Teaching to a Certain Degree

Last month’s article caused some controversy with a few readers and so this month I will address some of the comments made.

Person 1: It is a big misconception that qualified teachers (i.e. those who are holders of any kind of Bachelor degree) are the cream of the crop. This invariably is not the case and many so called ‘qualified’ teachers seem to be some of the laziest, pompous individuals around. Just saying.

Person 2 (replying to #1): Conversely, in my opinion, the less qualified a teacher is, the less reliable she/he is.

Person 1: So go for your qualified, unprofessional a*hole. Good luck.

Person 1: You could have a degree in basket weaving and that puts you above…blah blah blah

According to an article by Forbes (2012) there is an estimated 100,000 teachers teaching ESL in China. One cannot possibly expect Chinese authorities to personally interview every single person that wants to teach English in China. It’s just not feasible. The Chinese authorities, however, are responsible for who they allow into the country and for ensuring that the employees that business owners and schools take on are able to do what they are employed to do and are of good character. Local business owners/schools conduct their own interviews but they cannot always be relied on for the above.

A person with a degree isn’t necessarily smarter, a better teacher, more responsible, more professional, more reliable, etc.

So, if the Chinese authorities cannot be expected to hold 100,000 interviews with prospective teachers, what’s the answer? Well, what they can do is prescribe certain criteria for people who want to teach English in China; one of which is a bachelor’s degree. Does holding a degree makes one a responsible, conscientious teacher? Not necessarily. Does it make them the “cream of the crop”? No, again. However, what it does is, it signals to the authorities that, however easy his/her degree might have been; however useless or ridiculous a degree in basket weaving might be; the holder of the degree, at the very least, has shown enough discipline and mental capacity to finish this four-year degree; which is more than what a person without a degree has demonstrated. Is it a perfect system? No, but it’s the best one that China (and developed nations) use for skilled migration.

Lastly, to say that degree holders are “invariably” not the best teachers is complete nonsense. In my opinion experience of ESL teaching is probably a better barometer of quality (but not necessarily of professionalism), but having a degree is not going to “invariably” mean you are unprofessional or lazy, that just doesn’t make sense, and person number 2 is correct, with the caveat that the less qualified teachers are just more likely to be less reliable.

Person 3: I don’t have a degree, so I guess that makes some idiot with a degree in basket weaving a better teacher than me.

A person with a degree isn’t necessarily smarter, a better teacher, more responsible, more professional, more reliable, etc. than someone who doesn’t have a degree, and yes, there are idiots who hold degrees too. However, by virtue of completing a four-year university course, it demonstrates in an imperfect way, a certain discipline and aptitude that you may not be readily able to. So how would you like the Chinese authorities to ascertain that you are a competent teacher? To take your written references’ word for it? To hold an IQ and EQ test for all 100,000 teachers? To watch videos of 100,000 teachers teaching a class? It isn’t me that needs to be convinced, it isn’t fellow unqualified teachers with a chip on their shoulder that you need to convince either; it is the Chinese authorities, so write any suggestions you may have to them and let me know how that goes for you.

Person 4: Chinese labor laws don’t distinguish between locals and foreigners. It is equally as difficult to get rid of local staff as it is for foreigners.

I wrote about the hiring and firing of staff, not just the firing. It is obviously easier to hire local staff than foreign staff, I don’t think there is any argument there. And yes, you are right, the laws are the same, and perhaps I should have specified it better, but in practice I don’t think it is. Aside from the legalities involved, there have been many local managers/business owners that have told me they would like to discharge certain foreign teachers but they are unable to because of their popularity with students and parents; meaning they are too worried to fire the teacher in case a mass exodus of students occurs. This may happen with a Chinese teacher but to a lesser extent.

Person 5: I don’t see any benefit to anybody by publishing this article. Where are the interviews or statistics? I would like to see at least one stat regarding teaching positions posted on job boards. This is just a well written up version of a drunk conversation somebody has had outside 7/11.

The person above knows full well that no such statistics exist. Additionally, the first paragraph of last month’s article states “It may not happen in a year or two, but if what I am hearing and observing is a growing trend in the industry…” I would expect someone with a university degree to understand that the bolded section indicates that this is an anecdotal account.

Lastly, I actually think this article would benefit many people. It would benefit unqualified prospective ESL teachers who are thinking of teaching indefinitely in China to think twice; it might benefit students/students’ parents to know that there are plenty of Chinese English teachers who can competently teach beginning/young learners English at just a fraction of the tuition fee; it might benefit business owners/school principals to know that there other alternatives out there; and it may benefit qualified teachers, if the demand for unqualified teachers decreases. However, it probably won’t benefit unqualified teachers who think they can keep working illegally indefinitely; or irresponsible qualified teachers with an enormous sense of entitlement. Which category do you fall under?