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How a western teacher survives in China

By MichaelM ( Updated: 2015-01-26 17:37

I've always chosen to be a student of human behavior. Since coming to China 3.5 years ago, I've watched the behavior of those I've come into contact with. In fact, I've studied them close.

It was shortly after coming here that a payclerk attempted to cheat me out of money I'd earned. She worked in the International Department of the university. It was quite a surprise how blatant and bold her attempt was. As a Westerner, I confronted her immediately. I also contacted others in authority and let them know about it. I also let them know that I wouldn't tolerate it. 'Pay me all of money or say goodbye.' I wouldn't stand for it. The next morning, I got ALL of my money and an apology over the 'misunderstanding.' (It was no misunderstanding. I considered her actions that of a common thief.) Two weeks later, the payclerk and her boss were fired. I was offered a raise.

I've learned that part of the culture here is that people will attempt to beat you out of money (cheat you) if you'll allow it. I won't. I'm a nice person. I'll do more than I'm asked to do. I'll go the second mile. I'll give money to and help those who need my help. I give my time freely to those who I can help. But, I won't be cheated to my face and tolerate it. It is not in my blood to allow that.

I've also encountered the 'bully parent.' This is a phenomenon that really surprised me. It is what we call a 'passive aggressive' act that comes from parents who direct their attack to teachers. I've been amazed at how often some parents will attempt to do this. They have some sense of superiority over teachers and will tell you what you are doing wrong in educating their child. What is so amazing about it to me is, when comes to them attempting to do this with me, it is parents who can't speak a word of English who are attempting to school me in how to teach English. 

I owned a private school in Texas for 15 years. I've turned out students that were top achievers. Even since I came to China. I've had one of my students go to Harvard. I have one who now attends Princeton. I've got one right now who will attend Brown University and two others who are headed to Stanford. When a parent comes to me (via my bilingual teaching assistant) and complains about how I teach English, I not only confront them immediately, I am fully prepared and somewhat adamant that I refund their money and send them away. I don't need/want their money and I won't tolerate their bullying and negative attitude. However, because I confront them quickly and directly, all but one of them have changed their attitude and gotten on board in cooperating with me in educating their child. 

Most of them will beg me to stay with me after I've confronted them. I've dealt with them in the same way I would deal with a parent in my school in the USA. The difference is, in the USA, with a school of 750 students, I had to deal with such situations perhaps 10 times in 15 years. Here in China, I've dealt with it more than that in 3.5 years. I've never figured out why parents try this here even though I've got a few theories about it.

I've taught assistants who work with me, how to deal with such people. We immediately confront the problem and the person. We will take complete responsibility with whatever our role is in the the situation (if any). We will lay bare the facts and directly deal with it. Most Chinese parents apparently aren't used to teachers and educators being so direct with them. They almost always change their attitudes fast and I never have another problem from them again.

I've learned a lot of lessons in my 'Chinese education.' That is, I've learned a lot about how to live and survive as a foreigner here in China. As I've said many times, most people are wonderful to work with and deal with in making their dreams for their children come true. That's what I do and what I do best. I focus on what's best for the child and have found a way to successfully deal with misguided parents.

This is one of the more important ways that I survive in China.

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