This last week has felt like a month with so much going on. We started work officially this last week, arriving at 8:30 every morning for meetings and attempts at being productive in our rooms. The hang up with the previous sentence is that the renovations on the school were supposed to be completed on August 10th [new floors, paint, air conditioning!, projectors and screens, bathrooms, etc. installed]. It was not all completed until Friday August 29th. Yes, as in the last minute before parents arrived the next morning for an open house. I wish I could say this was some kind of fluke or there were delays because of some incident that could not be prevented but, no, that is not the case. I have spent enough time in China to say this is just the Chinese way. Workers everywhere seem to kind of dink around very slowly and accomplish very little as if there are no real deadlines for anything and certainly as if there is no motivation, which I can’t imagine there is, this is China. So we had only a little time Friday to actually see our rooms and arrange the desks, and maybe put a couple of things on the walls. The amount of things I have accomplished at work since arriving here is incredibly laughable compared to my previous years of work, however somehow it seems par for the course here. On that note, of the things I miss most, capitalism is very high on the list.
At 9:00am Saturday parents were coming for a meeting corporately with L and the director of the school to explain changes from the previous year and discuss expectations. Following the meeting the parents were coming to the classrooms for a meet and greet with their student’s teachers. That is the way it was explained by the American director to the foreign and native staff anyway.
Saturday morning came and we arrived early to make sure things were in place and parents arrived at the same time to start checking things out for themselves, quick with their cameras out to take pictures of everything. No matter. We moved to the auditorium where the teachers were all introduced and then dismissed to our rooms to await the parents impending arrival. An hour and half later parents started trickling in. I had discussed with my Chinese partner teacher, H, that we could just pass out the schedule and field questions if there were any and then be on our way, H seemed to look at me with the now familiar Chinese smile that says basically, “Ok, you just go on thinking that” in the kindest way possible. Then came yet another lesson in the Chinese way. Parents filed into our room and immediately made a bee-line for my desk and started sorting through my things and the teacher editions of my curriculum, taking pictures of everything. I was by the door trying not to look disturbed as I greeted more parents. They all eventually sat down and looked at H and I eagerly. I assumed they were all waiting for some kind of formal introduction, so I greeted them all and gave a 2 minute introduction and mention of my excitement for the year ahead. Then I stopped talking and H just looked at me, smiled, and then launched into her 20 minute monologue in which whatever she explained had all the parents nodding and immediately ready with approximately 5,834 questions that took another TWO HOURS to answer, all in Chinese, while I stood quietly by trying to make my face inspire some kind of supernatural confidence so the questions would stop. This was Guantanamo level torture for my attention span. We’re talking Situation Room DEFCON 5 in my brain trying to come up with some way to end the madness of these questions which were all asked seemingly with life or death on the line. From what I could tell through some basic gestures by H, ranged from “Where will my student put their bag????” ON THE GIANT HOOK ON THEIR DESK. “What if it is hot outside, will the students have recess?????” YES WE WILL MONITOR THEM. “How many times will my child be able to fill up their water bottle????? (not sure what was said on this one, but I would have said, we will make sure your student is plenty hydrated throughout the day, do not worry.) “My child is special because __________________ what will you do for them????????????”
And on it went, for. so. long.
I asked another foreign teacher, Jon, who has been teaching in China for 5 years already about this experience because every grade experienced the same kind of parental intensity, and he said this was perfectly normal, that the parents feel compelled to be all up in the business of their child’s education because they are so concerned that their child is treated “fairly” and accommodated in every way possible. This is the helicopter parent taken to a whole other level, more like shadow parent. This is such a shock for me coming from teaching at a public high school for the past 6 years. Jon explained that the parents just need to be trained to trust and that it would be a complete reversal in the culture here. I suppose we have out work cut out for us.
School starts tomorrow, Godspeed to us all.