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Steer Clear of Eton House International School

While Eton House International School in Jinan may be a good first job for someone who’s desperate to work in China, I advise teachers to avoid it. I’m writing a short ebook with more details but for now I’ll share the undesirable aspects of the school, which brings in between $800,000 to $1,000,000 revenue a year. The school staff consists of very nice people, but the school’s policies and poor communication make it a poor workplace. For 2017-18 three teachers have backed out of the position open to teach kindergarten. I’m not surprised.

Points to Consider

  1. The principal lacks experience and has only worked at Eton House International School in Jinan. She’s an example of the Peter Principle, where everyone rises to their level of incompetence. She’s a nice, young woman, but can’t prioritize and is behind in her work. For a couple years the school’s been publicizing that they’re going to be an International Baccalaureate school. The principle hasn’t begun the application. She’s getting the tutoring she needs to fill it out.
  2. Eton House Jinan does not have you sign a contract in Chinese, which is required by Chinese law and in fact is the only contract that’s actually good in China. If they change this, you should have a person who’s neutral, translate the contract for you. Often the English and Chinese wording are quite different.
  3. After you sign the contract, you’re in for numerous surprises. For example, the contract says nothing about the teacher having to pay 4 months’ rent and taxes for the apartment. It simply says you’ll be reimbursed every month for your apartment. Later you’ll be told to bring $2,000 to $3,000 for your apartment costs. Most jobs provide housing so there’s no need for you to take one that requires you to take from your savings back home and then be in arrears for months. You can negotiate for the school to pay the 4 months rent, but when you do, expect to have to remind them and do a bit more persuading so they follow through. Get any negotiated benefits in writing.
  4. Communication is horrible. The Principal’s Assistant is an intermediate English speaker with little understanding of business, education and adult activities such as finding housing. She’s your main contact. The Principal is often busy or off campus. She’s the only staff member who can make decisions. Good luck.
  5. If you have a Masters degree, you’ll be the only one at the school with an advanced degree. I can’t imagine how a school that charges $20,000 a year for pre-school lacks trained professionals of the highest caliber. Thus the conversation and thinking in curriculum and teaching is at a subpar level. Teachers just don’t discuss issues the way professionals do, though some think they do. You’ll see signs in the school for the “writting (sic) table.” You’ll hear teachers talk about the Inquiry Unit on Self-Expression about the Gingerbread Man story, a story where the lead character does not express himself in any meaningful way and where the students don’t do work where they express or think much about their opinion of the story.You’re better off getting experience in your home country and then moving to a real international school, one that already is International Baccalaureate.
  6. All the good jobs, and even the bad ones, I’ve had overseas provided teachers with free housing. With Eton House, you’ll be on your own. You get a housing stipend, but unless you want to live in a hovel, it’s probably not enough. If you teach for Eton House in a major city like Beijing or Shanghai, it will be about a third of what you need. Then on top of the rent, they’ll tell you after a couple days of apartment hunting, that there’s a 50% tax and a management fee. So all the time you’ve been looking at filthy apartments, you don’t realize that you can’t afford them.
  7. The teachers in Eton House Jinan must use the same restrooms as the children. Yes, that’s against the law in most countries — including China. Space is tight in the school.
  8. Space is tight in the school and they’ll eventually move to a new building, but for now there’s no teachers’ room. Teachers have a few tables with computers in the corridor. This lack of space and delayed move to a building that’s of appropriate size appears to be another sign of the principal’s lack of leadership skill.
  9. The school is most concerned with saving money. If you miss your flight to Jinan from a larger city, the first thing you’ll be told is that you need to foot the bill for the next flight. Concern for you as weary, perhaps lost traveler is nil. In fact, money will be a big topic at Eton House. The administration’s main concern is money.
  10. A lot of the problems at Eton House Chengdu (see this review: http://www.gochengdoo.com/en/listings/item/eto_32240/etonhouse_international_school) are evident in Jinan. That review was eye-opening. The principal in Chengdu has advised Jinan on curriculum design. Imagine!
  11. While cheerful and imaginative, except for the blatant Eton House posters which continue to sell the school, the classrooms lack a good selection of books in English or Chinese. There are a few, but no where near enough for 15 children. Like in Chengdu, there are few copyright compliant teachers manuals. The only one’s I saw were infringed copies of manuals for phonics.

