September 29, 2008

Who “exactly” are we English teachers?

Filed under: blogs,China,language,teaching — Kim @ 12:45 pm

To kick off, here’s a nicely provocative comment from a Chinese lady on the Dalian Xpat forum…

most of foreigners in china are rubbish(except those who are assigned to work here),they cant support themselves in their own countries and that is why most of them are english teachers (or other languages),coz they can do nothing but teaching their own languages. china is just like a dump(but i love it),so welcome those rubbish from different countries.

and this was followed by a comment from a Russian

Nice comment, I totally agree
(At least I’m not an English teacher)

Well, as I have written before, I am used to comments like this and I suppose there is some justification for them. There’s no smoke without fire, as the old adage has it, and some of the English “teachers” I have met over the years have been unqualified, psychotic, alcoholic, incompetent etc etc. But but but…the majority are normal, likable, interesting and decent people who are capable of teaching English very well. (Just like me! Shucks.)

It should also be said that some “English teaching” does verge on the pointless, particularly when teachers are stuck in, and then stuck with, a class of students who don’t want to be there and indeed often have no good reason to be there other than that the lessons are a parental or governmental requirement. I am lucky enough to be able to avoid teaching classes like these. I teach motivated university students, businesspeople, and adorable little kids.

I am an English teacher. It is my job and it is part of my identity. When people ask me what I do, I say I am an English teacher. I suppose I could, if I was feeling poncy, reply instead that “I teach literature and applied linguistics at a University” but that would be, well, poncy.

Anyways, a couple of weeks ago, via the wonderful haohao report, I came across an interesting article that both analysed and criticised that bally rotter the Chinabounder. In case you know him not, Chinabounder is (was) a young English teacher from the UK who wrote what became an infamous blog about his womanising in Shanghai. He then became the victim of a storm of indignation and media curiosity when a certain Dr Zhang, a university psychology lecturer, demanded he be hunted down and kicked out of China for humiliating and mistreating Chinese.

The article was from a site called The Middle Kingdom Life which has the subheading Perspectives on Living and Teaching in China. It is run by a few people but there is a Dr Greg (Gregory Mavrides, Ph.D.)who does most of the writing and moderating. In his own words… Dr. Mavrides is an American psychoanalyst who has been working in China as a professor and mental health consultant since August 2003.

I left a comment saying, more or less, that while Chinabounder is a prat he does have some insightful points to make about China and Chinese society. But that’s by the by, what I want to focus on is the Doc’s response and the point he made about English teachers in China. He said…

If Chinabounder’s situation was a relatively rare one, there wouldn’t have been any reason to write an article about it. In fact, he is a very common type of male foreign English teacher in China and I just used him as an example, as he decided to go public with his adventures.

I think the claim that the bounder is “a very common type” of English teacher is unfair and way off the mark and I commented back

I have been in Dalian for two years now and have hung out with an awful lot of, mostly male, English teachers and have never met anyone who sleeps with lots of Chinese women and brags about it. I have some colleagues who are young, male, and horny and in some cases absolutely smitten by Chinese femininity, yes, but they don’t sleep around and “break hearts”. They mostly joke about how all the beautiful girls are out of their league! Most of them are after a serious girlfriend…just like everywhere else! Anyway, I think you have an unfairly poor opinion of male English teachers in China, you even use “English teacher” in scare quotes…I do not think Bounder is representative of anything but a tiny tiny minority of English teachers. That’s my experience anyway.

To which the Doc replied

From the situation you describe in Dalian, it sounds like a very special, even unique, city in regard to foreign English teachers. We’ll have to investigate that for future editions of the guide.

This sounded distinctly sarcy to me so I tried to post this comment in response…

I must beg to differ. I am assuming your comment is not intended to slyly point out that I am wrong in my judgment of English teachers in Dalian and am taking it at face value. So, it seems to me extremely unlikely that Dalian is somehow unique…I mean, why should it be? Also, I have talked to English teachers who have worked in Ningbo, Shanghai, Jinan, Beijing, Changchun, Chongqing etc, and they all say that Dalian is very nice, but none of their stories suggest that the “English teaching community” is significantly different than the one here. Could I therefore suggest the point that it is not that Dalian is unique, it is that your opinion of English teachers is unfairly low? Cheers for now.

but the Doc censored it. That is, he wouldn’t allow the comment to stay on his site. More about why not later.

Anyway, this little to-and-fro then prompted another article by the Doc called What Exactly Is An English Teacher?. In this, Doc expanded on his previous comment

And, for the record, I have absolutely nothing against English teachers: they were certainly among my favorite in high school. It’s just that I don’t think it’s reasonable to refer to anyone who can speak English as an “English teacher” (even if they’re being paid as one in China), hence my use of quotation marks. I’m sorry that wasn’t clear to you.

and went on to talk about some of his experiences with “real” and “genuine” English teachers, who, in his opinion, are those who teach English as an academic subject rather than as a language.

This is one definition of “English teacher”, but there are quite clearly others and I found it amazing that the manager of a site purporting to help English teachers in China would be so blinkered and condescending. Accordingly, I attempted to post a reply stating my opinion about other definitions, but again the Doc wouldn’t allow it on his site.

Here it is for those of you interested…

Dear Dr,

Hello again. I came a bit late to this post, but to be honest I found it hard to believe what I was reading! As a manager of a website for English teachers in China, you do surely realise that “English teacher” has different meanings in different contexts? Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that you consider a “real” English teacher to be an English literature/grammar teacher, and a trained and qualified one of course, and probably a native speaker of English. I am inferring this from the following parts of your article;

two genuine English teachers
Because he is a real English teacher
I thought again about how loosely the term “English teacher” is thrown around in China

But this is just one type of English teacher and no more “real” (or “professionally authentic” perhaps) than me or any of my Chinese friends who teach English at Chinese schools or universities. If you ask my Chinese colleagues at Dalian University of Foreign Languages what they do, many of them will simply say that they are “English teachers”…although at University level they might mention a specific focus.

