September 17, 2019



September 14, 2019

  What it feels like in the end is no one will be my colleague.

  Intellectually I know the culture doesn’t work that way,. Ideally I’m supposed to sacrifice for the good of the collective. I’m supposed to offer up what I have to improve the lot of others and I do it willingly because these others are me. And I’m not supposed to expect others to see and or celebrate my individual contribution. They aren’t even supposed to know really who I am. They already know who they are so therefore they know who I am because I am them.

  I suppose I should thank Chinese for treating me as if one day I too could be us.


September 13, 2019

Unsupported Development

September 13, 2019

  Imma have to work this out because it keeps coming up: what’s wrong with my teaching in China?

  See, today, a holiday n everything, I was giving a class. Not a usual class. It was the seventh of a series of IELTS introductions I’ve been doing for freakin free for a small group[ of interested English teachers. Yeah sure, they’re women. Women are people too. And they’re married to vice presidents so suck it.

  But see, it went to shit. Again.

  I know why, of course. It’s because I have this really good idea that I’ve been practicing for the last five years and I know it works fucking gangbusters when it works, but I also know it can tank like a real tank in a swimming pool. Thing I don’t know is how to tone it down for Chinese. That’s the thing I want to work out.

  Currently, and unfortunately today as well, I express it was skills vs knowledge. I claim, out loud, in front of people, not in general but when everything goes to shit, that what’s happening here is skills and what you really want is knowledge. I claim that in China there is a tremendous educational preference for knowledge over skills – things you can know rather than things you can do – and I claim to be teaching skills.

  More exactly, I sit in the room, give minimal introduction, and say, off you go, start speaking. Because it’s skills, right? I don’t sit on the bicycle seat for you. I don’t pedal your pedals. I tell you a bit about the bike and then I say start riding. Bring some knee pads…

  No one likes this.

  There are ways to make the introduction go smoother. I can start them out writing discussions rather than having actual discussions. I can give feedback about the form of their writing and let them get used to the terms and expectations. I can exercise a lot more patience than I do. (Well, no I can’t, but ideally, one day I might if everything else were going well and I had fewer worries..)

  What I started saying today is there is a pathway to what you want. IELTS magnificence is what you want, English language proficiency. One pathway is awareness of discourse, practice at registering and creating structure. What you want is what you want. This pathway to what you want is not what you want.

  And there was a lot more but I was speaking to… peers? They’re not peers. They’re people with irons in the fire. But they’re adults at least and supposedly present voluntarily.

  But see, they just weren’t doing what they were supposed to. They were acting just like students. They were waiting for me to provide knowledge. They were supposed to have demonstrated interest not by simply arriving with notebooks, but by launching into some kind of active attempt to express ideas. That’s the thing that’s always missing. I provide a basic structure, a connection to actual applications (such as IELTS), an exercise to complete, and a point to begin. I say don’t think too much. I tell them, here’s a conversational rule: simple first, complex later. (Simple means straightforward grammar, concrete and direct observations; complex means complex grammar, abstract expression.) I say don’t tell me the answer, ask your colleagues what they think of your answer. And so on.

  They don’t like it.

  Real students don’t like it either. They can take to it. In a reasonable environment where no one dislikes anyone else, they can start using it to unlock their language knowledge. They can speak the roof off the joint with this method when it’s presented right…

  So why am I not presenting it right? Why am I rushing speech? Why rushinging ideas?

  Because I think probably this kind of practice is hopeless. I mean, it works. But it’s not wanted. Back when I was in the third semester with the classes of 2015 and they were taking control of the classes by themselves, talking together – appropriately, adequately, entirely within the confines of the exercise – for 90 minutes at a time, week after week, and I was getting worried because they were speaking so much by themselves they’d obviously work out that so much of their speech was going uncorrected and really there should be an extra teacher there to actually make use of all their output…. well, I started telling people I’d discovered the secret to English proficiency.

  No one cared.

  I mean that literally. No foreign staffer had a comment. No dean thought anything of it. No other department wanted to know. No other teacher even knew about it. Chinese teachers got dragged to a meeting, and had to sign in ffs, and they heard me out. They wanted to know if I assigned homework. And that was that.

