Those 5-year students...

I have shared several pieces of this story in the last several months. It began with the letter I wrote to the English Department Dean, stating my intent to no longer teach the 5-year students (reprinted below)

May 12, 2008


First I would like to express my gratitude for having this opportunity to teach at Anshun Teacher’s College. My experiences here have been wonderful and educational. The freshmen have been patient with my learning style and I have enjoyed teaching them. This experience has taught me much about education in China and helped me to reflect upon my own ideas of education.

I wanted to express concern about teaching five-year students in the future. Bethany had four classes last semester and four classes this semester (of five-year students) and I have 2 classes this semester. It has been challenging for a number of reasons, but our primary concern is our inability to effectively instruct these students.

One reason we feel somewhat unfit to teach these students is due to their limited English ability. Although I can often get by speaking some Chinese, I have found that anything I say in English is either not understood or misunderstood. We have found that the required text is far too difficult for these students and supplementing the text is a weekly requirement. My limited Chinese ability tends to serve my own ends rather than the need of the students to practice English, but it is nonetheless required for them to understand.

In addition to lack of adequate communication, we feel that we are sometimes unable to understand the cultural nuances of the Chinese classroom. In a typical classroom these nuances can be discussed by speaking English slowly, but in the five-year classroom effective communication about absences, late arrivals, homework, and classroom management are often misconstrued.

It is our request that next semester we do not teach the five-year students. I do not feel that the students have done something wrong, but rather that their ability to speak, listen to, read and write English is too low for us to be successful teachers.

If you have questions about this request, please let me know. I would be happy to discuss any details with you personally.


Dustin D. Ooley

This letter was followed by an assault of indirect communication on part of the Dean meant to keep us teaching Oral English. After my refusal, and implications that there would be consequences for asking us to teach these students again, the Dean finally decided to comply. We wouldn't teach the students again the next semester.

Then the next semester came. Several students who failed my class requested to take make-up exams. The department notified me that I was to give a make-up for the students. A recent post outlines the results of that exam.

I also promised to continue following this story. The purpose is to explain the customs and practices of a poor college in China.

Recently the Dean came to talk with me about the second round of failures. She explained the following:

"Since the students failed the make-up exam you will need to teach them again this semester."

"Nope. No I won't. I have explained to you the problem with foreigners teaching these students and I will not teach them again."

The Dean had a worried look on her face. I needed to work with her to make things right. There is no polarity in China without massive loss of face.

"I'll tell you what," I said, "I'll give you the exam and the exam's answers. You can work with the students and help them to pass."

She agreed.

But this is precisely what I had done twice before. Despite having the one or two-word answers for all the questions on the test, the students still failed to study. The students were so lazy that even given the answers they refused to work to remember what those answers were.

In a couple weeks I will ask the Dean about the status of these students to see about the end to this drawn-out story.

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