So, what about me? I am not qualified to teach English literature/grammar in England, but I have been an English teacher for 12 years now. I have a TEFL certificate (a month long starter course) and I have an MSc in Applied Linguistics. I am an English teacher: I teach English to people whose native language is not English. I have worked (teaching English) in Universities in Hungary, Japan, Thailand, England, Scotland and China. I have both taken and given teacher training programs, and I have taught general English in Private schools, multinational companies, and kindergartens. And I am not that unusual, there are a lot of people with similar professional experience in the world these days because teaching English is big business! There is also a huge literature, including several academic journals, devoted to the field of teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL, TESOL etc) and to work for a university or for a quality institution like the British Council or a respected private school, you have to have a Masters degree or a Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults (DELTA). Both of which take a year or more to get. To work as an English teacher in most universities in developed countries these days, you need a PhD.

What about those teaching English who have no other qualification than that English is their mother tongue? Are they the ones who are disqualifying me and others like me from being “real”? Well, they are there because there is a demand for them to be there. The desire to have a “native speaker” as a teacher is misguided in my opinion, but it is strong enough to mean that there are not enough qualified people to fill the posts. So, you get people teaching English who are not properly trained. Some of them turn out to be very effective teachers and some do not; some of them like the job enough to go and get certified, and most go on to other things.

But please, just because there are maybe more unqualified first-timers (as well as some chancers/sexpats etc) in China than in, say, Japan, please do not assume that there is not a body of well qualified and dedicated English teachers here, both Chinese and native speaker.

To repeat my main point, the term “English teacher” means different things in different contexts and to try to limit it to “English literature/grammar teacher”, presumably because that is what your “English” lessons consisted of at school, is misleading and unhelpful. Please use your site to welcome a broad church of English teachers to China and please give them more professional respect. Thank you!

End of comment.

Again, the Doc wouldn’t allow this on his site, but he did at least have the courtesy to tell me why not. He sent me an email explaining that…As I have spent upward of one year researching, writing, and revising this guide, I am going to use this website as my personal pulpit and not as a forum for open debate…I’m going to use it to proselytize my point of view…Of course there are exceptions, as pointed out in the guide, but I don’t feel the need to air them in a way that casts dispersions (sic) on or distracts readers from the main points that have been raised.

Well, there we have it. It’s not only the CCP that thinks that reasonable and rational discussion is “unhelpful”. If you don’t like the voice of the other side, silence it! (NB The only comments I have censored on my blog have been insulting or abusive ones…yes Dude, those ones.)

On the other hand, it’s his blog (his little domain) so he can do what he wants. Fair enough, I just think it paints a misleading, not to mention condescending, portrait of English teachers.

We’re not that bad, are we? Comments welcome.


  1. Chinabounder was exposed as a fake and everyone involved jump at it like a bum on a dollar.

    Comment by Chung — September 30, 2008 @ 12:52 pm

  2. No. Not that bad. He grossly overgeneralized and you did an excellent job calling him out on that. Shame he didn’t print your comments.

    His is actually a very good site, I think, for foreigners seeking practical information regarding education in China (and I see that he has quoted me on that), but it is a shame that cannot become a forum because I think it would have had a lot of potential for that. Oh well.

    Comment by Dan — September 30, 2008 @ 2:04 pm

  3. @Chung…You what?

    Thanks Dan. Nice to get some moral support! I agree Dr Greg’s site has some good stuff in it.

    Comment by Kim — September 30, 2008 @ 3:47 pm

  4. Ken and I have been tossing around the idea of adding a forum to the site for months. Ultimately, we decided against it for reasons I make clear in my piece titled “Psychopathology of Anonymous EFL China Teacher Forums.”

    If in fact our site does have a lot of “good stuff” on it and is a practical source of information for prospective foreign teachers, it is because we take the time to research and authenticate the information we offer. In our opinion, a forum (or, in this case, an ongoing debate about what constitutes an “English teacher” or whether I was too critical of ChinaBounder because he is not “a rapist or a sadist”) will do nothing but detract from the validity and entire purpose of the site. There are dozens of Internet forums for foreign teachers in China in which everyone has an equal voice and the right to disseminate their personal opinions, including a myriad of misinformation. It is precisely for this reason that Ken and I created Middle Kingdom Life—as an answer to these anonymous forums, i.e., a consolidated source of reliable and valid information.

    In addition, I would like it noted that Kim was quite selective in the particular sentences he chose to quote from my personal e-mail responses to him. He failed to include, among other things, my specific invitation to him to write up his personal viewpoints about teaching English in China as a personal story for our blog. Now that he has had the chance to complain about our comment publication policy here, I am still hoping that he will take the time to write about his experiences for our blog in a manner that may be of real value to prospective foreign teachers. It seems to me that if the real goal in all of this is to present a broader or alternative viewpoint about teaching English in China, he would be jumping at the opportunity.

    We are not attempting to censor alternative points of view that are well-written and valid. What we are trying to do is prevent the message from getting lost in the din of contentious debate that is commonly seen in other forums and venues.

