Some clips of Flight of the Conchords. "Business Time" and "Jenny" are partcularly great. Two very talented and funny Kiwis!

Flight of the Conchords

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Beijing New Oriental Foreign Language School

I will not go into the lengthy criticisms written by the Washington Post or several Chinese newspapers have to say about this dreadful place and its owners. Perhaps I'll reserve that for a later post. But as for Beijing New Oriental Foreign Language School (BNOFLS)...

I would like to urge all foreign teachers looking to work in China's expanding ESL job market to avoid BNOFLS. Use your intelligence and do not get lured by gimmicky advertising campaigns and the slick sales pitch that will promise all sorts of very wonderful things that will never mirror the realities of working here.

Firstly, the Beijing New Oriental Foreign Language School group (BNOFLS) is not really a 'school'. It is a corporation with a business strategy, not an educational strategy, that is merely cashing in on a national obsession for learning English. English learning is China's new service industry and BNOFLS has exploited this to the extreme, as evidenced by foreign teachers employed here who are all expected to contribute to a marketing process; mostly as performing puppets to give the impression that their presence is vital for effective English teaching.

The owner of BNOFLS admitted in an interview with the Washington Post that foreign teachers are NOT employed to be teachers or instructors. Actual English teaching is the sole responsibility of English-speaking Chinese instructors in classes separate from yours. They are contracted as instructors, you are not. Any attempt to assume the role of an instructor by, for example introducing teaching skills associated with TEFL/TESOL, is punished. And, Big Brother will know, because he could be watching you from the camera located on the back ceiling of most classrooms.

As 'marketing tools,' all foreign teachers are paraded in front of parents like show pieces during open school days as if integral components vital to their child's learning process. This creates the impression their child is benefitting from instruction from a foreign teacher. So, foreign teachers are not the only ones being fooled by BNOFLS, but also the parents who are taken in by advertising campaigns and sales pitches before handing over extortionate sums of money for an education they believe will give their kids an advantage in the future job market. Foreign teachers are sometimes ordered to engage in bizarre activities, even if this means dressing-up for a public performance, to perpetuate the myth that BNOFLS is a great place to be. There are consequences for foreign teachers who refuse.

Contractual arrangements for foreign teachers are never clearly defined and job descriptions remain shrouded in ambiguity. Foreign teachers who challenge the authority powers of the school or dare to raise awkward questions about the role or purpose job of a foreign teacher are escorted from the premises (by security guards, so I've heard). In short, lessons conducted by a BNOFLS foreign teacher are not an integral part of the daily curriculum as far as the instructors or students are concerned, and exist peripheral to the whole operation. The rulings of several court cases is proof enough that BNOFLS exists only to pirate advance copies of university entrance examinations illegally obtained to sell to students' parents for money. That is, when BNOFLS is not busy 'polishing' exam results to enable its graduates to enter foreign universities; again, in what is a lucrative side business of employing 'gunners' (BNOFLS-appointed examinees who will stand in for the real candidates).

Classroom activities are nothing more than performing a few songs and games. Sounds easy? Well, yes it is... until angry parents confront you demanding why the hell you're not actually teaching anything useful! Groups of frustrated parents find it impossible to accept the fact that foreign teachers are not employed as teachers. They are dumb-struck when they discover foreign teachers are discouraged from using textbooks designed for language-learning purposes in class or employing other resources to add to levels of skill. Singing songs in class is fun, of course, but when repeated twenty times a day, day after day, month after month, this is hardly a productive contribution to the whole language learning process for all students. Attempts to introduce anything that resembles teaching result in disciplinary measures.

Therefore, a foreign teacher with TEFL/TESOL qualification is a waste of time at BNOFLS, perhaps actively discouraged. And what use would it be at schools that routinely falsify exam results to maintain its artificially inflated reputation of high exam results? Then again, it’s absolutely necessary when BNOFLS forces its own students to do eight exams in one day. But if you think eight exams in one day makes for a long working day, think again. Everyday is a long day for foreign teachers putting in twelve-hour days in most cases, as well as some weekends.

With the addition of 'extra-curricular activities,' twelve or eleven-hour days are common, and mandatory, with little or no free time to yourself. Discharging the frustrations of a life that confines all teachers within the perimeter fence of the BNOFLS campus is expressed in a variety of forms; breakdowns, and symptoms of depression or exhaustion are common. In addition to their own duties, mandatory participation is demanded of all foreign teachers in a variety of other activities, such as support roles in other foreign teacher classes everyday, covering sickness leave without additional pay, participation in evening or the occasional weekend class, or participation in pretty much anything else the school can dream up.

As mentioned, foreign teachers do not receive extra pay or other bonuses for these activities, because it is assumed everybody is willing and able to simply give time to the dictates of their job. When finally you are able to leave the campus (usually only at the weekend), a curfew is officially in place and security guards stationed at the main gate keep notes of times foreign teachers enter and leave the campus; especially if this is late at night.

Do not be fooled by oft-cited claims that BNOFLS has a high teacher retention rate. This is not true. Confidential talks with off-duty foreign and Chinese teachers reveal most of them can't wait until the end of the school year when they can leave. The pressure of the workload, living conditions, or living under a regime of ambiguous rules and regulations alone is enough to persuade a huge chunk of foreign and Chinese teachers to leave every year. The dictatorial regime that rules BNOFLS is enough to persuade most they made a big mistake. Only on the weekends when opinions are shared more openly does the truth come out at just how really unhappy all foreign teachers really are.

Lastly, I never worked out why, for a school that is obviously well-funded, the heating, hot water, or the electric is sometimes switched-off by administrators in the dead of winter in a fruitless effort to save money, leaving everyone to wash out of a bucket of cold water from an outside tap. And being woken every morning at 6 by marching band music from loud speakers isn't gonna make me look forward to another day in this lunatic asylum.BNOFLS appears on several internet blacklists. Avoid it like a bad dose of the plague.

PS: I may mention this in a new post, but BNOFLS will also make deductions from the salaries of foreign teachers by way of 'fines' or 'penalties' for breaking any one of a myriad of ambiguous rules and regulations (regardless of whether the administrators can prove a foreign teacher actually broke a rule or not.) This will also occur even if the foreign teacher who finds themselves found 'guilty' of breaking 'rules' can produce proof or evidence of their innocence. Financial penalties are imposed, and justified by BNOFLS, simply on the grounds of rumour or hearsay from the Chinese staff - whose word is gospel as far as the admin is concerned.

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Inspector McHammered of the Lard in Val Ferret, Switzerland

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