While doing them on the computer was a bit easier, it was no less time consuming. You’ll find that when you teach English in China with EF, you’ll be spending a lot of time teaching, but perhaps just as much time, maybe even more, doing boring, and in my opinion useless, administrative nonsense.
When you teach at EF you’ll be expected to pass out and grade homework for every class. Even the higher-level kindergarten classes get homework, which is often some of the most difficult because you’ve got to search and find what you’ll give those students yourself; none of that is provided for you.
For all the other levels they have workbooks. This consists of a single page, usually three sections, detailing the grammar, vocabulary, and structures from that particular chapter or unit in the book. These are quite easy to grade after you’ve been doing it awhile, but there are a few problems.
First, they don’t want you to correct the students’ mistakes; they want the students to correct themselves. Well, many students give their homework a cursory glance at best when you hand it back to them before cramming it down into their bags to be forgotten until next week’s class.
Another thing is the correction codes that they want you to use. They have about five to six of these codes that are supposed to mean something to the students, such as that they spelled a word wrong or missed some grammar. These code sheets had to be pasted into the workbooks when I worked there because someone didn’t have the foresight to print them on the books during the printing process.
The main thing with the homework, however, is that it just takes so much time. This is time you could be using to create great content for your lessons. Many of the parents send their children to EF so that they can practice their spoken English, not do extra homework, which believe me, they get enough of from the public schools. By the time I left EF they were planning on giving out even more homework to certain students, which just meant more time that teachers would have to spend in the office. So much for that 40-hour week.
I don’t want to get into all of the specific names that EF uses for their paperwork and administrative systems, but I will tell you they have a whole lexicon all their own.
One of the main papers you’ll have to hand out to students are feedback forms that they fill out. The forms ask them what they think about EF, the teachers, the books, the classes, just about everything really. These forms will usually be in English and Chinese to make it easier for the student, and often the students fill them out in Chinese so you can’t even read them.
The thing with China is that they have a cultural tradition of respecting teachers. Just take a look at their flag; one of those four small stars represents teachers. Telling a teacher what you really think about them, therefore, is a bit against the norm for them. That’s just one of the reasons why these forms are a bit useless.
English First prides itself on updating parents about their kid’s progress in English. That’s a great idea, but EF feels the need to do it constantly. You’ll have to routinely enter information about each student in your class into the computer so that parents can access it and look at it.
You’ll only have to do this twice over a whole course, the course lasting about six months. But when you factor in all the other classes you have each week, and all the classes you have on the odd week, you’ll soon find that you’re pretty backed up on your parent communication records.
Many parents don’t look at those pages on the computer, either, but it’s part of your job so you have to do it. I always felt it was a waste of time and the parents’ money for one simple reason: all the time I spend doing administrative work on the computer takes away from time I could be using to make quality lessons.
Now, a counterargument to that might be that EF has people at their regional headquarters doing all the lesson planning for you. But as you’ll remember from a previous chapter, many of these lessons are simply not up to par and won’t get you through a whole class. You therefore need to plan your own materials, and you need time to do that. Updating parents that don’t really care unfortunately takes away from that.
Everyone hates student assessments at EF: the students, the teachers, and the managers. This is usually a two-page handout you give to students where the students self-grade themselves on how they are doing in class. There will usually be three categories, such as ‘very good,’ ‘good,’ and ‘I need help.’ No one at EF ever does ‘bad’ after all.
The problem with these forms is that many of the students who are not doing well don’t know enough to read the forms, even if they’re in Chinese. You’ll also routinely see very poor students draw a straight line down the ‘very good’ section and call it a day. You know this student is not doing very good, and now you’ve got to deal with that.
For each student that hands you back this form you’ll have to go over it and say whether you agree with their assessment or not. If you do agree you can say something like ‘yes,’ or ‘ok.’ If you don’t agree you’ll have to write something different. But for all the students you’ll need to leave about a paragraph of comments on the end of the form.
Most teachers hate these for several reasons. First, they take a lot of time to do, time that you’ll often find is after hours. Also, it’s very hard to remember all of your students unless you’ve had that class for a very long time. If you’ve got a class of 15 students you’ll find that you can remember the loud and obnoxious students, but you can’t always remember the quiet ones. It therefore becomes very difficult to do these forms.
What’s especially frustrating, however, is what happens when you give those completed forms back to the students. Many of them will simply cram it into their bags and forget about it. If you go and look in their bags you’ll find many papers that have met a similar fate. All of that hard work on your part was for nothing. Now, this doesn’t happen all of the time, but it happens a lot.
When you bring this up with management they’ll agree with you and say that you have to do it anyway; it’s your job. One of the main problems that I saw with EF is there was no challenging of the existing policies that didn’t work. You’ll remember that managers are very afraid to rock the boat; many of them are too old to go back to their home countries to start over, so they’re not going to ruin the only thing they have going.
Unfortunately this means that existing failed policies continue to remain in place for years, everyone on all levels knowing there’s a problem, but no one dare acting to solve that problem. It’s a failure of leadership on all levels and it’s unfortunate that an institution that was built from the ground up by one hardworking man has come to such a state.