    On the other hand, what constitutes a valid alternative response? About a month ago I received an extremely well-written commentary regarding page 24 in the guide titled “A Few Cautionary Words about Prostitution.” In this reply, the author was quite critical of me for presenting what he felt was a very one-sided view of prostitution in China and for employing “scare tactics” by citing STD transmission statistics (even though, by his own admission, these statistics are valid). Aside from the fact that this information is contained in the guide and not in the blog (and, therefore, there was no appropriate place to append his response), I don’t think I would have published it even if it had been a response to a blog article. What possible value does it offer to Westerners thinking about teaching in China to serve up a heated debate about the pros and cons of prostitution in China? Nevertheless, I am quite certain that if that author also had his own blog, he would have written a similar commentary complaining about censorship on Middle Kingdom Life.

    Kim, our offer is still good. You can write up a piece that expresses your viewpoints about living and teaching English in China as a personal story for our blog, but I won’t debate you online about what an English teacher is or isn’t, because I don’t see how doing so is useful or even consistent with the stated philosophy and mission of our website.

    Comment by Gregory Mavrides — October 1, 2008 @ 5:28 am

  5. When I first read Kim’s post on the Chinabounder article, I thought he was just taking the piss out of the Doc.

    Anyway, I don’t believe it matters one iota what one particular individual thinks an English teacher is. I think the main point is that all that matters is what China’s educational system thinks it is.

    I have taught in China for 7 years and 6 of those were at the varsity level. The Doc is correct when he writes that the Chinese educational leaders don’t want us here, we are just meeting a national requirement that none of the academics believe in or take seriously.

    At one college, they had a foreign professor from Australia with a doctorate in linguistics and he was teaching the same classes as the young bucks just out of school for RMB450 more per month!

    I think China’s attitude towards foreign English teachers is condescending and that’s all that counts. That is a point that makes very nicely and accurately and I agree it is a fact of life that anyone thinking about teaching in China should know about.


    PS. Just so you know, this site is blocked from Kunming. I had to use a proxy server just now to get to it.

    Comment by Rick Albright — October 1, 2008 @ 9:57 am

  6. Dr Greg, I don’t get it. If you don’t want the “message” to get lost in the cacophony of debate, why do you even allow comments? It looks very suspicious when a well-written and courteous rebuttal to a point you make is not allowed, while other comments are. Suggestive of a certain weakness, perhaps.

    And if your information is so “reliable” and “valid”, then why are you perpetuating a stereotype that has little factual basis? There are bad foreign teachers out there, as there are bad teachers everywhere, but this stereotype that all, or even many foreign teachers are Chinabounder types is patently absurd. My experience, teaching in Beijing, Tianjin, Taiyuan and Changsha over the last 8 and a half years, has been similar to Kim’s. Yes, I have met foreign teachers who fit the stereotype, but I can count them on the fingers of one hand. Businessmen, journalists and students, on the other hand…. In my experience, they’re far more likely to fit the foreign teacher stereotype than foreign teachers.

    And why would Kim write for your blog? He has a blog of his own.

    What would constitute a valid response? If you’re allowing comments, then deal with comments with the same level of respect they show you. If they’re abusive, insulting, prejudiced, delete them or even block them should that become necessary. If they offer a rational and courteous rebuttal to a point you have made, then engage. The discussion usually does more to expand everybody’s understanding of the issues than deleting alternative viewpoints allows.

    Comment by chriswaugh_bj — October 2, 2008 @ 3:29 am

  7. I think you guys just got your knickers in a twist because a small group of independent western academics have done a credible and thorough job of exposing the EFL industry in China for what it really is: a fraud. Do you really think the parents of all these kids in universities and throughout all these private language mills know that the foreign “teachers” “teaching” their kids English are nothing of the kind in their own countries? It is one of the biggest national scams of all times.

    And what’s the end result of all the money that is sacrificed and spent on English lessons? A whole country of nationals who can’t speak more than a few words of English if they had a gun pointed to their heads. HA. And why? All because Chinese parents have been brainwashed by Beijing into thinking that their kids will have an advantage in life if they can speak more English than their neighbour’s kid. Rubbish, all of it. It’s all about keeping up with the Zhou’s. It’s quintessential exploitation at its worst motivated by greed all around.

    To answer the OP’s original question, yes, English teachers in China really are that bad. Not because they may be unqualified wankers pretending to be something they’re not, but because they are knowingly participating in a scam and that makes them no better than underground telephone hustlers conning old ladies out of their life’s savings.

    Disgusting, the whole nasty business.

    Oh, in case you are wondering, I am NOT an English teacher in China. There would be more respect in collecting recyclable waste in the countryside on one of those dilapidated bikes with a little bell. At least you’d be doing some real good and contributing something of value to the citizens of China.

    Comment by Allan P. — October 2, 2008 @ 8:02 am

  8. I think you are singling out one person for exposing the serious problems with English teaching in China and abuses of foreign teachers. I was in a very abusive employment situation in China during my first job that led to physical violence, so I am very sorry that guide wasn’t around 3 years ago before I got involved with a recruiter (who is no longer around). So what if his editing policies are unfair or not to your liking? It’s obvious to me anyway that his motives are pure. He’s clearly not in this for money or to hurt anyone. Now we make a big production of exposing a concerned educator for censorship, “weakness” and committing a slip of the tongue when he’s spent a lot of his free time trying to prepare future foreign teachers for what they can expect? Why should we contribute meaningfully to his cause when we each have our own blogs? Seems to me these responses only illustrate the points he made about oppressed group behavior among China’s foreign teachers.

    I’ve been teaching in China for 3 years and it’s nothing but whitewash to say that most are real English teachers, however you want to define that. Yes some are good and decent and are trying to do a reasonable job despite all the odds. I’d like to include myself in that group. But most between the ages of 30 to 50 are mental patients, ex convicts, holy rollers, alcoholics or womanisers. That happens to be the truth whether it sounds bad or disturbs anyone.

