A Critical Ethnography of 'Westerners' Teaching English in China: Shanghaied in Shanghai
Tens of thousands of Western 'teachers', many of whom would not be considered teachers elsewhere, are employed to teach English in public and private education in China. Little has previously been known, except anecdotally, about their experiences, about the effect they have on education in the context, or on students' perceptions of 'the West' that result from this contact.
This book is an ethnographic study of Westerners' lived experiences teaching English in Shanghai, China. It is based on three years of groundbreaking research into the pre-service training, classroom practices, personal identities and motives, and local socially constructed roles of a group of 'backpacker teachers' from the UK, the USA and Canada. It is a study that goes beyond the classroom, addressing broader questions about the sociology, and politics, of transnational education and China's evolving relationship with the outside world.
here [to China] on their own, and as a guy it’s not too bad … we get a group of mates and we get the Chinese girls as well. Whereas I think the girls really struggle out here. … [Chinese men] wouldn’t know how to deal with a Western woman. And for us, like, Western women, they’re invisible. Todd: They don’t exist. (‘Western Men’ focus group 13/06/2009) Thus the lived reality of Western women in this context is sexual invisibility among Western men and the intrusion of Orientalist/Occidentalist
English teachers qualified by university degrees, short ELT courses, and native English language skills fall between these extremes. The motivations of ‘seeing the world’ and ‘saving the world’ are similar in that they take as their basic premise the assumption of the right, for Westerners, to spend extended periods of time in developing countries for their own reasons, whether framing this as enjoying themselves on holiday or as philanthropically ‘helping’. The same basic premise underlies those
(e.g. where oral English stands alone) and students’ various cultures of learning. In an ideal world, then, perhaps all foreign teachers would hold advanced diplomas/degrees in ELT, and would have had substantial, assessed teaching practice and teaching experience before going to China. This said, Boyle (2000: 154) concludes that even qualified, experienced foreign teachers may struggle in China, and, comparing training types, Kanowski (2004: 22) found that some teachers valued CELTA over MA
‘interview’ 13/09/2007). Leo, however, sees value in students reading aloud, perhaps in building students’ confidence: I think at first they [the students] will stand up and they will read something but at least they stood up and read something in front of the group. The next step maybe will be reading it from fewer words, from notes. The next step would be saying it without paper. The next step would be saying it naturally, without being nervous. (Leo ‘interview’ 13/09/2007) However, it is not
because they go and see this unique creature in a safe environment … and they get to interact with us in a safe way … like, some kind of a petting zoo, or in some cases a heavy petting zoo [Dan is referring to the PSU teachers who pursue sexual relationships with their students; this is discussed in Chapter 9]. … As a teacher, do I want to stay in this zoo? No, I don’t. (Dan ‘interview’ 11/06/2009) It’s an opportunity to have access to someone who’s foreign … I don’t think it’s necessarily about