  I’ve pitching these ideas around this school for about three years now, steadily working on them in class, recovering from the giant fuck up with the classes of 2016, making ground back with the classes of 2017, and what’s been happening around me? Deans have started acting weird, telling me how wrong I am on various tangential matters, cutting down how many hours I teach these ideas (and attempting boldly to fill up my hours with shit).

  Blah blah blah, it’s not wanted.

  A little tiny bit of it is political. This kind of teaching does encourage what could be called acting like a foreigner. In class you’re supposed to champion, for a little while, your own idea. You’re supposed to hear others out. You’re not supposed to correct anyone eccentric interpretation and remind them that the collective knows best.

  A larger part of it is increasing control the admin is giving to immediate leadership. Foreign staffers are now supposed to be tied to a given department. They’re supposed to fit in that department’s aims and to be measured according to their (nonexistent) overall plans. This is actually what’s fucking me up in the current moment.

  And then there’s part where Chinese students (and teachers) just don’t want to learn this way.

  I can’t really work out what’s the largest part. All I really know is I used to get away with this kind of teaching in the past because no one cared. Now I can’t because a few too many people do care, but they care not to do this strange foreign thing.

  They got me chocolates for Teacher’s Day too.

( ̄0 ̄)

August 20, 2019

Spee Freaks

August 20, 2019

  Stand by for some Free Speaks…

  I worry about what it’d be like trying to teach outside of China. I’d have no problem, other than the usual, teaching people who aren’t Chinese, but what if there were Chinese in the lessons too? I’m thinking specifically about teaching in Australia and what it would mean to have to navigate the kind of Chinese nationalistic hysteria that Chinese as foreign students bring to the non-Chinese classrooms these days. The thing that especially worries me is observed fact, that institutions and authorities in Australia make few positive defenses. I think perhaps in Australia, as perhaps in America, people say oh, let them bellow their bullshit, we have free speech here, right? That kind of response is in fact an abdication of free speech rather than an example of defending it. Free speech is resolutely not uncontested speech, and it is entirely not hateful speech or threatening speech. Free speech does not guarantee the truth of your speech and as such does not grant you any right to go ballistic when challenged. In fact, free speech is never meant to exist as a thing unto itself. It is supposed to be joined at the hip to some system of regular challenge. Good speech is meant to be rewarded (and what constitutes good speech is meant to be discovered), and shit-stupid asshole speech is meant to be known for what it is. If speech is free, then speech is available to contest, and standards of contest are meant to be adequate. YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO PROMULGATE AND DEFEND THE STANDARDS!

  Unless the foreign influence has lots of money to spend locally. Then you’re supposed to acquiesce. Duh.

Rectification of Names

July 19, 2019

  It’s happened often in my teaching roles in China, I take a proposal to a dean, they don’t read it, don’t know what it is, don’t know what ti describes, but they start looking through their curriculum books and they find a subject with a similar name and say you can teach this. It was particularly pronounced one time, about eight years ago, a year or two after first starting with the Management and Economics school. I’d written up this curriculum based on a textbook. It was meant to describe a semester worth of introductory material, week by week introducing some of the complex topics of business management. But then the foreign affairs section chief printed it out and sent it to some vice dean of something in Management and Economics and then we had a meeting. At that meeting, the vice dean and a liaison literally pulled out the lists of subjects their school somehow sort of offered and compared it with the entries on this curriculum I’d written.

  That was my first direct experience of being sidelined during discussions of my own proposals. But this kind of thing has happened a lot since then. And for the most part I’ve let it slide because who really needs the subject they teach to have the right name? They give my subject a name, I teach what I was going to teach anyway, right? Besides which, the Management and Economics department had all sorts of other asshole moves that kind of took precedence because they cost me money and I’ve since left them behind, right?