    Can’t speak for anyone else but I am personally comforted that the contributors of call themselves foreign teachers in China. Makes it a lot easier for me to do the same.

    That’s all.

    Comment by Fred Blake — October 2, 2008 @ 10:46 am

  9. I think Kim and the Doc are secretly gay.

    Comment by SoonToBeCensored — October 2, 2008 @ 1:03 pm

  10. Yesterday my mother-in-law made about 33,000 of the world’s tastiest dumplings, and those, washed down with some Asahi beer (best readily available beer in China…sorry to offend national pride), has put me in a splendid mood and much more able to see the funny side of this discussion.

    Allan P. is a consummate grumpy old man, and I enjoyed his grandiloquent and slightly dotty rubbishing of TEFL in China very much. I imagine him on an old granny bike harrumphing around the streets of Beijing with a pile of cardboard on the back and a big sign saying “At least I’m not an English Teacher!”

    And Mr Allan Sir, could I make the suggestion that if you write this sort of thing…

    Chinese parents have been brainwashed by Beijing into thinking that their kids will have an advantage in life if they can speak more English than their neighbour’s kid

    Then people will be much less likely to take seriously your other, maybe more valid, points.

    Fred Blake has an excellent roll call for China TEFLers. I can see him as a headmaster with a form in his hand calling out to a gathered crowd of English teachers.

    “Ok, everybody…listen up. When I call out your type please form groups. So (stern frown) do we have the ex-convicts? Ok, you lot should have a few tales to tell each other, please go to the back of the room. Next…how many holy rollers in the house? Right, right, go over there and try not to sing too loudly. Any mental patients? I can see from your drool sir that you must be one…go over to the left please and don’t get mixed up with the holy rollers. Alcoholics and womanisers? Any alcoholics and womanisers? What! Nobody? I suppose they must all be in the pub then…”

    But seriously…what to make of some of the more meaty claims such as “the Chinese educational leaders don’t want us here, we are just meeting a national requirement that none of the academics believe in or take seriously” and “China’s attitude towards foreign English teachers is condescending and that’s all that counts.” Well, again, all I can go by is my experience and stories from friends. As far as my Dean and Vice-Dean go, I must say they have been very supportive and encouraging to me. My colleagues are friendly and welcoming and we often chit–chat about pedagogy and share classroom experiences. I gather from some comments that this is an almost unbelievable working environment, and yet it has been my workaday life for the last two years. Is it just me? Is it just Dalian? I doubt it. I concede that because I work with English majors my experiences may well be different. Not sure.

    As for the Doc’s offer to write a piece for his blog. Well, yes, thanks for the offer and I will give it a go in a couple of weeks when I have more time. I think I will write a piece called “Why I like being an English Teacher…even in China!”

    Oh, and @Fred Blake…I am not trying to have a pop at the Doc for “weaknesses” or slips of the tongue and I am certainly not questioning his sincerity or his desire to help. My problem was that a fair few of his descriptions of English teachers in China made me feel not so much part of an “oppressed group” as a “patronised and maligned group”, and when I tried to point this out in a sincere and considered way, I got censored.

    Comment by Kim — October 2, 2008 @ 2:08 pm

  11. Hey, you all are unfairly picking on foreign EFL teachers in China for being rubbish. There is plenty of rubbish all around the world, so let’s be fair. English teaching attracts rubbish. Wait, so does every other job I have ever had any contact with. You act like there aren’t any womanisers, alcoholics, pedophiles and so on in the banking, mechanic, writing, etc. communnities.

    @ Kim – Your comment on Allan P. made me lol, although I admit that once in a while I would like to wear a sign that says “at least I am not an English teacher”. (Even though I am an English teacher.)

    @ Brain Dudegen, alias SoonToBeCensored, you may be on to something with the gay thing.

    Comment by Sean — October 13, 2008 @ 10:17 am

  12. I think it does boil down to a matter of semantics.

    I’m trying to teach my wife how to drive now. Scary business. Does this make me a driving instructor or a driver’s ed teacher? I don’t think so. What about the mother who administers first aid to her child’s wound? Is she a nurse? A person can assume an isolated and limited role from dozens of professions without legitimately claiming to be a member of that profession. I can change the oil in my car, that doesn’t make me an auto mechanic. Yesterday I showed one of the other teachers here how to edit a photo in Photoshop. Does that make me a computer instructor? I don’t think so, not even if I get paid for it.

    What most people don’t realise is that the Ministry of Labour specifically forbids the employment of foreign experts for any position that can be filled by a Chinese national. This is the real reason why foreign language education has been chopped up the way it has been in China. So the Chinese teach reading, writing and grammar in Chinese and the foreigners speak English (French or Japanese) natively. I don’t think it is reasonable to call this limited role foreign language teaching but I couldn’t care less and I’m not going to argue the point with Dr. Greg, Dan, Chris, Kim, or anyone else.

    Should Dr. Greg have allowed Kim to debate the point? Maybe, I can see both sides (although I wouldn’t have published comments made to me in a private email, I think that is poor form). Would this debate have added anything of real value to the purpose of the site? I don’t think so. Does ruminating over what a real English is change the reality of life for us in China or amend the law to allow the Chinese to replace domestic language teachers with foreign ones? Does it prevent private school owners from cheating and exploiting westerners? A big no to the last two questions. I commend what he and his team are trying to do over there. They have my thanks and support.

