The Foreign Teacher Role
17 Aug 2005
In China foreign teachers are called 外教 (a shortened form of 外籍教师). Literally it means “foreign teacher.” It’s a simple descriptive term. There’s nothing wrong with it.
And yet I don’t like to be called a waijiao. Why? It’s the connotations that usually come with the word. A waijiao can come in many shapes and sizes, but typically:
– A waijiao is white.
– A waijiao is most often male.
– A waijiao is young, likely fresh out of college. (Alternatively, he could be retired.)
– A waijiao is entertaining.
– A waijiao doesn’t speak much Chinese, if any. (If he does, it’s likely entertaining.)
– A waijiao doesn’t really have any skills other than being a native speaker of English. Sometimes they’re OK teachers.
I know… I am white. I am male. I am young. However, I am not in China for anyone’s entertainment but my own, although that’s certainly not my main reason for being here. And I do speak Chinese. I am not without skills. I don’t like to be pigeon-holed.
I was a waijiao for 3 1/2 years in Hangzhou. I enjoyed that job, and I was good at it. Then I was a waijiao teaching kids for a year here in Shanghai. That was a valuable experience too. But now I would like to move on… I like teaching, but I don’t want to make it my career. (Not TEFL, anyway.)
And yet to most Chinese people, if you’re a foreigner and you’re young, you’re either a student or a waijiao. If you’re not young, you’re either doing business here or you’re a waijiao. There’s really not much else.
Ironically, now that I have finally moved away from the role of waijiao with my current job, I’m returning to the pigeon-hole by becoming a student again. Plus they still call me a waijiao at work anyway even though I’ve corrected them on numerous occasions. Micah is a (skilled) waijiao, and I guess it’s too much to remember that we actually have different roles at the company.
When I get out of grad school I’m going to have to wreak havoc on all this waijiao stereotyping.
I do three main things at my job now:
1. I edit a new line of textbooks for Chinese kindergarteners. I don’t decide the lesson themes, but I play a role in determining the vocabularly to be taught, and I write the lesson text. My lessons must be of the appropriate level, but not contain too much difficult or unfamilair vocabulary or grammar. The lessons must also have rhythm, because they are set to music and sung as songs. When these books come out, my name will be in the books as writer.
2. I play the Chinese voice of a cartoon character as well as the English voices of several characters. I also manage the recording of the international versions of those cartoons, which involves putting together a team of voice talents and overseeing the studio recording. (I’m doing that this week and next week.)
3. I translate the cartoon scripts from Chinese to English, which are then used to record the international version of the cartoon. I also translate other parts of the textbook line for the international edition.