For-profit schools have their problems and many are on display at Eton House. It’s a decent job because the salary is okay for someone who is new to the field or just seeking a job in China. The sort of professional nomad. If you have a degree in education, I’m sure you can do much better.

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Finished!

Yesterday when I pressed submit, I finished my library course on technology. I got a lot out of it and enjoyed the lessons and readings, but it still feels good to be done, to have one less item (or three or four really) off my weekly to-do list. I’m celebrating by doing some pleasure reading this weekend.

I’ve resumed Emile Zola’s The Killing, which continues the saga of the Rougon-Marquart clan as they descend on 19th century Paris, a city of corruption and excess.

Of course, I’m also grading homework, preparing quizzes and preparing for the end of my semester in China, which alas won’t end till Dec. 30th.

Code Academy

For my library class, I have had to complete three courses on codeacademy.com. These interactive courses are free, though you can get a premium account and get a certificate and more detailed instruction.

We had to do the first courses on HTML & CSS, a style sheet language, Building a Website and SQL, a database. The courses were well designed with a good mix of theory and step by step instructions. Code Academy did have some bugs, which get fixed if you report them. I had problems with the exercises. When there were two tasks and I’d complete one, I’d get an error message for not having done both lessons even though the second task is darkened so you can’t do it till you’ve run the first. It was a minor annoyance.

While I prefer Lynda.com courses because they have more insider information and more of a human feel, Code Academy is a good place to get your toes wet to see if you want to learn more.

E-MBAs?

While in Beijing for a day Monday before I moved on to Japan for a conference and some sightseeing. I noticed some signs around town for “eMBA’s.” I assumed the “e” stood for online, aka electronic learning.

I was wrong. Last night on Channel News Asia they did a segment on parents’ efforts to get their children into just the right primary school. Seems Beijing is like New York in their desire for elite private schooling from grade 1. “eMBA” stands for Early MBA. In these expensive classes children some not yet 3 study economics because to paraphrase a parent, “you can’t start too young.” They showed the lessons and the kids while bright certainly weren’t getting it.

These kids are going to several afternoon lessons in addition to kindergarden — English, math, geography, soccer (which looked far more serious than what my nieces and nephews did at age 3 or 4). These kids were quite articulate on the process of gaining entry into a prestigious primary school. That might have troubled me the most.

Ask and It Shall Be Given

A few weeks back when we studied advertising in English 3, I showed my students ads by the Chinese office of DDB. I used to work for DDB and have an affinity for them.

I then contacted the name on the press release about this campaign. A couple weeks and a few emails later, I’m delighted to say Volkswagen is giving us 6-10 units!

The air has been cleaner this spring, and it’s about to get even more so on campus.

Shot, Reverse Shot

I always learn something surprising when I watch Every Frame a Picture. Here’s one about the Coen Brothers.

First Week of School

Despite my jet lag and not sleeping all through the night once, I’ve made it through week one of the semester. It’s always hard as I’m learning new names (70 new ones this time) and getting used to where each class meets, learning the idiosyncrasies of each room’s computer. Also, I’m trying to answer questions from the newbies and help them find their ways around town and around the neighborhood.

This time two of the new Australian teachers live off campus. Their lead teacher hasn’t shown up yet. A sub has been here and leaves tomorrow. She seemed nice but not at all taken with Jinan. Since we’re such a small group, I tend to socialize with the Australians and there will be a void if that’s not part of the experience.

I’m looking forward to the new semester and am trying to figure out what sort of projects to have my students do. I like that creative aspect of the job.