    I have a comfortable life in China now with a lot of nice side jobs that are bringing in plenty of extra cash. If all they need me to do is teach oral English, and that’s all I really can do, I am not going to complain or debate about it. It comes as easy and natural to me as emptying my bladder. Of course the limited role attracts foreign trash because anyone can qualify for it, like being a taxi driver in China. I’m glad Kim decided to let the gay comments stand. That’s about what you can expect from the average foreign English teacher in China. To be successful at this you don’t have to know anything about teaching. You have to be good with people, especially kids and you need a lot of patience.

    I think of myself, when I’m being perfectly honest and especially on a bad China day, as a glorified babysitter for China’s new middle class and I am 100% okay with that. If the Chinese want to pay me 15 quid per hour for chatting up and entertaining their kids in English, hey, I’ll take it. Do I really think my kids are learning anything or is their English improving over time? I honestly don’t know. They don’t practise at home and the only time they use English is when they are in class with me for 90 minutes at a time once or twice a week. I’m a not a professional language teacher but I don’t think anyone can learn a foreign language under these circumstances, no more than I learned French. I can speak a few words after two years of study and that’s about it.

    Back home I worked for a publishing company and wasn’t living half as well as I do now, except I had the title, respect, a very nice office and no savings. Now I have freedom, a young pretty wife, money in the bank, and not a worry in the world. For me it was a good trade. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. Titles, social standing, intrinsic job satisfaction and occupational status are grossly overrated.

    Does it really matter what they call us or that I don’t qualify as a certified English teacher back home? No. Would I ever want to be a real English teacher back home and put up with even more crap and abuse? Absolutely not. Do I need to bicker with other foreigners about whether I am really a foreign language teacher in China now? No, of course not.

    Laughing Guangzhou Mike

    Comment by GuangzhouMike — October 16, 2008 @ 9:50 am

  13. I too left a couple of replies on Mavrides’ site. He deleted them. But I guess it’s not wholly surprising. His blog is terribly pompous and self-regarding. And frankly even the blog name — Middle Kingdom! — shows a paucity of creativity and imagination.

    As for me, I’m unmoved by even the most abusive comments. The only comments I ever censor are spam, copyrighted stuff, and multiple repeats of the same text.

    Comment by ChinaBounder — October 17, 2008 @ 6:20 am

  14. Well, no discussion to foreign English teachers in China is completing without comments from my favourite one of them all, Chinabounder. I think we come full circle now and can considering this discussion closing, and what the enlightening one it was!

    I think Chinabounder make some excellent points. I’d like see more bloggers of China adopt his people skills and sense of the fair play. This type of sensitivity is usually only seen in the gay men. Wait, oh shit, maybe Chinabounder is also the gay?? Explain a lot.

    Maybe Dan Harris, Chris, Rick and Allan are also really gay??

    Maybe all foreign male English teachers in China are secretly gay so the reason they have to make love so many of the innocent Chinese girls!

    Yes, yes, Kim, very useful and helpful topic and discussion. Now every thing clearing up in my mind. Thank you. The Baijiu with me next time. Qing Ke!

    President Hu JinTao

    Comment by President Hu — October 17, 2008 @ 8:18 am

  15. I agree with Kim and Chinabounder but then again no Yank can be expected to have imagination and creativity starting with that wanker Bush.

    Now for a more important discussion. Question for Chinabounder… Did you even take a pregnant Chinese girl up the arse? You haven’t lived until you have my friend.

    Cheers and beers,

    Proud to Be A English Teacher in China!

    Comment by Proud to Be a English in China — October 17, 2008 @ 9:27 am

  16. If Mr “Hu JinTao” is Chinese and if Mr “Proud to be A English Teacher in China” is an English Teacher in China, then I am a Dutchman from DoubleDutchland.

    Comment by Kim — October 17, 2008 @ 12:14 pm

  17. President Hu is obviously not a Chinese guy but I don’t have any trouble believing that everyone who has posted is an English teacher. Who else would care enough to read this let alone post?

    If that’s really ChinaBounder, then I’m Joan of Arc. And if it really is him, the value of this blog just dropped 100%. Quite ludicrous that someone like him (or pretending to be him) would offer advice about blogging. It’s like telling my wife to take driving lessons from a Chinese instructor.

    Guangzhou Mike

    Comment by GuangzhouMike — October 17, 2008 @ 1:24 pm

  18. My friends, let me just say that I couldn’t care less about this topic. Don’t let my multiple posts on this website fool you. I just don’t care. I’ve got me a totally hot wife (wait until my mates see me back home!) and I’m making some sweet quid action. But, look, I couldn’t care less and I’m not going to argue this topic with you English teacher trash.

    Now, let me just start my argument by saying that after my English class today, I played with my photoshop. Does that make me a mechanic? I don’t think so. It’s all a matter of semantics.

    As for the others anonymously posting their comments on this site? HA! The value of your blog has just gone down 100%. Accepting praise for not deleting “gay comments” from anonymous posters would be like my wife accepting cooking lessons from an English babysitter.

    Anonymously yours,

    Guangzhou Fred

    Comment by GuangzouFred — October 17, 2008 @ 2:56 pm

  19. This is a healthy debate. I got a few chuckles and remembered the lash of disdain I received when I first came into the Information Science program when people learned I had taught English in Asia for a number of years. The more you guys debate it, the more ignorance is resolved. I think of all the other strands of teachers who perpetually get the short end of the stick– music teachers, art teachers. When will the old adage, “If you can’t do, then teach” die?

    Only when we realize that the mind is equally as important as the body. The infection of ignorance is parallel to that of influenza. Now, who’s up for nationalized educational insurance, designed for those of us who, despite our nationalized schooling systems still end up dumber than mud? I am.

