REVIEW 11 CONTINUED
5. “The school also provides the learning materials you need for effective instruction.”
My department has never received any materials ever. We were very proactive in writing proposals and requesting basic things like posters, paper, markers, and other very basic things. In all my years we received continuous promises that never once came to fruition. We have only ever successfully been able to get students a second book, but they all had to order it and pay for it themselves. I also know of NOT A SINGLE CASE where anybody has received materials they asked for. The only materials ever funded are the barest of essentials – whiteboard markers and communal copiers. Many of the copiers did not work for years. Currently the Ricoh in the library of the secondary school is actually pretty good so that is one positive. However if it breaks – well you see the patterns I think.
There have been many cases where reimbursement was promised for purchasing learning materials. I’ve only heard the angry stories and never even a single one where the teacher got reimbursed.
The kindergarten does not have basic books that are level appropriate for students. A huge percentage of materials are created from scratch. Most teachers I know have to purchase books for their students. Most materials are frequently then borrowed or disappear. My friend had a hole puncher with her name clearly on it and it disappeared. A year later another friend was teaching in another classroom and found it had been appropriated by that team of Chinese teachers and never returned – even with her name written on it in huge permanent marker. Ironically the school chooses to pay International Teachers what would be pro-rated at around $20-$30 per hour to create everything! Instead of paying $20 to get a mobile or some Christmas decorations, they are paying $150 for a teacher to create all the arts and crafts from scratch ALL THE TIME. It’s economically insane. The good side is that many Kindergarten teachers report feeling a marked improvement in their arts and cr
Over the years I have spent at least a thousand dollars on resources and materials for my students and never even a “thank you.” Recognition of failure is the norm and success is met with silence
6. “Additionally, your school ID card gives you access to the copy machines, so you can easily photocopy any handouts you may need for class.” I would give this one about a 7/10. Your ID card doesn’t give you access to all copiers. Many departments, like the Kindergarten, have had a broken copy machine for months and even YEARS on end. These machines cannot be operated without help. The new Ricoh copier in the Secondary School library is pretty good and relatively easy to use however. Still you will need help because logging in is not at all intuitive. I am a tech person and I struggled with that copier the first few times and still do occasionally.
It’s important to note that the reality is that there are perhaps a grand total of 3 or 4 copy machines CAMPUS WIDE. This is with around 800 total teachers and 4000 students. Ricoh is the best one and you need to plan ahead to use it. Frequently somebody else is at it. Also expect impatience from coworkers if you have a long job or are fumbling about trying to figure out the machine. Often there isn’t somebody in the library to help you out. Also you aren’t allowed to use these best copiers unless you teach in that department. That means that Kindergarten and Elementary teachers aren’t allowed to use this printer I’m talking about in the Secondary School Library.
Limits are imposed upon how much you can print and on color printing. Do not expect that you can just use it as you would at a school back home. Going over quota will result in your school account being charged money per copy.
Even though this new copier exists this year, historical precedents shouldn’t be ignored here. For the vast majority of my career at the school, I couldn’t print AT ALL without very careful planning. I had to email what I wanted to be printed to an assistant who would go and use the machine. I had to know weeks in advance what I wanted to have copied. Black and white copying was of very poor quality and frequently the printed papers were done so on the backside of a recycled piece of paper. There was no color copying. Although I applaud the “green” attitude of reusing paper, it made two-sided printing impossible and sometimes led to student confusion as to exactly what parts of a printed packet were their assignment and which belonged to the math department. Also I was limited in the number of pages per week. Frequently my emails went unanswered and nothing was ever printed. By the way, this is common at the school when somebody doesn’t want to do something
– they’ll just ignore your email. Yet if you do that as a foreigner, you will be called to account.
7. “The teaching load is not overbearing, which leaves you with time to enjoy the extracurricular enrichment activities the school offers.”
On paper your offer will appear quite good. It’s no more than “20 teaching periods per week.” However reality is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT and I rate the accuracy of this claim at about 2/10.
There are evening meetings that many departments contend with. Usually one per week and they are at 7pm sometimes running as late as 9pm. There are also collaborative planning times within your department. There are “all staff” meetings. Meetings are very rarely interactive and teachers don’t even pay attention. Many Chinese are on their phones the whole time.
Signing a contract for a position is not a guarantee that you will teach the subject you were hired for. During my years at the school, I have never been able to teach content that matches my teaching license. I have known several teachers who were so angered with having to teach a different subject that they quit the school altogether. I was personally made to teach in two different departments concurrently for two years of my time at the school. When this happens to a teacher it is a nightmare because the teacher finds herself suddenly expected to make twice the number of bosses happy and must attend twice the number of department and subject-group meetings.
