Old Skool to New School (Rant)

Off the bat, I gotta say that I really, truly, genuinely miss my former students! I’ve had this urge to pop into my former school for a surprise visit, just to see the bright-eyes,wide smiles and pinchable cheeks of my “lil’ babies.” I’d give tight squeezes as I’m for certain they would reciprocate. Though, unfortunately, the feasibility of this is pretty much slim to none, as since the school calendar runs the same and I’m sooooo far from my previous school. :-(

In the last few weeks, I’ve been contacted by the parents of my former students. They were such a great bunch! – parents and students alike. I’ve been invited to dinners as a belated thank-you for all that I’ve done for the son/daughter. This brings me such great joy! (not just the dinner part, but…) The impact and positive impression that I’ve left on my former students…and their “love for the English language” puts an infinite smile on my face! They worked so hard. I worked so hard. It all paid off in the end. I can’t wait to see my lil babies again – somehow, some way!

(Oh! And it also kinda made me feel good when the parents told me that their children are calling the new teacher, “Ms. Mimi”….and that their kids aren’t so excited/fond of their new teacher…. I mean it made me feel like I was the best thing since sliced bread –which isn’t all false, ha! – but it also made me feel kinda sad, as if I had abandoned them.. :-( )

….aaaaaaand, in an email, a parent of a former student wrote:

“By the way, Johnny loves Michael Jackson and is always singing and dancing in front of the TV when he’s watching MJ’s DVD. Johnny didn’t really know MJ until I showed him his DVD [Thriller] and he suddenly said “I know this!! Ms. Mimi taught us this at Halloween.” He was so excited and he tried to copy his dance and on and on …..He is interested in his songs and meaning as well, which helps his English skill, too” —– As ya’ll can imagine: THIS BROUGHT A BIG OL’ FROWN – UPSIDE DOWN, ON MY FACE!!! If ya’ll recall my “MJ’s Thriller Room” Halloween activity last year for the kiddies. I am THRILLED to have had introduced and encouraged the greatness the late greatest entertainer/humanitarian of all time, MJ!

Now, present-day school: SH Experimental School’s Int’l Division Go ahead, digest that name. I re-welcome ya’ll to “Chinglish.” It took me a while to wrap my head around the school name… but I give credit to my local lawyer-couple friends who had enlightened me with the history of the name, a few months back. Basically, this school has a history of being “the radical / alternative / progressive” type school, affiliated with renowned SH Normal University (another headspinner name): the first to try to new method, the first to try new books, etc. Now, why didn’t they choose a better name for it? Beats me. “Shanghai Progressive School” would even be better… But “experimental” it is! I stand in the front of the classroom with my white lab coat on and syringe in hand, ready to test out my lab rat-students!….

…..Yeahhhh, Right!! I wish!!!!! My current students are an entirely DIFFERENT breed from my former students at my previous school! One thing that jumped out immediately is not only their English-knowledge level being lower, but also motivation level. Plus, Administration! – I am STRUGGLING with certain daily bullish that goes on; and I have to keep reminding myself, that I am pioneering their very first year of a “foreign staff/department.” Now, I have been forewarned by my former colleagues who had once been the jumpstarters of the foreign dept. in my previous school – of all the craziness, DISORGANIZATION and some culture clashes that comes with it…but BOY, OH BOY!! To put bluntly, it’s all quite arse backwards….and I’m truly missing the support system that I had last year: upper administration, staff, parents and students.

I mean staff and all are great here, but the school philosophy and parents aren’t so much. Fellow veteran local teachers have confided in me, in that they don’t agree with the way things are run either… so this provides me some comfort in terms of “not being alone” in this struggle….