    Comment by Craig — October 24, 2008 @ 6:31 pm

  20. […] have said before, and will say again, that I think most English teachers I have come across in China (and Japan and […]

    Pingback by East-West Station » Mr Crazy — February 25, 2009 @ 3:59 am

  21. I accidentally came across this post while searching for info on the authors of Middle Kingdom Life for a feature article I am writing.

    This post is a perfect illustration of yellow journalism: distract readers from the real value and merit of Middle Kingdom Life’s significant contribution to future foreign English teachers in China by sensationalizing some perceived and minor infraction on the part of the main author—and do it by reproducing selective pieces of private correspondence out of context under the guise of disclosing some injustice to English teachers in China. What’s entirely ludicrous about this, of course, is that based on my research, MKL is perhaps the only website in existence today that has the purest interest of future China foreign English teachers in mind as its sole purpose.

    The author of East-West station missed his true calling I think. He should write for the tabloids or possibly consider a new career as a paparazzo.

    Carl Benaroche

    Comment by Carl Benaroche — February 26, 2009 @ 2:52 am

  22. Is this discussion still going?

    1. Open discussion as blogs and new media allow?
    2. Closed discussion censoring other’s objections to your assertions?

    This blog does the latter, the cited MKL does the former. It doesn’t get much more simple than that, does it?

    I’d prefer to live in a world with the former.

    Comment by Alex — February 26, 2009 @ 11:26 am

  23. OK 1 and 2 were totally the wrong way around.

    Comment by Alex — February 26, 2009 @ 11:27 am

  24. That’s not entirely true Alex. If you followed the above discussion, Kim was specifically asked to present his personal views about the subject in a separate article, a critical point which he chose to omit in his telling of the story because it didn’t support the basis of his entire complaint. So I can see Carl’s point; there is something very dishonest about the post.

    I haven’t read all of their blog entries and comments but I’ve read most. I see several “objections” that have been published on MKL aside from Kim’s.

    Also, you can’t compare the MKL website with this blog. They are two entirely different entities with very different goals and purposes I think.

    Comment by Cindy — February 27, 2009 @ 2:15 am

  25. Okay, I spent the time reading every comment on this thread and on MKL’s original thread as well. I also contacted Mavrides directly, told him I was investigating this matter for a class project, and he kindly sent me all the original private e-mail correspondence. My interest in this is that I am a graduate student of journalism at New York University and am writing a thesis on communication techniques and marketing strategies used in recruiting western people to China as both tourists and English teachers. I found a link to the guide on NYU’s School of Education website. I regrettably came across this article while conducting a search on the author’s family name.

    I called this post an example of yellow journalism because as Cindy and others have pointed out, it has nothing to do censorship or how English teachers are defined at all. It’s about a personal struggle of one-upmanship between two people and then one of them using his personal blog to complain about the other when he was thwarted. That’s all this is. Everything else is just smoke filled coffee house crap.

    If the discussion is closed then maybe Kim should close the comments. Actually, he should delete the entire thread because it’s nothing more than a childish ad hominem attack dishonestly dressed up as a complaint about censorship and insults against English teachers, which is ludicrous when you consider the mission of MKL. To associate what Mavrides is accomplishing with his website with base anonymous insults against foreign English teachers in China is obviously disingenuous and grossly insulting.

    I read the original correspondence between them. Kim specifically threatened (warned) Mavrides that if he wasn’t allowed to continue to post on MKL as he chose, he would do exactly what he did on his blog. In simple words, this post is nothing more than childish payback. I am incredibly surprised that Dan Harris, whom I had previously respected the first time I found his blog, didn’t have the wherewithal or interest to investigate the matter thoroughly before commenting. I also know for a fact that Dan Harris does not approve every comment that is posted to his articles. Like Mavrides, he exercises discretion in determining what is and isn’t useful to his intended audience given the mission and goals of his law blog. I know that because I tested those waters by submitting a very well written but highly provocative comment to one of his articles that has yet to be approved, and that was some time ago. I don’t disagree with his decision or his right to determine what is and isn’t helpful to his readers.

    Kim wanted to continue the debate on the MKL forum, Mavrides wanted it to end and gave him the option of summarizing his viewpoints by writing an article about the pros of teaching English in China. Mavrides is using his website to try to warn and protect future foreign teachers about the exploitation and abuses that exist in China (that’s his “pulpit” and “sermon”): He did not want to distract readers from that mission by continuing a childish and pointless debate over semantics. Is there actually anything in this worth exposing? Of course there isn’t.

    I don’t think any special higher moral ground can be claimed by Kim for allowing comments about having anal sex with pregnant Chinese women to exist on any legitimate discussion.

    For those who have been referred to this site by search engines when researching common terms, this post is not about English teachers in China or censorship. It’s just an illustration of how one westerner in China reacts when he is frustrated.

    You may not like Mavrides as an individual (assuming you even know him) or agree with every point he makes. Maybe he does over-generalize at times as Dan Harris suggested. I wouldn’t know because I am not in your collective shoes. But there is no denying that most of the information he provides is well researched and documented, he is genuinely trying to help other foreign teachers in China, and that their guide is the most comprehensive and well written material about living and teaching in China that I’ve come across after several weeks of research. If you don’t want to help him, that’s your business, but why deliberately try to get in his way?

    Are any of you familiar with the case of Darren Russell, the American teacher who was brutally murdered in Guangzhou a few years ago? If not, conduct a search on his name. There is a good chance that if Darren had come across Middle Kingdom Life before he accepted that offer of employment from a cut-throat recruiter, he would still be alive today. You guys are supposed to be on the same side.