  But then, the most recent example has been “International Business”. That’s what my subject is called currently. It’s not international business, tho. There’s almost nothing in the classes about borders. The business we discuss in class is resolutely local. Other Guy even makes a point of having the students connect the class material to their own experiences. And frankly I have been more and more moving away from straight business teaching from day 1. (Day 1 was about six years ago now, btw.) More and more I’ve been teaching “discourse” – the organization of units of language larger than one sentence. I do it in a context of business because (a) interested, (b) it’s in this context that i discovered how deeply embedded in the use of educated English is a certain type of discourse, and (c) when I try to do it in subjects other than business I run into the knowledge problem, that just about every other subject has more complex knowledge requirements than business.

  Worse though, in terms of this management by names issue I think I’m seeing in China, is this most recent semester Other Guy and I did a teaching experiment where instead of dividing the cohort between us, we both taught all of them. He kept on teaching business knowledge and I placed clear emphasis on this discourse management ideal. Same text book, same students, different teachings, win-win-win, right? Coordinated teaching, sophisticated learning, complex valuable outcomes, right?

  Well no, because on the books both of our classes are “International Business” and in the student administration computer system there is only one of those. We were informed at the last minute that our grades should be combined. Take the average, is what everyone said.

  Where it gets strange is what happened when I started arguing against this. I said, yo, the administrative record does not match the teaching practice, our grades should be separate. But, they said, look at the curriculum…

  At first i thought I was seeing just a straightforward fear of administration. No one wanted to be responsible for altering the curriculum. The dean of the damn department really didn’t want to, but he’s a first rate dumb guy, smart enough in his own terms, but wholly unable to hear even people who speak into his face. He listens only to the voices of people above him. But then there was the former dean, the one who set up this administrative record in the first place. He was so very firmly of the opinion that the administrative record was correct that he was telling me – me, the inventor of this subject – that everything I had been teaching was “an aspect of international business”. Since I know this man not to be dumb, but I also know this man to be a keen arguer of tangents as main themes, I wondered what the fuck was he making this kind of bullshit for. I wondered if he was not pursuing this line of argument mostly just to shore up his authority. His argument rested mostly on the being recognised as the one with the authority to choose what is offered in the department.

  By the way, all but one of the approximately 180 students passed Other Guy’s classes. A little over half of them failed mine. He gave the students well-thought out examinations and carefully graded projects. I measured the degree and nature of their participation in class. The participation rate was about what I expected inasmuch as two years ago I had phenomenally successful classes and one year ago I had phenomenally poorly received classes (coinciding with each class increasing in size from 30 to 45 students, and with a change in my teaching methodology), and the middling participation I was getting this year was about right. I therefore didn’t wonder if the students had any mistaken idea. These days all sorts of people will say the students thought they only had to do well in one of the two classes with one of the two teachers who were both teaching “the same thing”…. But anyway, the failure rate was mostly down to low average weekly participation. Those who spoke, spoke most weeks; those who didn’t, didn’t. There was strong correlation between participating most weeks and passing, and sitting back most weeks and failing.

  The solution, such as it was, was for me, the developer of this subject, the one who introduced it to the department, the one who found the textbook, the one who proposed the teaching experiment where we teach all students together, me, to say, I opt out, the scores for this class will be those prepared by Other Guy.

  The students know what scores they were getting from me. Since the scores were based on weekly participation, I was able to keep everyone updated on their weekly totals. I was able to regularly calculate what there current “final” score would be. I’d delivered such an update the penultimate week too. Those who were failing could see it clearly; those who had already passed could see it clearly too. there’s was much talk of it in class as well. I’d been saying how interested I was to see if the fails would stick. I’d also said that the entirety of next semester (for I will be teaching “International Business” to all of these students again next semester) would be the make up exam. Pass next semester, I said, and you pass this semester. (That was because I knew, and had always known from ten years practice, that the students need one semester to fail, one to catch up, and one to get good. They don’t normally believe, you see, that the foreign teachers classes are meaningful. They don’t normally believe they can fail.)

  But so now I’ve started to wonder, is that actually Chinese management? Is that a Chinese discourse style? In measurement and management, we know a thing by its name, not by its properties. We do not assign a name according to a thing’s properties; we assign properties according to the name. We do not attend to the power of the thing before us, we attend to the power of the one who named that thing for us.



July 19, 2019

Imma add `Imma’ to my wordpress tags

July 19, 2019

I think imma goner


July 10, 2019

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