Respect For Teachers In China

I'm an ESL instructor. Many expats in China consider this term a four-letter word. Why do so many Chinese ESL instructors apologize while introducing themselves? "Oh, I teach English." How is the most popular expat job in China taboo?

Imagine an expat party in China. Foreigners congregate in a Beijing pub on Saturday night. Two expats who have never met start a meeting in China with casual conversation. What's your origin? What's your stay? Do what?

After the final question, there's a barely discernible delay. One of the couple peers into his glass and lights a Zhongnanhai before looking to the bar's corner. A leathery, bristle-haired pachyderm fills one corner and most of the room. It wants to crush the young man's sentiments like a bull in a china store or an elephant in a bar.

The elephant in the room. It's fake, but I actually saw a live, angry reindeer at a Beijing nightclub around Christmas. (Bar owners' tackiness never surprises me.) No. The imagined elephant is the stigma of being a Chinese ESL instructor.

While this is a foolish and confusing approach to make my argument, I assume most foreigners in China have experienced something similar. In Beijing, foreign English instructors are often ashamed to tell people their profession. This puzzles me.

Nobody can disagree that helping others achieve their objectives is unselfish. China's Confucian culture shouldn't require mentioning. China should praise teachers.

Not just China. Almost everyone remembers a beloved or helpful teacher from school. Most individuals can recall a teacher who inspired them. Shouldn't we appreciate teachers more?

China's ESL sector is problematic for instructors. It's a fast-turnover strategy that admits some of China's least-qualified foreigners. Many colleges only accept applicants with Caucasian looks. Some schools regard ESL instructors more as status symbols or trophies than as workers with actual responsibility and involvement.

I'd imagine the lack of respect for ESL instructors in China originates from various individuals. I dare believe the Chinese staff's dissatisfaction is founded in pay discrepancy. Few Chinese instructors would agree that being a native speaker is worth 10,000 RMB a month.

Schools who hire us typically have a get-rich-quick mindset. Foreign instructors are seen as interchangeable cash cows rather than unique people. The cow metaphor works better than the elephant here. Sometimes foreign instructors don't help themselves by being flaky, untrustworthy, and uncommitted.

I suppose status matters to other foreigners in China. ESL job here tends to attract young, recent graduates who haven't yet chosen a career path. These folks often wish to live abroad or can't find job at home. Others teach English in China to pursue other academic, professional, or creative aspirations. While ESL instructors have different reasons and many smart and passionate people, other foreigners tend to stereotype them as dossers who aren't serious about their professions or China.

Businesspeople, journalists, and expat packagers should be envious, nevertheless. Young English instructors travel to China on their own and enjoy a stress-free existence. We interact with "genuine" Chinese people every day, have little overheads, and enjoy extensive trip vacations.

As an ESL instructor in China, I've never felt more scrutinized by my job. In a hierarchical system like China, instructors' fears may be unavoidable. I'm pleased of my career and life in China, despite others' misunderstandings.

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