    Comment by Carl Benaroche — February 27, 2009 @ 6:35 am

  26. I have just moved cities – from Dalian to Ningbo. This meant being offline for a few days and when I check my blog, I find it has sparked off some ranting and raving.

    Mr Carl: How did you manage to cram so much hyperbole into the following short paragraph?

    What’s entirely ludicrous about this, of course, is that based on my research, MKL is perhaps the only website in existence today that has the purest interest of future China foreign English teachers in mind as its sole purpose.

    Quite a feat! Maybe you should consider a career in the “yellow tabloids”?

    And, ok, so you are a fan of MKL and obviously anyone questioning any of his ex cathedra pronouncements is committing heresy. But I considered, and still consider, that his blog often gives a skewed and unfair depiction of English teachers (TEFL teachers) and the English(TEFL)teaching profession in China.

    When I first commented on it was because he clearly made claims that the majority of English teachers in China are losers, sexpats, chancers etc and when I objected he censored my comments because they were “off message”. Well, excuse me, but I have a lot of experience teaching English and have met a lot of English teachers in China and what he said doesn’t ring true. I was not/am not trying to claim that all is rosy over here in SinoTEFLing, but it is not that bad. Darren Russell’s case is a tragic one and he was the victim of a horrible scam and was bullied by a loathsome boss…but his case is not at all typical, thank God.

    I am not trying to “get in the way” of Mavrides’ occasionally well made and valid points. I was simply pointing out that, based on my experiences, his portrayal is unfairly negative, and sometimes condescendingly disparaging. So, while I would applaud any good intentions to “warn and protect” future foreign TEFL teachers in China, I do not accept that he has to abuse and malign the current ones in order to do this. (Read his post Oppressed Group Behavior Among Foreign Teachers in China)

    And sorry, but his invitation to write a post for his blog was not that tempting. I had every reason to believe that he would heavily edit anything I wrote.

    Comment by Kim — March 2, 2009 @ 1:47 pm

  27. The large body of research he cites in that article on Oppressed Group Behavior is drawn heavily from studies of the nursing profession. Do you also believe that the researchers, in most cases nurses themselves, are just being “unfairly negative” and “condescendingly disparaging,” or could there be a great deal of validity to oppressed group behavior?

    I imagine, like you in regard to teaching English in China, there are many nurses who took great offense to being the subjects of such research. I’m sure there are also many nurses who aren’t victims of oppressed group behavior, but that doesn’t make those studies unfair, inaccurate or disparaging, which is why they were published in professional refereed journals.

    The issue that you wanted to debate was limited to whether or not oral English teachers in China should be regarded as “real” English teachers. In the end, it doesn’t matter how foreign English teachers in China define their roles, it only matters how the Chinese government’s Ministry of Education does. By that definition, your roles in China are most accurately described as Chinese English teacher teaching assistants (TAs). If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and read his article on “China’s Education System, Chinese Students, and the Foreign English Teacher” ( According to several of my professors, including a Chinese-American who has taught in China and Prof. Allan Kuang, who is the guide’s local consultant (whom I also contacted), it is entirely accurate.

    Comment by Carl Benaroche — March 3, 2009 @ 8:51 am

  28. This is the funniest website on the internet today bar none. Kudos!

    A group of grown western men working as glorified babysitters in a shite communist country for less than minimum wage back home are seriously debating whether or not they are losers and oppressed.

    You got to love that British sense of humour.

    Please keep this discussion going. I’ll be coming back for more whenever I need a good laugh.

    When you rocket scientists finally work this one out, I’ve got a few more brain teasers for you to work on.

    1. Is water wet?
    2. Is the desert sandy?
    3. Is the Pope Catholic?

    When you start the next set of debates, please notify me (


    Comment by NOT a Western Loser in China — March 3, 2009 @ 11:44 pm

  29. Thank you Mr Winner for your incisive comment. I am glad to hear that we SinoTEFLtrash amuse you with our pathetic lives and ludicrous quibbling. At least we serve some purpose!

    Comment by Kim — March 4, 2009 @ 6:51 am

  30. I don’t get this post at all. It is completely off the wall.

    I haven’t read every page of the guide but I read most of it before accepting a job in China. I also read and reread the article in question.

    There isn’t one word that I’ve read in all those pages that could be construed as an assault against foreign teachers in China. The article in question discusses the author’s personal disillusionment over being called an English teacher in China when he isn’t eligible to be one in the United States and he makes a closing comment about how frustrating it must be for westerners who were English teachers in the west to be teaching English in China. There is nothing disparaging towards others in this whatsoever.

    Dr. Mavrides is quite critical of the Chinese government’s “compartmentalization” of English teaching in China, in what he refers to as the “de-professionalization” of the foreign teacher’s role within their system of education. I believe most professional western educators would agree with him. Certainly this is not the same as attacking the teachers themselves.

    I have just finished a semester teaching at a public university in Guangdong and can tell you without a doubt that just about everything that I read in the guide has come to life here. I am grateful for that because it adequately prepared me for what I would soon encounter. I am adjusting better to my life in China as a direct result of that guide.

    As for oppressed group behavior in foreign teachers in China, not only have I seen it in others, I have caught glimpses of it in myself (and I agree with one of the comments above that this article itself is a perfect example of it). I won’t say exactly what happened but I found myself acting in a way I never have back home and I specifically recalled that article, which actually helped because it was reassuring. Although it is subtle most of the time, there is something *very* demoralizing or oppressive about being treated as a 2nd class citizen and “less than” by my Chinese colleagues and administration. For example, the Chinese English teachers make mistakes in word usage all the time and when I correct them, they end up telling the students that I am the one who is mistaken. I can say that most of my students appreciate me but that’s as far as it goes and, fortunately, this is exactly what I expected because of Dr. Mavrides’ very thorough guide.

