Friday, December 23, 2011

I'm a teacher. I'm not a saleswoman.

What am I? Who am I?.. intrinsically, intuitively, to myself I know that ..
I'm a writer. I'm a singer. I'm a dancer. I'm a musical-improv comedy-improviser. I'm a dreamer. I'm a romantic. I'm a traveller. I'm a poet.

I know that scripted acting doesn't interest me.
I know that Posing/Modeling/Purposely Selling one thing doesn't interest me.

When I give praise I mean it. That being said, I gave my TA so much "face" today during our staff meeting that I made her cry. Well, tears filled her eyes anyway. I will explain in a minute.

First let me say, working for a private ESL language school can be challenging in very specific ways.

#1. Marketing is the main focus of the company really, not teaching ( notice I said "company", not school) Whatever you are doing as a TEACHER ( whether it is teaching in a classroom or holding your school Halloween party at a golf resort) it is pretty much "posturing" - showing off for prospective families with money who will pay and enroll their child in the school and perhaps tell the child's other friends about the great ESL classes and keep the school afloat.

#2. The owners of the school may at times need to be reminded that taking care of the students who are currently enrolled ( who have paid for the year- whose money has already been spent by the owners on staff salaries and school utility bills) are JUST as important as courting and pleasing the potential students whose parents are going to sleep tonight and thinking about possibly writing checks to enroll them tomorrow.

I do not like being a "saleswoman". I do not want to push someone to buy something that they have not expressed an interest in buying.  I do not want to "act". I would rather have my natural "actions" speak for me. I like to be passionate about things .... I have things that I AM passionate about and that I would not hesitate to "sell" for free -- via word of mouth ( or "word of blog" in this case). I can list 5 off the top of my head. In no particular order.... ( see below)

1.) Cafe Bustelo instant coffee
2.) Giovanni Organic Hot Chocolate Sugar Body Scrub
3.) REAL books ( not Kindle or iPad "books" or any other "reading from a screen" type unnatural thing)
4.) The Fresh Mozzarella Pizza from Roma Pizza in Park Slope, Brooklyn (THE BEST. Seriously. That's all I order when I'm there. I don't know what their other pies are like.)
5.) the eCurrency Converter app on the iPhone ( a little nerdy maybe, but it's wonderful! I check it like 5 times a day- great to use when traveling - very up to date and accurate exchange rates for every country) - if you were wondering, currently 1 USD  is worth 6.33 RMB ( Chinese yuan). To put that in perspective I can buy two 20oz bottles of soda in 7-eleven here for 7RMB ("chi kwai") that is $1.11 ... so that's cheaper than in the US where I'd pay probably $1.75 or more for each 20 oz bottle.

So anyway ... I just "sold" you those 5 things freely. But they are things that I love and that I am excited about... so it doesn't even feel like "selling".

I love my students and I care about them as individuals. I am passionate about my specific classes and their needs. I know all of students by name and at this point I can anticipate what to expect (different behaviors, ESL levels, personalities, etc...) on a given day and am pretty well prepared with the right amount of physical/emotional stamina and intuition.

However, I'm "set" for the year... you know? I'm "done". I have my 4 classes. So there's a part of me that doesn't feel like giving demo classes or experience classes or "showing off" anymore. Luckily I don't have to give the demos or the experience classes now. Dona ( my TA from Uzbekistan) handles those.

But my boss is now ( in an effort to try to bring in more money) trying to setup some sort of "Winter Camp" and my heart ... is just not in it. It's a one week camp that is scheduled to go on at some boarding school outside of our school in February. I ( and the rest of the Academic Department) am supposed to design the curriculum ... and I'm just not feeling it. I will give her some basic .... games and songs and crafts ...  I will go online and GOOGLE ... but I'm just not feeling it. I put together the SUMMER CAMP ( which I knew we would have) and put on a really great "Cinderella" show. I don't know ... a WINTER CAMP... just sounds kind of silly.

So today during the staff meeting- when we were talking about Christmas and the Christmas party. I made it VERY clear that I am happy with everything that has gone on in the Academic Department over these past 7 months. We have 3 great classes up and running and I mentioned that Metis Zhou ( my TA who has been with me since we trained together in Beijing) works VERY hard as a TEACHER in class with me ... that TEACHING is our primary responsibility and that OUR STUDENTS are our main concern .... making sure that THEY are PROVIDED FOR so that THEIR PARENTS will RE-ENROLL them next year.

We have two new guys - one Chinese TA "Norman" and one British "Foreign Teacher" David- working with us now. They are both very quiet and standoffish... and definitely not as energetic as Metis and I. We are outspoken and loud and firm with the kids. Both of their styles are very different. Neither of them have ever worked with young children either. So ... it's kind of strange and interesting to see. I'm not saying that it "can't" work .... it's amazing how kids respond and what they respond to .... both of them working together MIGHT be really good. But it just made me realize how much Metis and I have done for our classes and HOW MUCH we have to BE PROUD of.

So I called her out specifically during the meeting and "gave her a lot of 'Face' " - the eastern term for singling out someone with specific praise, personal attention ( to "Lose Face" would be to "shame" or "embarrass" someone) She was sitting across from me at the conference table and I could see after I said it that she had tears in her eyes and gave me a small smile and said "you sound very serious". And I was. I didn't realize how firm my tone was - but I think there was some anger and frustration towards my boss brewing inside and that accounted for the "seriousness" of my tone. I wanted them to know how proud I am of the TEACHING that is going on at the school (regardless of the "selling")

My boss knows that Metis is a great TA and I know that she appreciates her and pays her as well as any TA in China is paid. However, for foreign teachers, it's also important to appreciate when you have a good TA and to maintain a good relationship. There are a lot of differences that could potentially come between a TA and a "Foreign Teacher" and a lot of resentment that could build up. So ... when it doesn't and when it's really good I think you need to call that out and acknowledge it.

I feel like I'm running on two or more different tangents ... but I guess I'm passionate about this too. So here is another little list.

TA STUFF ( reasons to appreciate your teaching assistant)

1. ) Remember that she or he is most likely making approximately 1/8th of your salary. Regular teachers in China make about 1000 RMB per month. My TA makes about 1300 RMB per month. ( that's roughly $205 USD. per month. ) Yet they are doing SO much of the work - updating the school blog online after each class, making phone calls to the parents, disciplining the students in the class in Chinese, etc. 

2.) You are a foreigner and often the task of "teaching the foreigner" how to do things - like go to the post office, get their home wireless internet hooked up, find a kindergarten for their daughter (Metis helped Dona with that for her 3 yr old daughter Zora)... is left to the TA's at the school to help with. RECOGNIZE and APPRECIATE THAT. 

3.) remember that English is not the TA's first language and the fact that they have mastered it so well, should inspire you to try to learn more of their language. 

I am a good teacher. I have a great teaching assistant.   I honestly feel like the "marketing" should be left up to the "Marketing Department".  Anything that involves "teaching" - demo classes, experience classes, regular classes ... I am ready/willing/open to do.

But my heart is not in "selling" or "posturing" or ... "forgetting" about my students because they have already paid.

I will never forget them. I could never forget them.

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