Monday, January 08, 2018

Edumacation: The Year in Review

I always wanted to be an astronaut.

When I was 12 or 13, however, the unlikeliness of that began to make itself apparent. I wasn't nearly hard-working enough, and I wasn't particularly good at math or science. Then the Challenger space shuttle exploded in 1986, putting that option even further away.

I wasn't sure what I wanted to be instead, but I did know two jobs that I felt I was very unsuited for, and would not enjoy doing:

Police officer, and teacher.

Those jobs required a strong combination of sadism and masochism, I thought. They needed to sacrifice a lot to serve the community, but they also probably needed to take a sick delight in forcing people to follow the rules.

I think about that a lot now.

This school I work at, a branded "international curriculum" boarding school, probably started up with the best of intentions. They probably thought that the hardworking kids of the wealthy would flock here as they readied themselves to go study abroad for college.

What they found, however, was that there was tremendous demand for a place with no admission requirements or strict academic standards where parents could drop their unruly, disrespectful offspring and never have to worry about them again.

This school is extremely expensive, situated a short drive from the capital and Tianjin, two of the largest and wealthiest cities in China. All the kids were born in the years since 2000, when China began its meteoric ascent to the rank of global economic leader and superpower. These kids were raised in a kind of luxury, and with a freedom and an access to information, that their grandparents could only dream about.

So what went wrong?

I got a bit of a dressing-down from my manager for referring to the kids as "feral" but that's actually one of the kinder descriptions of them I can think of. Even most of our good students are utterly lacking in boundaries and self-control. If they feel like smacking somebody, or hugging them, or scratching their crotch, or shouting an obscenity, they don't even hesitate. I have to micro-manage virtually every aspect of their behavior; most of them wouldn't even bring their books to class unless they were rewarded or punished for it in some way, much less do their homework or classwork.

(I use Class Dojo for this. I reward good behavior with videos at the end of class, and bad behavior with standing or lunch-time detentions.)

A few highlights of the last year and a half:

- students shouting "shit" "fuck" and "bitch" in class, or saying "fuck you" to me, or flipping me off -- this happens nearly once a week, sometimes twice

- a level of hallway rough-housing and bullying so intense that many students would ask us if they could hide in the teachers' room

- used condoms being discovered in a science lab

- students frequently insulting how "black" other students are, or how "gay," usually to their faces

- a student who simply slept through every class, and when anybody tried to wake him, he would scream at them to leave him alone; apparently he would stay up all night playing games on his phone. At a parent teacher conference, his meek, timid mother tearfully told us he behaved the same way at home and she had no idea what to do about it.

- another student who got in so many fights with other students that the administration attempted to send him home for a month -- only to be told by his parents that they didn't want him back, because they were frightened of his temper. He ended up having to sit alone in a room all day for a month.

- a student who began crying hysterically and slapping himself in the face after a comment from another student

- several students decided it might be fun to crawl though open windows at lunch-time and use the ledge to walk to another classroom -- on the 2nd floor.

Now of course, we have detentions and other punishments, but many of the students would love nothing more than to get kicked out, so they just refuse. The owners of the school, I suspect, would consider kicking them out to be flushing money down the drain. So it's kind of an impasse if the students just refuse to do anything. (They do occasionally kick kids out, but it's mainly for alcohol violations or skipping classes entirely, missing kids and alcohol being two things the state board of education could close the whole school for.)

Quite a lot of the kids are gigantic; a few of our students in the middle school are 16, 17, or 18 years old, since they got kicked out of some other school and refused to go back for a year or two. This has led to some tense showdowns with kids who attempt to physically intimidate the teachers. One student got in another teacher's face and asked him if he was scared of him.

Now, I should say, things are improving a bit; we only have 12 or 13 students per class, rather than 24 like last year, and a concerted effort on the part of the staff has curbed the hallway rowdiness quite a lot. Still and all, I had some dental work done last January and on a return trip recently the dentist said he'd never seen anyone grind their teeth down as fast as I had.

Is my school a lot different from others in China? I guess so, but I think that these kinds of private secondary schools are more often like this than not, I have a colleague who worked at another branded private "international" school in Tianjin (with branches all over China) and he said it was actually much, much worse, with no order at all and fist-fights being a daily occurrence.

Nonetheless. X abides. I've signed a contract for another year, as the benefits and salary are good and I need, as I approach 50, to keep a job for longer than a year or two.

A Happy New Year to you all, and to all a good night.