At the school where I teach, I have the provilage (or the convilage) of teaching Vietnamese people of all ages and abilities. On weekdays I am teaching adults how to say ‘pool’ instead of ‘poo’ and teenagers how to gossip about their friends. By the weekend I am trying to get a 4-year-old to identify an apple from a pear. I know of few other professions where you are required to engage with such a multitude of age groups for such a sustained period of time. As such, you are required to adapt your teaching to the audience. Getting my ten-year-olds to talk about their job is out of bounds, as is getting my adults to sing ‘heads, shoulders, knees and toes’.
I’m sure there are a hundred blogs on teaching English as a foreign language so I’ll keep this one fairly niche.
Teaching kindergarten children on some days gives me a hundred reasons to have a child myself. On other days well, what’s the opposite of giving birth?Overall I suffer from an overdose of cute. A Vietnamese person looks 16 until the age of 35. Small and cute, that’s what we’re good at until at least the mid-life crisis. By that logic and by comparison, your average South-east Asian child boasts a dangerous supply of cuteness. Just watch this video.
The teenagers? Well throw out all misconceptions you may have picked up over the years from studying alongside Chinese students. They are the same the world over. Back in my day, teenagers used to, well, not exactly respect the teachers but… well you would expect at least the oriental students to be well-behaved. Rising through the ranks of primary and secondary school, I was this living, breathing, eating stereotype. I was a fucking angel and these Vietnamese kids are destroying all my hard work.
On a more serious note, the more I teach here, the more I notice that Vietnamese-looking westerners have a bad reputation in the ESL (English for speakers of other languages) world. They are less likely to be hired and when they are, they tend to get lower wages than their white counterparts. I can understand to some extent that from a teaching perspective you don’t want the teacher to be a native Vietnamese speaker, as their English pronunciation is likely to be skewed. However the primary reason for this inequality is the perception among paying parents that we make inferior teachers.
Luckily, I’m at a school where such reverse-racism is tackled in a professional manner, which has given me the opportunity and confidence to teach the way I want. At the start of my courses, students normally respond to me with curiosity (“Why you look Vietnamee?”) followed by denial, anger (see previous post), fear, bargaining and finally, acceptance.
The final stage is the most important and the most reassuring. It takes a while but finally the students come to value your teaching and as such, elevate its importance above your skin colour. I’m sure there are Australian Indians, Afro-Americans who have been through this themselves. Hopefully our experiences will go some way towards dispelling such widespread prejudice towards non-white English teachers.