wanted their last salary all in Australian dollars. There wasn't enough time to get Australian dollars, so instead the school got them US dollars. It still took a while, as Chinese law stipulates that foreigners can only receive half of their salary in foreign currency, but the school followed through-Beryl and Bruce didn't have to ask. They left on the 16th, and when the accountant picked them up to bring them to the airport, she immediately gave them their pay.
The school doesn't have any representative who inspects apartments. The Dwyer's apartment was inspected by the landlord, naturally enough, and she was looking for a missing remote control for the AC, not a missing manual. Doesn't sound shonky to me, and besides, the landlord let them leave without paying for it.
Beryl finishes by saying that they were treated with contempt by the school, but not by the "lovely people of China." I, for one, beg to differ. Beryl was constantly whining about the 'lovely' Chinese people while she was here, and afterwards when she and Bruce went to Taiwan, she was thrilled that they weren't like the mainland Chinese.
The school, however, works hard to make teachers happy-why else would I and another foreigner have stayed so long?-and Beryl and Bruce were no exception. For instance, even though Bruce had no classes because nobody wanted to study with him, he was still allowed to live in a nice, spacious apartment for free, and his one-way airfare was reimbursed. He was paid 7000 RMB for his first three months, though the school was losing money from him. After that, Bruin Xiong made several offers to the Dwyers, including terminating both of their contracts and paying for their flight home, or terminating Bruce's contract and letting him seek work at another school in Wuhan. Instead, Bruce agreed to and signed an amendment to his contract and was paid 1000 RMB per month, in return for which he would go to the English corner and help out in the office from time to time. And when Beryl and Bruce later broke contract, they were not penalized; the school has no desire to prolong anyone's unhappiness. Far from treating them with contempt, the David Perry school did their utmost to make things fair, and I challenge the Dwyers to find any other school that would be even half as generous.
Now one might ask, "If the school's as good as you say, why did Beryl and Bruce put up that post?" The reason is simple. A couple of months after they left, the school received an email from Beryl. She asked for a recommendation letter and demanded that this and that good thing be said about them. They had left the school and left them in a lurch, and now they expected a stellar recommendation letter? The school refused, and rightly so. After all, they were misled to hire them by false recommendation letters from Delter (and later found out that Beryl wasn't legally employed by Delter. They had only hired Bruce, and Beryl came as his dependant, but because Bruce couldn't teach, she had to take over his failing classes. Incidentally, Bruce and Beryl didn't finish their contract there, either). My school didn't want other schools to go through the same ordeal. Besides, they weren't going to put their name to something untrue.
So after much thought, Bruin decided to write a recommendation letter and say whatever good things he could, and leave out all of the many bad things he could have said about them. He didn't say the Dwyers were great teachers, because they weren't. The letter was brief but positive. He sent it to them, and thought that was that.
But I guess the Dwyers were rather unhappy with the letter. It sure wasn't like their letters from Delter. Probably they were angry that the school wouldn't do this last little bit of bending over backwards for them. They want, perhaps, to get some great teaching position somewhere, some position for which they are unqualified, and they see false recommendations as the key. At any rate, they wanted to get their way, or else. Hence their post with its schizophrenic reaching for anything, no matter how absurd or untrue, to throw at our school.
But I have some advice for Beryl and Bruce: if you want good recommendation letters, then you should try being good teachers first.
December 11, 2004