The school doesn’t plan ahead for the fallout that inevitably occurs when a teacher suddenly leaves to pull a “midnight runner.” Therefore other teachers with full teaching loads are frequently asked to cover sections in addition to their primary job description. This year there were many teachers who left the Primary School and two High School teachers were suddenly “asked” to cover classes. They can try to say “no” but then contracts are not renewed for “unknown” reasons.
In the high school there are night classes too. All teachers get pressured into teaching these. If you don’t get pressured into it your first year, you will definitely be asked during your second year. These include standardized test prep, helping students prepare for university entrance interviews, writing letters of recommendation, and various other duties.
It’s important to note that a chance for “enjoying extracurricular activities” is misleading. There are very few resources available to run a club. If you are successful in creating something out of nothing, don’t expect any credit. It will be given to the Chinese middle-manager you are reporting to. What’s more, even though there are facilities for exercising such as a gym and swimming pool, you will receive many disapproving looks from school leaders for using them during work hours even if you have no other responsibilities. Foreign principals have spoken to teachers about how this is very bad. Thus you are not encouraged to have a good work/life balance even if you have done a fantastic job with your classes and extracurricular activities.
8. “Also, due to its close proximity, I often go to Guangzhou on the weekends, which has a lot to offer culturally. Hong Kong and Macau are not far away either, which is really great.”
This is totally true 10/10. It does take up half of your day to get to either HK or Macau despite how close it appears on a map.
9. “The Country Garden community itself I have found to be very safe and family friendly.”
The Country Garden is unambiguously dangerous and I rate the safety part of this at about 2/10. Four days ago my friend was hit on his motorcycle by one of the school’s bus drivers! Fortunately he was OK but he was threatened and harassed by the driver who threatened to call the police. As a foreigner in China you need to get around the large suburban gated community where we live. There are free buses, but I’ll get to that in a second. At least half of the staff opt-in to buying a cheap local gas or electric scooter. Driving and traffic are probably the most dangerous things you will face living in China. The garden is not insulated from real China and it gives many people the illusion – due to the nice landscaping and the imposing gates – that you have somehow left “real China” behind. You haven’t. The garden is as much a version of real
China as anyplace else. It is very dangerous driving here. There is zero traffic enforcement within the garden. You will never see a person pulled over by a police officer to get a traffic ticket. Scooters and cars routinely drive on the wrong side of the road. There are few stop signs and drivers ignore them anyway. While driving on a straightaway, it is the norm for a car or motorbike to pull out off of a side street WITHOUT LOOKING AT ALL. They won’t even pull out rapidly, instead slowly turtling out to provide a dangerous opportunity for a rear-end collision.
Many local scooters that teachers buy have very bad brakes and broken headlamps, turn signals, or tail lights. Many roads are not adequately illuminated at night. It rains frequently impairing driving conditions. Cars do not yield to smaller traffic at all. In fact driving is hierarchical. Busses have right of way beyond any other vehicle. Everyone else is expected to be vigilant and yield to bigger vehicles. Pedestrians are at the bottom of the pecking order. Crossing streets is dangerous. My friend, a former CGS teacher, was hit by a motor scooter while crossing the street two or three years ago. The accident removed many of her teeth and she had to get complete reconstructive surgery for her mouth in the United States – not to mention many medical bills and visits here in China.
Going back to the traffic danger, I must reiterate that I AM NOT MISREPRESENTING THE DANGER HERE. Anybody who has been here for a couple of months will meet a person who is involved in at least one accident. I would estimate at least 15 of my friends have been hit on their scooters or bicycles. One teacher from New Zealand even had a coconut fall off one of the trees while walking and she suddenly remembered waking up on the side of the road with a bad injury to her head and a coconut next to her.
As for the local busses – both paid and free – the driving would be considered quite dangerous in many parts of the world. Seat belts often do not exist on public transportation. Bus drivers do not give enough time for people to get on and off of busses. I have seen old people fall down because of the crazy driving and abrupt braking. One teacher had her shoulder yanked so badly that she still suffers from a persistent shoulder injury from even just the Hong Kong airport shuttle from the airplane to the terminal three years ago!
