Back to School

Some of the teaching and administrative staff at the new UESTC campus
-photo provided by Warren Rodwell

New year, new campus

We’re back, baby. The foreign teachers’ first day of English classes was last Thursday, September 6. Not only is it a new academic year, but I’m also teaching on the university’s new campus. UESTC told us a year ago that they would open a new, larger suburban campus at the start of 2007, but no one believed them. Now it’s a semi-fact: the new school is about one-third completed, and the campus is a lunar landscape of upturned earth, bare trees that resemble giant matchsticks, and heaps of building materials. The new school went up almost overnight; last spring there was virtually nothing but vacant land at the new site. Now we have to negotiate half-completed walkways, holes in the ground, and building debris to get to class.

The new UESTC campus is in the High-Tech zone to the west of Chengdu, mile after mile of multinational corporate buildings. This makes sense, since many of the university’s graduates will be working for these companies. Only a few of the academic departments have been moved to the new location, and all of the teachers are bused daily to the new campus, a 45-minute ride each way. The remainder of the school stays at the old campus in Chengdu. Thankfully, we will keep our current apartments in the city.

The good news: my new classroom actually has movable furniture! This is a huge improvement over the bolted-to-the-floor chairs and desks of last year. Movable chairs are much more conducive to conversation groups for an oral English class, and this makes monitoring the students’ English much easier for the teacher. The bad news: the new campus is depressing, especially so on the cloudy, damp day when I first visited it. The construction noise outside the classroom building is sometimes so loud that I can’t hear myself think. Other than that, there was no running water in the restrooms, although there WAS a large pool of water on the floor in the hallway area outside class.

75 students attended my first class period, in what we lovingly call the “cruising for teachers” phase of the first semester. It was standing-room-only in the classroom. Students get to choose from among the three available FT’s (Foreign Teachers) at the new campus. I was actually “cruised” earlier that morning in the cafeteria, as students scouted the room for the foreign faces of prospective English teachers. Only a few glitches occurred the first period: the movie screen decided to lower itself in the middle of class, and the projector came on of its own accord. Since I’m technologically challenged, I had to have one of the students fix the situation. Other than that, we occupied ourselves with a question and answer session with the teacher, and a group exercise in “translating” English idioms into plain English. The most difficult ones:

It’s a dog eat dog world.
A day late and a dollar short.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

As we say in the idiomatic world of American English, “easy come, easy go.”

Not enough teachers?

A posting on the “Teaching in China” forum to which I subscribe offers the following appraisal of job vacancies in China:

Posted by: “M Wolff” Sat. Sept. 8, 2007

Most public unis are commencing their first week of the new semester. It appears that 12 – 15% of the TEFL [Teaching English as a Foreign Language] positions remain unfilled across China. In addition, 4% of those with contracts failed to report for duty.When including private language schools, today there are over 3,000 TEFL jobs being advertised on the internet….

China’s need has outgrown supply and wages may be on the rise as a result.

Interesting stuff. I don’t know where the above teacher got his facts and figures, but it would appear that he is at least partly accurate. I checked Dave’s ESL Café this morning at to find that there were 91 new jobs advertised for English teachers in China.

Teaching English in China is big business:

Now, China annually recruits 100,000 Foreign Experts to teach English as a Foreign Language (EFL) ( with an accompanying 10 billion Yuan price tag. (ChinaDaily, Hong Kong Edition, October 9, 2002.) According to one Internet recruiting web site there are 150,000 foreign EFL teachers working in China (



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