Yesterday evening I sent this email to Tao Laoshi, the Academic Director here at the School in China:
Hi Tao Laoshi,
In the interest of time and clarity, I’m writing this email in English. I don’t want to make a big deal about it, but I do want to formally raise my concerns.
Today, in One-on-Two class, my interactions with Chen Laoshi were frankly unacceptable by my standards because I felt exceptionally intimidated. After recording my weekly test, I was told plainly that I did not prepare well and that I tested very poorly. Admittedly, I could have prepared better and apologized to the teacher for this shortcoming, but seeing as I believed I prepared on-par with previous weeks with other teachers, I was bit confused. And yet in an increasingly confrontational way, I was told repeatedly what I had done wrong with no support or encouragement to improve for the following weeks. When I asked Chen laoshi to please lower her voice and more calmly discuss the issue at hand, she did so briefly before returning to nearly yelling at me. I stated several times that I was “uncomfortable” with the way she was speaking and that I thought she was “angry” at me. She responded with, “the way you just tested is uncomfortable to me.” She also added that I was disrespecting her by underperforming. Reviewing the content of what I recorded, she criticized me for saying that an IC calling card was a regular way of calling and not a way of saving money, she again confrontationally turned my textbook around to point out a part of the dialog that said IC cards were for saving money. Upon not finding the passage in the dialog, she without a word switched to listening to the tape again without taking time to clarify her previous point. I attempted at all times to reflect a controlled manner and attitude as to not start an argument but am unsure as to how Chen laoshi perceived my somewhat defensive questions and answers.
Clearly, I did not test up to expectations and that is my own fault/doing. I am certainly not disputing any grades she gave. But my issue at the moment is that I am not here in China to go to classes where I feel intimidated, even if I don’t test well. A simple, “I think you should prepare more and be more detailed next week” would have sufficed to signal her discontent and at the same time encourage me to improve. Other one-on-two teachers have almost universally showed that it is possible to encourage greater effort without brash criticism.
I realize there is a certain element of cultural norming involved here. Then again, I feel like I have had enough experience with Chinese classes (Middlebury and non-Middlebury teachers alike) to know where the line is between an intense explanation (along the lines of Middlebury’s Wang Laoshi who has a forceful but educational and effective teaching style) and what I feel like is an attack (thereby no longer academic or educational).
To tell you the truth, after conferring with other students (many of whom feel similarly, but it is their prerogative to come forth on their own), I am still wrestling with whether it is even appropriate to bring forth this issue because it is very unlike me to individually call out teachers who collectively deserve respect and trust, as is the Chinese tradition. But considering I’m still thinking about this hours after class has ended and it is influencing my work in other classes, I simply want to have a record of this incident. At the same time, I certainly don’t want this to turn into something larger than it is.
I am happy to come in to talk about this (if I’m not busy preparing for my tests tomorrow). I hope that the issue will naturally resolve itself without further action but please let me know if there is anything I can do besides what I have already done in voicing my concerns to Chen laoshi herself.
Best wishes and thanks for your time,
Today in class, my one-on-two teacher (Chen Laoshi) explained the greatest difference between Chinese and American teachers is that Chinese teachers treat all their students as their own kids while American teachers let them do as they please. I already knew that, but I appreciated the explanation and apology for her over-the-top actions. But then she explained that she didn’t want me to waste my parent’s money by testing poorly. She then said that male students often lazy and did not want me to be the same way. This was her version of “encouraging me.” Excuse me but that’s entirely bullshit. Looking at previous weeks, other classes, and interactions with teachers, one would find I’m doing just fine academically, thank you very much. Instead of directly being scolded, I now benefit from indirect vaguely “guilting” method. Give me a break.