What about health in general? You’ve probably heard about the pollution in China. People will tell you it is so much cleaner in Guangdong, and that is true to some extent. However it is still awful compared to the standards of what you are used to in your home country. There are known “cancer villages” in the Chinese countryside. I thought this would not effect those of us living in such an affluent community. That assumption was probably inaccurate. I know about a total of five cases of cancer that have been diagnosed for just foreign teachers at our school. Two of these cases were diagnosed while the individuals afflicted were still living in China. The other three cases were diagnosed – both within months of the teachers leaving China. It would be unfair to say that these cases were directly attributable to environmental conditions in China because there is no evidence and the matter just isn’t being studied. Studying the issue makes the government lose face because they are seen as being unable to protect the people. It is well known that heavy metals percolate into local water supplies virtually country-wide. Many people drink water from faucets by simply heating it to kill any parasites, but I don’t know if that’s enough to do anything about certain chemical contaminants. The problem also affects local foods grown in local soils. You can clearly see all the pollution in the river that goes through the center of Country Garden – yet people are fishing it’s waters to provide food for local restaurants. Of course one option to get around the risks associated with contaminated food and water by buying foreign foods and drinking only purified water, but it becomes more expensive to live and eat in China than it actually is in say the United States. Foreign restaurants and groceries are marked up sometimes hundreds of percent. Another problem is just because you are buying food from a company you trust in North America doesn’t guarantee they are producing food to the same standards as they do for that market. Most major food producers have farms, livestock, and production facilities on Chinese soil.
The Garden is tropical. There are many mosquitoes and many yards are overgrown with foliage. Rats, spiders, and cockroaches abound in many areas. There are worries about dengue fever that come out from time to time. The only answer is spraying toxic chemicals everywhere. Even the best “international” health clinics like United Family Healthcare in Guangzhou are notoriously expensive. I’ve had friends told that their sick children had Dengue fever or Japanese Encephalitis when in fact they did not – and that came from this “top clinic.” School health insurance will not reimburse more than 5000 Yuan per year for outpatient clinics. That buys you about 4-6 visits to a very expensive place like UFHC. One teacher contracted Tuberculosis while teaching at the school last year in the Kindergarten. She spent tens of thousands of RMB on consultations and fees and still didn’t obtain a clear prognosis from the doctors – but still had to pay to return to Americ
a to undergo further treatment for months.
The worst case was nearly a year ago when we all lost a dear friend to a scooter accident. The causes of the accident are unknown still. The young man was driving with his girlfriend on their way to a birthday party. Despite thousands of CCTV monitoring stations – even within the Garden – there was no footage to help explain the situation. Some accused the driver of being drunk but the hospital concluded that his blood alcohol was under the legal limit. It’s important to also note that this teacher’s chances would likely have been better if emergency services could have responded faster and if the EMT’s had better equipment for lifesaving. My friends on the scene reported grisly details. The whole affair was very convoluted and nobody knew clearly what was happening in the hospital. The nearest “good hospital” was far away and we know that from the time of accident until his arrival at least an hour elapsed. Of course it’s possible that nothing could
have been done to save him so it’s unfair to say again that the fault lies with the first-responders or their methods.
In China it’s very rare to hear sirens or see police, ambulances, or fire services rushing to an emergency. Things are kept quiet for the sake of “preserving harmony.” Vehicles do not yield to emergency services. You need to think about this first before you bring your children to China. It’s an exciting adventure for the young, but do not underestimate the dangers that exist and are clouded by luxury cars and malls.
How “family friendly” is Country Garden? I’ll give it a 5/10 because in some ways this claim is very true. Chinese love family and it is very important to everybody. I think many prospective parents reading this might have a different image of family friendly in their minds though. The school doesn’t make many efforts at all to provide services to foreign children in English. I have had other teachers complain to me about how their meetings about this with the Foreign Affairs Office declaring that their kids need to learn Chinese and adopt to local culture. The experience has been the same that I have witnessed again and again with families – they find it very, very difficult. Their kids do not understand what’s going on in classes. They are discriminated against by peers. These kids do not fit in well. If your spouse/partner is Chinese and your child speaks Chinese, this seems to be a very different experience. Do not assume your child will learn Chine
se in a year like a sponge. It just doesn’t happen that fast. We know the research indicates that it takes around seven years for academic proficiency in a foreign language.
More importantly foreign children are not given proper structure and a safe learning environment. The school is full of physical dangers for kids such as hard surfaces that get wet and slippery. Every year I see many kids on crutches. One teacher banged his head so hard from a fall that he had a skull fracture! The school is not designed to accommodate people with physical disabilities. There is one elevator that I know of in one building and it is powered off or broken about half of the time. On school buses, kids just run around. Parents do not make kids sit down. Your child will learn some very unsafe habits during his time at Country Garden. It’s not that people do not care, they just don’t pay attention to safety in the same way. Parents think that holding their infant in their lap on a bus with their arms wrapped tightly around the baby will be protection if there’s an accident. The physical reality of what happens in an accident and the g-forces experi
enced makes this type of precaution nonsensical.
I do not know any foreign couples who have stayed more than one year with their children. The only foreign couples with kids still in China have been here already for a very long time and had their kids while living in China or Southeast Asia – and even they complain a lot.
