Teaching China’s Little Emperors

Obvious side-effects of China’s one-child policy are overbearing parents and spoiled children. These generations of only children are increasingly being referred to as “little emperors,” as parents will do anything to keep the small king or queen of the household happy.

And then those little emperors have to go to school.

You know that stereotype about Chinese kids silently sitting in rows of neat chairs, heads bent over workbooks, feverishly studying? Not true. These little attention-seekers are just as talkative, loud, and rambunctious as their western counterparts.

Thank God. I don’t even know how to teach quiet, well behaved children.

It’s funny how the smallest of classroom management techniques are cultural though. Most teachers, me included, will use “teacher proximity” for mild discipline issues. If a child is off task, I simply walk over to his or her desk and put my hand on it. Maybe touch the student’s arm and point to what they are supposed to be doing. Classroom management 101 stuff. Not in China though. Personal space means nothing here and proximity or a simple touch is completely irrelevant to a kid that’s living with over a billion countrymen. I’ve upgraded to giving harsh looks. That works.

The kids are pretty good for me actually. My Chinese counterparts complain that the students are better for me as I’m a foreign teacher with blond hair. They may have a point. As I was leaning over a computer my first day of class one little guy ran over and stuck his face under mine. “Blue eyes!” He squealed. I’m totally riding out the novelty effect.

“Maybe if I go teach in the USA all the students would be good for me,” one of my new teacher friends mentions to me.

“Definitely.” I lie. I don’t have the heart to tell her that there is no foreign-teacher novelty effect in melting pot America.

Especially since the Chinese teachers are going out of their increasingly exhausted minds dealing with behavior issues, students throwing rocks, kids getting fevers, overbearing parents calling at all hours of the night, and homesickness. I understand the homesickness. Fifteen days is a long time to be away from home when you’re eight. One girl spent the first five nights on her cell phone begging her parents to come pick her up. When mom and dad (mostly dad) finally acquiesced, the big wigs from the school showed up talked them out of it to fend off a negative PR storm.

There are also the parents who show up at school unannounced to drop off massive amounts of snack foods and wash their kids’ clothes. One mom took the opportunity to critique my hand washing abilities as well. Too much soap and not enough scrubbing, she’d pantomimed disapprovingly.  

I don’t know if this is the parent’s plan or not, but a lot of this snack food goes to me. Students are continually gifting me packages of wrapped seaweed, sweet beef lollipop things and random hard boiled eggs. Or they throw impromptu dorm room parties where they invite me to sit on the top bunk, eat duck tongues and listen to Chinese music via their cell phones. One such party included a talent show complete with a dressing room, and program. It was all very cute until I discovered that I was actually ON the program. I’m not known for my singing abilities, but the students applauded enthusiastically after I belted out “Party in the USA.” Again, thank you novelty effect. I will miss that once I’m back in Miley Cyrus’s favorite country.  

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