I teach 1st and 3rd grade here. I had been told this school has a rather involved Parent Board. First thought = “GREAT! To have involved parents….but it all depends, on what they are involved with…..” And well, let’s just say, this Parent Board can take its concerns to a daycare center because their extreme low expectations and high spoil shield that cloak their little prince and princesses DON’T mesh well with my style of REAL education.
To date, 1st grade has been all good and dandy in terms of parent yapper. If anything, they’ve been quite supportive. One wrote me after the “parent/teacher meet” night:

“It was nice hearing you explain last evening in the school meeting. My son Justin said to me after the first class, “Ms. Mimi asked more from us and I’d better behave myself and work harder.” Some parents might interpret it as fear and submissiveness from the kids, but I do see it as a good sign. I like your teaching style: honest, straight forward, setting the rules up front and let the kids stick with it. I think the kids would ultimately understand and appreciate the fairness in this method.” — sign of a good mother, looking out for the best in advancement for their child, if you ask me!

It’s the 3rd grade that is the big headache. (So much that I had to call a dedicated, emergency vent session with a friend over 2 for 1 burgers and 2 for 1 martinis the other night!!) This batch of kids is notorious in the school for having the “most involved” parents for all the WRONG reasons. Now first off, the first thing I noticed in both grades (3 classrooms of 1st grade and 2 classrooms of 3rd grade) is that NONE of the students are “leveled” off in terms of proficiency level. (Hmmmm….. everyone is all the same; mantra of the country, I suppose.) I’ve got kids who don’t know how to write their ABC’s to kids who can read an entire Harry Potter chapter book ALL IN ONE CLASS….in 3rd grade!! I mean, I’ve had certain level problems before, but NOT this big of a gap. Plus, like I said before, the motivation level of the students is wayyyyyyy low to almost non-existent, so even if it’s low – they don’t care…and their parents don’t either. But anyway, I brought this up to the Director in charge (boss man), and he didn’t do anything aside from coming up with some ridiculous blah blah blah about the school..…,. perhaps thinking that I was moving too fast with my observations. However, I brought this up in the parent/teacher meet n greet during the 2nd week of school…and since then, some parents have voiced their concerns/agreements with me on the levels to the Director. Well, well, well….. so the Director pulls me in to discuss on “my suggestion” to fix this issue. MMM HMM MUTHER F’ER SHOULDA LISTENED TO ME IN THE FIRST PLACE, NOT WAIT FOR THESE DAMN PARENTS RUN HIS MO’FO SCHOOL!!!” (ok, me breathe…..)

So, after much back and forth ..and MUCH back and forth some more, we’ve agreed to level them off for the 2nd semester. Good and bad. Good that something will be done, but bad that EVERYONE has to suffer for the 1st semester: teachers, students and in this case, parents. I mean, my reasoning is: these parents are paying for the education, and frankly wasting money if the students are not in the proper learning environment. Sure, culturally, some parents might get offended because their little baby who can’t write a complete sentence in 3rd grade (no joke)…is not placed in the Advanced class, but guess what – in the end, it’s what’s best for the kid!! (Some parents get it, others….. I twiddle my thumbs at…. and eventually want to strangle….. ok, me breathe….)

I guess what it comes down to really though is how much I DISAGREE with how the school is run. The hierarchy is flippin ass backwards. The Director waits to hear from the parents. Of course, the parents hear from the kids..who are LAZY as all hell, but parents spoil them. So essentially, the top-down is: students, parents, administration and then teachers at the bottom of the totem pole. (Although my previous school was not all super perfect, but the Director set the serious tone of who was in charge PLUS discipline as top priority..and that trickled down, with concern for the students to achieve an actual education from teachers who were beyond dedicated to make it happen.) However, here in the new school…. To put simply, the director is a big wuss, “always to appease the needs of the parents.” I of course, sensed a bit of this, going in on the school….but damn!! It’s daunting to see the (coward) incompetence in action to such great extent! (And I gotta say.. incompetence….esp in a man…. I’m sorry, makes me lose all respect for.) I say this because, sure there were issues with some parents last year at my former school, but my Director then (a she) put her foot down on how things will be run under HER watch in compliance to EDUCATION…. NOT the “feelings” of parents/students.

