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Why do I pick on English teachers in this blog? Well it’s not because they’re all bad – I know a lot of English teachers here and some are excellent professionals who once had a passion for teaching and learning. I say once had, because Chinese schools are notorious for driving this out of their teaching staff.

Chinese students have a hard school life. This photo was taken during the SARS epidemic and in no way am I suggesting that bad teaching is contagious even if it sometimes appears that way...

Most Chinese students have ridiculously heavy school schedules – far longer than in the West, and they work from morning to night on a stupid number of subjects followed by homework – 6 days a week. They need a pass in English to get accepted onto a degree course but for the vast majority they will jettison this skill that same day and never use it again. So they don’t want passionate enthusiastic teachers – they want to get through this minor annoyance with a minimum of fuss.

In my experience it takes a professional English teacher in China about a year (and often less) for the light to dim in their eyes and for despair to set in. The exception to this rule is those teachers who are well qualified and working for an international school. Their kids are usually motivated to learn English because they will leave China to study at higher levels and will need to be able to communicate when they do.

However there is a curious aspect to these particular teachers’ behaviour in public – and that’s their silent omission of the word “English” when it comes to describing their profession. Ask any of them on first meeting what they do and they always say; “I’m a teacher”. It takes quite a bit of prodding for them to confess they teach English and it’s always qualified with “But I’m a proper teacher not an English teacher per se.”

Even I know that's not how you spell cat... in fact I'm not even sure that is a cat. Why are you teaching me again? Oh I remember - they needed a "white face" to convince my parents to pay the fees... I'm such a cynic...

And that brings us to the rest of China’s English teachers. They are unqualified (not just to teach but often even to speak and read their own language) folk who are often working here illegally (usually) and earning less money than they’d make in McD’s back home. Believe it or not – even in this group there are some genuine professionals who’ve studied their art and are passionate about it. I’m not a firm believer in qualifications maketh man, and I know you can be better at something than a “professional” if you want to be.

However the larger share of this group are a mess. Here you’ll find truly dysfunctional alcoholics, sex tourists, criminals on the run in their home countries, visa over-stayers, the works. And these people who make up what appears to be the majority of the profession are the reason that English teachers take a beat down here in China.

I’ve lost count of “English teachers” here who can’t distinguish between “your” and “you’re” or “their, there and they’re”. They seem to think this is perfectly acceptable because their clients can’t either. I’ve met teachers who’ve been to lessons falling down drunk and laugh about how easy it is to get away with it. And so on.

Their foolish behaviour seems to know no bounds either – one of the teachers here in Shenzhen. Wrote a long (and badly written) article about how he’s staying here illegally and is making a barely living wage in his own name, with pictures of him and his girlfriend (to make it really easy to identify him) for a major ESL website here in China. What a great way to bring yourself to the attention of the authorities.

Chinese parents love their children and want the best for them. Sadly when it comes to choosing English teachers they haven't got a clue, and this lack of knowledge is exploited by unscrupulous schools...

I honestly don’t understand the appeal of teaching English here either. If I was going to head to somewhere where it’s easy to teach English without much in the way of qualifications – it wouldn’t be China. Even mega-rich people in China live a generally lower standard of life than their Western peers. English teachers might make middle class money by local standards but they make lousy money compared to being at home – where almost everything (except the availability of pretty girls) is of a higher comparable standard.

So English teachers get picked on here, and in real life mainly because they’re so often deserving of it. And while it’s not fair on the few good ones (some of which you’ll find on my blogroll) it’s too easy an opportunity to pass up. And yes, sometimes I feel bad about that but not for long.