Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Jobby Job

As I'm here in China to teach, figured you'd all like to hear a little about that.

I'm a teacher for the California Sunshine Foreign Language Center, or Sunshine for short. The school has been open for a little over a year and a half now, has two offices and looks to be opening a third this summer. Its got a good rep around Harbin and lately has been making moves into the business market. I am one of the first teachers they have farmed out to teach to execs downtown.

The facilities of the school are exceptional for China. All the walls are painted in lively colors, glass walls and glass doors keep every classroom open to any visitors eyes as well as avoiding any sort of claustrophobic atmosphere in the at times crowded rooms. The owner is the former police chief of Harbin and he guanxi's the hell out of the connections he made in that position ("guanxi" is the Chinese art of fully utilizing one's network). Mr. Lin himself does not speak much English, nor is he around the school a lot. Any higher level administration usually comes from Dan Symes, our president, I guess. Dan's a Canadia who has now been in Harbin 10+ years. Fun guy who I've been relying on a bit to learn the city and meet new friends.

The staff are all Chinese, many 22, a few a bit older. All are female, save work study student who has returned to college for his finals. They handle all the office work plus provide good "bad cop" disciplinary backup in rowdy classes. They'll also translate difficuly English or important messages (homework, test rules). Even though they are officially TAs, I don't seem them much in my classes save for with the young kids. A few are helping me with my Chinese, as they have little to nothing to do when there are no classes in session.

Then there are the teachers, or "the talent," as one Canadian would say. All together we number nine, but I expect more to be coming on board soon. These characters, to be described more at a later date, are all quality people, each with their own quirk. Considering the genres of teachers I've met so far, the Susnshine crew ranks as some of the best to have as coworkers. I'm glad these are the people I'll be spending the majority of my time with, I really lucked out.

The school takes good care of us, which makes everything much easier. We might not get paid as much as some other private institutions around town, but we get certain luxuries (fully furnished apartments, daily meals, translation/chaperone assistance when needed) that make up for any discrepancy in pay. Plus, more than anythiing else, the school is dependable and would never screw one of their own, a practice all too common in this field.

Sunshine, as a private school apart from the local system, has to hold most of its classes at night and on the weekends. Saturday and Sunday are our busiest days, often with 3 or even 4 classes each day for each teacher. The classes range in age from: 4-6 year olds (very few), 6-9 year olds, 9-13 year olds, high school age, and adults. Out femal teachers get most of the younger age groups, I mostly have 9-13 year olds and adults. The 9-13 year olds are quite bright and teaching them can be a lot of fun. The adults are easy, as they dont care for the book, they just want to chat and practice their oral skills.

The classes are never larger than 15 students and run 2 hours with a 15 minute break half way through. Lesson plans are simple, we usually just follow along with the book, so you dont have to prep too too much. There is a large cross-section of the Expat Teaching Population that uses this opportunity to party 24/7. Every day you can hear a new story about such and such teacher at such and such school that wakes up every day with a beer and a joint and teaches 6 hours of kindergarten before crashing just long enough for the local expat bar to reopen so he might go out binging again. None of the Sunshine talent subscribes to this mantra, lucky for me, which is why its such a smooth running operation and a pleasure to work at. Not to say I dont like finding some of this other breed on nights I feel antsy for some stupid fun.

We, the teachers, dont prepare the tests or quizzes nor do we need to even assign homework or any sort of outside activity. Our most important job is to provide a friendly atmosphere so the students feel comfortable to speak and practice their English. They learn a lot in their regular schooling, but all through wrote memorization and writing drills, oral ability is not stressed if not ignored entirely. We drill on vocab and pronounciation, sure, but moreso we're there to ensure they dont sound like a textbook when they try to have conversations.

During the week we get shipped out to local colleges. Our biggest employer is the Harbin University of Science and Technology where I teach 4 sections of Freshmen Basic English Reading. The school actually ranks all their students and marks them as such, my attendance sheet lists each's name, and if they have a "K" next to it, I know they are one of the certified "too dumb to really be here but wealthy enough to buy off the admissions board" students. Its kinda like a academic scarlet letter. That aside, these students are mixed in with the intelligent ones to ensure every class holds a certain average and the documentation of such allows me to ignore these assholes in class and teach towards those who want it and can handle it.

Getting to and from relies upon our personal driver. He's a great guy and soon I'll be cursing fluently in Chinese thanks to him, but he only has two tapes of whiny Chinese pop that he listens to in the car, and its beginning to drive me batty.

Thats a basic rundown. I'll get some pictures up soon, show off the office and maybe some of my students. I'm also planning an introduction to the Sunshine characters as well as an apratment tour, but I've been busy. Between work and recent fun, I've been slipping, but I want to get back to daily or every-other-day posts. Now: bed.


At 7:42 PM, Blogger Byfielddoll said...

Bill the job sounds great and seems like you are adjusting well to all surroundings. Looking forward to pictures of the classes. I bet you are very entertaining as well as a good teacher!!!


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