Let’s see… where to begin with the discipline. Hmmmmm… I got chastised for setting and sticking to my classroom rules for my 3rd grade. But wait. Let me give you history of the 3rd grade: They’ve never had a real full time foreign teacher. In previous years, the school has hired part time foreign teachers to come and teach the class …and allowed for them to NOT use the approx. $100usd textbook in which all parents paid for, for their kids. Thereby, the parents complained and school allowed for it to be a voluntary purchase for this year aka MY class.. So yeah, I’ve got some kids without text books…and the Director said “let it be, maybe you can make some copies of readings..” BULLISH!! Then, I got in trouble for punishing the entire class after RIDICULOUSLY COUNTLESS warnings to the “repeat offenders of the class” to keep quiet blah blah blah. Parents complained it was unfair…and of course, to an extent it was/is…. HOWEVER…from a * new teacher’s perspective, it’s something that HAS to be done to establish the teacher/student relationship in regards to authority, esp at the top of the year when kids themselves are testing out their teacher. I was asked to apologize. BULLISH. I didn’t. Instead, I brought up the issue in the meeting and stated my cause and reason. I asked for any questions/comments and got NOTHING. So we’re cool…….

NOT Entirely!!

Just the other day, I was told that a parent complained because her son (not so great in class) told the mom that I took off 5 points from test …… bc he “sighed.” Bullish!! The Director asked me about it..and I told him.. his body was TURNED and TALKING during an exam. I gave PLENTY OF WARNINGS to NOT talk once exam books are out. It was their 3rd Spelling Test. They know the drill: Copy “Spelling Test 3” from the chalkboard (of which SOME students STILL COPY INCORRECTLY)… and be quiet…. till I give out the words. After countless warnings.. you speak, then you should be happy I’m not giving you a flat out Zero on your test. But! Once again, I am “forbidden” to take points off. …… EVEN THO THE F’N SCHOOL…. ADVANCES ALL KIDS ANYWAY, regardless of pass/fail. ….. and as if I care to make a kid a living hell. Simple rules: NO talking during tests. The thing that KILLS me is that.. this behavior is not tolerated by their Chinese teachers…. So why the fuck is the Director and parents expecting foreign teachers to not have any disciplinary authority!!!!?????!!!!! The kids are super obedient in Chinese/Math… yet given this “pass” as so it seems in their Foreign Language class???! (I NEVER HAD THIS ISSUE AT PREVIOUS SCHOOL. MY DIRECTOR ALWAYS HAD THE TEACHER’S BACK…BC WE WE’RE ALL EDUCATORS AT HEART!!)

Plus! I’m giving SIX-word spelling tests. SIX!!!!! And kids/parents are complaining… GOOD LORD!! HOW THE HELL DO THEY THINK THEIR KID IS GONNA LEARN ANOTHER LANGUAGE W/O SPELLING TESTS!!!..and I’m not even making them DEFINE them on test!!… I SOOO WANT them to meet my former 1st graders. They’d put these lazy babies to shame!!

All the while, when I first arrived at the school, a fellow teacher told me, the government set a mandate in which foreign teachers “are forbidden” to assign written homework. Of course, I found this odd/ridiculous. But I mentioned it to parents in meeting…. And some voiced, “what if we want you to??” GOOD QUESTION!! I had NO answer bc this school has too many odd rules. So I brought up to the Director..and he says.. “Don’t listen to the government. Listen to me (aka listen to the parents), give them some written homework..” OK. I do that. …… THENNNNNN… some other parents complain why their kids are getting homework now… .when previous years, they never did. I want to say.. “BECAUSE YOUR KID NEVER HAD A CONSISTENT, REAL TEACHER. YOU NOW HAVE A DEDICATED FULL TIME TEACHER WHO IS MAKING IT HER MISSION TO ACTUALLY EDUCATE AND ADVANCE YOUR CHILD IN THE WORLD OF ACADEMIA AND BEYOND…… soooo It requires work from both teacher AND STUDENT…and support of YOU AS THE PARENT FOR GOD’S SAKE!!!! Wake up!!! I’m not doing this for the fun of it…. It is valued time and attention that I’m putting into YOUR DAMN CHILD… working overtime….bc you can’t do your job as a parent to discipline the kid for the greater world out there!!!…… ok, me breathe…)

BUT NOW HERE’S THE KICKER!!….

I was told yesterday by my Director that I am “forbidden” as school rule… to put “X” marks for incorrect answers on tests/homework.