10. “??I would highly recommend the school as a place to grow professionally and to establish long lasting friendships.”
“Growing professionally” has not been the experience for most teachers during my years spent here. I was only sent to one training outside of China and that was only due to IB re-authorisation requirements. I feel that my skills really degraded in many ways over these past years. From a professional sense I definitely regret staying at CGS for so long.
When we think of growth, it’s about learning new things, maybe increasing our prestige in the school, perhaps gaining better credentials, and being able to pad the resume. We also think about leaving a school having been able to gain stellar references from bosses and co-workers. I have to give this claim about 2/10.
You will learn many important life skills by living in China and teaching at CGS/BGY. They won’t ALL be the good kinds of lessons either. More like resilience, tolerance, open-mindedness, patience, and re-defining who you are as a person and a teacher. You will be asked over the years to make hard moral calls. I was asked to manipulate grades on occasion and stand up for students who had plagiarized their essays. I feel like I became corrupted by the system. I hoped naively that I could look the other way and change the school over time, but I didn’t change it at all. Instead I found myself making excuses for the school and becoming a part of the corruption. I was asked progressively over the years to allow more and more shifting of my moral gray area into the black zone. I don’t feel inspired at all about this. You’ll be asked to do this because “this is China” and “our situation is unique” and “the bosses expect it.” You’ll be lied to by lea
ders about what is right and what is wrong and you’ll be expected to fall in line. You will not be promoted. Some get offers but they don’t include pay increases that are worth the extra time and stress. I was offered promotion at one point, but I refused because I would be expected to get results without resources or extra pay. What’s more I still wouldn’t be a real leader because the school keeps the power with the Chinese. That’s how it is.
Meetings do not develop the teacher professionally. Most of the time it’s listening to Chinese leaders practice their English. They show Power Points of documents from the IB. These do not develop foreign staff such as myself who have spent years at universities learning proper practices and pedagogy already. The locals are on cell phones during these meetings because they don’t understand English or just don’t care. They are not motivated to achieve greatness. Everything is about the stick at CGS. There is no carrot – only empty promises of one that rarely come to fruition.
I achieved great results in my department over the years. I never received any thanks for it, only recognition and public shaming for any small failures that came. In the end I had to write my own letter of recommendation for an old Chinese boss to sign because she didn’t know how to write it. Most people have the same situation. The foreign Principals cannot be trusted. I used Search Associates and one of these Principals lied to me about giving me a good confidential reference. This was because I publicly stated opinions to solving problems that was contrary to his views.
Staff are terrified to speak their opinions on anything at the school. There was a time when we had an “academic freedom” clause in contracts. People still never speak their feelings or ideas at meetings, and that clause disappeared mysteriously anyway. It doesn’t matter whether the clause is there or not anyway. The high school was sent a questionnaire by our Principal during the first semester designed to find problems with the school. It was a ruse to find troublemakers! One teacher told me how he was brought in and interrogated multiple times by both Principals even though it was simply a private email sent directly to the principals and was requested by them!
The fundamental problem is the attitudes and assumptions that already exist in the minds of school leadership. We are perceived as workers that need to be controlled with a heavy hand. We are not treated as intellectuals or professionals in any way other than dress and outward appearances.
In one respect I did still manage to develop professionally. It was in the classroom. Despite my grievances, my kids were great. I gave them clear guidelines and refined my practices within the class. I became better at teaching in many ways. I really learned how to modify lessons for ESL students and made my classroom a model of inclusion. If you manage to never irritate anybody by never speaking at any meeting, there can definitely be good days. Prior to 2014-2015 the school was moving forward. Invariably the reader will think from this post that I am simply a person who cannot be satisfied. That’s not at all true. I was one of the biggest cheerleaders for this school. I witnessed the progress. I recommended people who gained employment at our school. Everybody agrees that the last two years have been gigantic leaps backward. We all thought 2014-2015 was an anomaly and that surely leadership would notice the problems and make positive changes by 2015-2016.
Instead things have become much worse and approximately 75 percent of teachers are leaving at the end of next week.
“To establish long lasting relationships” – this claim is true. I made many friends. It’s hard making long lasting relationships with locals though. I think with this posting I will also make some long lasting relationships of a negative sort. Unfortunately I have no choice though. I cannot continue to allow such lies about this school to continue unchecked. If that means I make long lasting enemies in the hope of actually exposing truth so that the school can eventually move forward, then so be it.
Guangdong Country Garden School has repeated the same pattern again and again BECAUSE they do not trust the very “foreign experts” they hire! You will be told they want to hear your opinion. They don’t! Trust me. You are there so your face can be put on posters and to appease kids and that’s all. There is no desire for real change or building a school that is up to actual international standards. If you want this, look elsewhere.