    I guess now that I too will be dismissed as just another hyperbolic fanatic.


    Comment by Allan — March 6, 2009 @ 9:37 am

  31. Hello Mr Allan

    Don’t worry. You are certainly not a hyperbolic fanatic, and I never accused any commenter of being one.

    You do seem to be yet another unlucky teacher in Guangdong though. It must be a tough place to work.

    Anyway, you feel oppressed and have had a hard time in many ways. I have not. Our experiences teaching in China have been very different. This is doubtless because China is a big country, and also probably partly because you are an old grump with a predeliction to see the worst in everything.

    I am happy with my new job in Ningbo, thanks. The students seem bright and motivated. The pay is good, the holidays are generous. The facilities are excellent, and my colleagues are not a bunch of nutters and grouches. Maybe Dr Greg and the “school of hard knocks” brigade would argue that I am totally unrepresentative, but I think not.

    Hope you can learn to enjoy the rest of your time teaching in China.

    Comment by Kim — March 9, 2009 @ 11:51 am

  32. So now I am “an old grump with a predeliction (sic) to see the worst in everything?” Both assumptions are entirely false as are your demeaning broad stroke mischaracterizations of Dr. Greg’s guide.

    I read the guide because it is required reading in the TESOL program I attended at the College of William and Mary. I seriously doubt the faculty would include an online book in their syllabi that was “unfairly negative, and sometimes condescendingly disparaging,” written by someone who “has to abuse and malign” current foreign teachers in China. Maybe you should straighten them out so that students like me don’t get incorrectly indoctrinated with “ex cathedra pronouncements.”

    Anyway, good luck to you on your new job. You obviously need it a lot more than I do in that although you are not always right, you are always sure.

    Comment by Allan — March 10, 2009 @ 1:20 am

  33. Kim, when you are finished straightening out the professors at the College of William and Mary, you might also want to enlighten the faculty at the New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development as they too cite Mavrides’ guide as a valuable resource in class, in addition to linking to it on their website along with the New York State TESOL Organization and the National Association for Bilingual Education, among other highly respected and authoritative sources of information (

    It’s impossible to imagine how someone who so curiously and inexplicably feels as “abused and maligned” by Mavrides’ highly informative guide as you do, and who arrogantly and condescendingly insults everyone who has benefited from his work as suffering from some form of grumpiness, pessimism, or biased misconception, could be as happy and satisfied with his life in China as you claim to be.

    Methinks ye doth protest too much. In fact, you are the only one guilty of the very qualities you have libelously attributed to Mavrides.

    Comment by Carl Benaroche — March 10, 2009 @ 4:42 am

  34. @Mr Allan

    If there is one thing I am absolutely sure of it is that I am not always sure. I am not a cocksure person by nature. I am a Willnotsococksureofhimself kind of character. If I do sometimes come across as silkily confident and assured, that is only because of the insidiously discreet charm of my bourgeois rhetoric.

    That said, thank you for siccing up over my misspelling of predilection. One learns something new every day, one hopes.

    @Mr Carly B

    Have you ever heard of, or even read, Catch 22? It would seem that I am tangled in its web because if Doctor Greg says that teachers in China exhibit oppressed group behaviour and I protest, then I am merely exhibiting oppressed group behaviour. If I claim to be happy teaching in China because I believe that conditions here are not that bad and my workmates are not a bunch of losers and psychos, then that must be because I am in denial about my miserable psyche and the appalling plight I find myself in.

    May I arrogantly and condescendingly suggest that you are a jejune prat who is addicted to overstatement and clunking cliches? (“highly respected and authoritative”…”highly informative”…”It is impossible to imagine”…”insults everyone”…”the only one”..”the very qualities”)


    Fret not though…you will doubtless find a place in American academia. And then you can authoritatively cast down more aspersions and “oh-so-subtle” logic traps at the deluded TEFL-rabble from your authoritative ivory tower.

    Comment by Kim — March 10, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

  35. Why don’t you do us all a favour and attach a photo of yourself to this shite so we can all see what a proper wanker looks like?

    Comment by Tsuris — March 10, 2009 @ 3:00 pm

  36. Are you actually this obtuse in real life or is this just an act for your blog?

    The entire point is Mavrides doesn’t regard or refer to all foreign teachers in China as “losers and psychos.” That’s your distorted personal take on it and it’s an interpretation that is not shared by academics and career educators. Who are you to let such a small detail get in the way of your asinine mischief?

    Tsuris, I have no idea what a “wanker” is, proper or otherwise, but it sounds right.

    Comment by Carl Benaroche — March 11, 2009 @ 12:08 am

  37. Carl, you Yanks might say “real jackass”, “horse’s ass”, “total asshole”, anything like that.

    This type of petty backbiting makes all foreign teachers in China look bad, especially us Brits.

    Comment by Tsuris — March 11, 2009 @ 8:44 am

  38. What a treat to find some insults on my blog at the end of a hard day at the chalkface. Well, Mr Tsuris the Troll, if you want to know what a proper wanker looks like you could take a look in the mirror (titter) or have a click on the link at the top of this site that says “photo gallery”. It’s been there for a couple of years so I guess I am justified in calling you a “bit of a thicky” for misssing it. Oh, and you don’t need other Brits to help you look bad. You are doing a splendid job on your own.

    Mr Carl…”The entire point is”…”all foreign teachers”. How many times must I mention this? Please go and get some writing lessons. Until you do, I will not deign to respond to your facile assertions.

    Comment by Kim — March 11, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

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