I will just leave that as is. Go ahead, re-read it. Shake your head, and ask: WTF??!!!

I just smirk/smiled..and slightly shook my head. (you can just imagine)….. and as my temp rose, I very forwardly said to my Director… “The parents basically want a teacher who doesn’t teach.”…. and left it like that… (ALMOST adding, and perhaps I’m not fit for this school… but I bit my tongue, bc I know he felt it. I was serious.) But just then, our team leader who was present then, butted in and had my back…. told our Director, “These parents can’t think all teachers are the same. Mimi is a great teacher. I’ve observed her class… etc. etc..”

At that point, I had to run to another meeting… went home…. hit the gym, popped in some Jigga man and sweated it out..

I went back to work the following day…and couldn’t / didn’t even want / refused to look at the Director, bc his wuss’ness would just piss me off. He was definitely on my “Do Not Disturb Me” list – NOT A GOOD LIST to be on. I consider myself rather fair and patient as I’m sure many of ya’ll would agree….. but there’s a point, where I can easily cut off. I had to cut him off that day. Again, I know he felt it…and approached me towards the end of the day to let me know irregardless, he is “very satisfied with my performance” in this first month. He confessed a lot of which that he error’ed in advising me before, ie. No “x” marks was actually trained to all local teachers at the school.

I’m done. I am really going to TRY my darndest to NOT give a damn anymore. I don’t know why I care so much, esp when it seems like all of which support systems: admin and parents are for the child’s “happiness” at the expense of stifling their child’s growth: no/not too much homework, no written assignments, circle rather than put x’es so that won’t hurt their “feelings” and the list goes on….. Will be interesting to see them in “real world.” Literally, that’s what the Director told me. “You needn’t blah blah blah.. but in this school, should listen to parents advice..and make certain their kids are happy.” Yes, that deserves a WTF.

But another thing that kills me is that the parents have not and probably will not speak to me directly about any of their concerns…so this pisses me off some more…. Because the issues that they have may not even be so grand, if they would just speak to the direct source, rather than getting all sorts of middle people who aren’t even in the classroom to begin with! I, of course told this to my Director and he said “ok.”… But again, who knows if that sunk in because this is all new to him as well. Plus, culturally… direct “confrontations” don’t happen so often when it comes to this stuff.. So, right then and there, “hearing through the grapevine” isn’t the best source and of course a kid will always plead the innocent plea. …. But it’s the parents that buy into it…and buy into the idea of creating a castle world around their son/daughter, and the school that buys into the parents because it’s for-profit in the end. And certainly, the local teachers who are required to “shadow” my class (Dean has requested them to attend Foreign Teachers’ class twice a week… to learn new teaching techniques) have also had my back in support… of what happens in the classroom..

So that’s what I’m dealing with folks:

Old School: Private Boarding school that was in its 5th year operation with full international/foreign dept. with a Dean that stayed true to discipline as #1 and teachers/education. Parents for sure know that they want their kids to graduate and attend university in America or Europe.

New School: Public, yet still for-profit school; 1st Year foreign staffed department. No consequences for poor conduct nor poor academics – EVERYONE goes to the next grade – and the kids/parents are the decision-makers…. Admin and teachers are puppets. Biggest puppet = Director. Overly involved with too much influence-Parents make me dizzy. All in all, living up to its name of “Experimental.”

Me: I need to condition myself to be less passionate in my causes (though, as ya’ll know..this is almost impossible) and not care …. They’re not “my” kids anyway. … I’ll stick to the more reasonable parents.. in 1st grade. Start them off RIGHT!

And by the way, I’ve felt so suppressed from providing actual education, where (after a few phone requests from a former student’s parent)… I’ve actually agreed to commute 1 hour out to my former student’s to tutor her for 2 hours and commute back another hour; that’s 4 hours in total…. And I happily do this once a week…. Because it is refreshing to speak to a child who is so open, motivated, interested and willing to put in all efforts to learn…. Along with a very amazingly supportive set of parents and grandparents. I can honestly say, I look forward to this evening, once a week! 1 hour each way, folks and I don’t mind it! (Wow! I am really sounding like a real teacher…. !!!)

. . don’t burn the day. .

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