Among the lessons I’ve so far learned in China is this: don’t mix business with education. When corporate interests get their grease on what should – in a preferable world – be a public service, you begin to ask questions like: what is being served, who is the master? The students’ requirements or the company’s money-hunger?
At the school in which I teach, without prior notice or discussion, my colleague and I were shown a couple of printouts, one for each of us, on which printouts was a breakdown of the various and potential deductions in salary resulting from such work- and office-related issues as failure to complete a course objective, finishing a course too quickly, students not re-signing for the next course, beginning class late, finishing class early, a student wanting to change teacher, not cleaning the whiteboard after class, not rearranging the chairs after class, putting rubbish left behind by students into one of the office’s bins instead of the bigger bin in the corridor outside the office, leaving an empty plastic bottle on your desk for one night… The “offences” get progressively ridiculous.
This change in wage policy (which is not in the contract) to a policy of performance-related deductions, was a surprise. My colleague’s and my main complaint was that we hadn’t been told in advance about any of this. We weren’t told that students had expressed concerns about the pace of classes, or whatever. The manager said that one of the course planner girls had told my colleague, more than once, that his Level One students thought he’d been ploughing through the coursebook too quickly. My colleague, hand on heart, said he’d never been told.
Here’s the thing: if I thought the main objective behind introducing performance-evaluated pay deductions was to encourage committed, dedicated, and caring teachers, I’d probably say, Well, okay, fair enough, I see where you’re coming from, boss. But, because some of the reasons by which a teacher may be deducted pay are ridiculous, and, more importantly, because none of the reasons were communicated before we were shown the printouts, I suspect this performance-related pay deduction policy is little more than the company – which company has schools all over China – conjuring up ways (abracadabra!) to take money back off its employees. It’s fuck all, I suspect, to do with encouraging a healthy classroom. And that, like many experiences teaching in China, is dispiriting. And here’s why: because you want to do a good job (don’t you?) but then – and this is sad – believe that if you do a good job you’re only helping those in the suits at the boardroom table who don’t really care whether or not the students get a good education make more and more money. Moloch, moloch. You want to with the best of your ability and with passion help and guide your students but the creeping awareness that your role in the school is more or less that of cash register saps your energy and kills your spirit and doing a good job gets progressively less appealing.
should I get a proper job?
sit at an interview in pressed pants & ironed shirt & sell myself?
invent a new past & praise my curriculum vitae
to the three officers of recruitment
showing them the half-moon of teeth i scrubbed that morning
of all cigarette-smoke and danger
and say yes i’m valuable yes i’m passionate –
and those in the corridor with fingernails bit
all rehearsing the very same script –
while i feel like jumping up on the table waving my arms all tarzanlike
shouting i don’t understand your codes & overheads & blah blah blah
and oh they’ll say oh yes we see so we’ll keep your CV on our heaving pile
and call you when wormwood comes crashing down
and the seventh seal lands on the shore flapping its fins in fury.
or what of an office and the rattling alphabet keys
and the screen stripping my eyes of life
in a suit & tie & a demeanor shabby i haven’t washed in weeks
or a factory floor amid masks & clanks & bangs
and endless white corridors
of sterile purgatory nine-to-five & ticking midnight shift where
i’d work until dawn a madman of mechanical hands singing
twenty-four seven yet that’s not eternity at all!
and my clock-card indicating i’ve arrived in late
whispering, the spy the spy the time is a spy
and me in a daze from always drinking
i have no responsibilities.
or i could join an elite circle of scribblers & dissidents
and sit in cafes sipping on coffee from noon till night
would i find a radical back-door to making a living?
would i make my passions drag out paychecks?
or would i ruin that too?
clowning around & spoiling their kafkaesque scenarios
and self-conscious freudian woes
by spilling wine all over the crackers & drenching the existential cheese?
there’s always the priesthood it’s a decent living
i could earn my bread from the dwindling donations
i could do that! yeah! sign up for several years in the seminary studying
theology & morals & how to be celibate
slave away september to may expecting eventual ordination
and finally the day would come & the collar too
and the vestments & the bishop’s permission to bless wine & bread
i’d have it all planned out the future and eternity too
i’d wake every sunday with great joy & determination
to give back to the church its good name
or maybe i’d forget the prayers
maybe i’d make up my own
manic at the altar ad-libbing lines like:
hail the weary & full of grace,
and those who don’t kneel.
blessed be the youth amongst indifference,
and blessed be the loot of thy tomb, jesus.
holy, weary, ragged god,
wait for us beginners,
now, & at the hour of our death, say when…
Here’s a perhaps trite conclusion:
The work one does must have a meaning and significance other than that of making money. Goodbye.