I’ve also been struck that although I was here two months ago, I’d forgotten how little English many of the students know. It’s limiting and I’ve scaled back what I plan to cover.

There will be some changes. Yesterday we got an email saying that we shouldn’t be surprised if Chinese teachers and administrators pop in to our classes to observe unannounced. It sounded like this would happen many times and it wouldn’t just be one person observing. If it is frequent and if several people observe that creates a weird vibe. I Don’t know why they’re starting this measure. We’re told that they want to make sure teachers are prepared. For the last few years, the English teachers all seemed to be conscientious. I can’t speak for the business or IT teachers.

Another change is that the new president of the university has moved into our building between a business and IT instructor. The middle apartments don’t even have closets. I’m not sure why he wouldn’t live somewhere nicer. Is he observing the IT instructor, who’s had some complaints I won’t mention here?

Bad Teaching

My new library class got off to a bad start last week. It’s an online class in digital libraries. The professor has had three and a half months to travel the world for research and what not. (There aren’t too many conferences in the summer.)

He didn’t show up for the first class. If he had an emergency, I could cut him some slack but he didn’t plan on teaching the class. He just told the Teaching Assistant to take it and to just read us the syllabus. For undergraduate classes that’s common, but in grad school, the class hits the ground running.

The reason for the professor missing the class was that he was in China and he figured it would be too hard to get online. Since I’ll be taking all but two classes from China, I wasn’t convinced. At least try to give the class from China and have the assistant prepared to take over. Tape a class and post it on YouTube. Get a VPN or use the University of Illinois VPN.

My teacher from San Jose State, a lower ranked school, where they seem to take the teaching part of their job more seriously, gave classes when he was in New Zealand and I think Europe. Also, the course featured guest teachers from the Library of Congress, Denmark and top libraries in the US. These were in addition to, not in lieu of, the teacher giving the lecture.

I wouldn’t mind guest lecturers in lieu of the assigned teacher, but that wouldn’t work for the first class.

In addition to missing class, the teacher disappointed me by assigning 2 group projects. One’s horrid enough online. Two just makes me think he doesn’t want to spend much time grading. (Perhaps he needs to find a job where he doesn’t have to do all this annoying teaching-related work.)

I wish he’d learn from my rare books teacher, who was so down-to-earth and appeared to like teaching.

So far of the full time teachers I’ve had at UICU, one has seemed as though she didn’t mind teaching. They’re in stark contrast to my visiting professor from University of Indiana, and the profs from San Jose State or University of British Columbia. I think I’ve learned that students are best attended to by professors not working at a school ranked #1. Ironic and sad.

Rare Books Class

The second week of July I took a wonderful course, my first course in Rare Books about reference books for them. It met Monday through Friday from 9 to noon and 1 to 4 pm. We just had 8 students and a very knowledgeable, yet approachable teacher who welcomed questions. There was no PowerPoint, which weren’t missed. It just goes to show that as long as the topic’s interesting and the teacher knows what he or she’s doing, there’s no need for bells and whistles.

We learned about 350 the bibliographies and reference books that help collectors, scholars and readers learn about rare books. A couple days after class I managed to visit the university rare book collection.

The two assignments had parts that were the most challenging work I’ve had to do, i.e. find out the price of a 3rd edition of John Wolridge’s Systema Horticulturea when it first came out and find what the first book printed in Swedish was and what library currently has it.

I wound up going to rare book collections at Northwestern University, Harold Washington Library, Newberry Library, Loyola University Chicago, Clark University and the Chicago History Museum. It took me 8 trips and I had to throw in the town with the Systema Horticulturae question. I will say the staff at Harold Washington and the Chicago History Museum topped the list for approachability and helpfulness. Northwestern has a lovely gothic rare books room, but most of the books aren’t there. Believe it or not they’re housed in the engineering library, which is a 15 minute. (I understand running out of space but dividing the rare books collection up like this doesn’t make sense.) The Newberry has some helpful staff and others were rather clueless. I needed a book for a bibliography and their catalog showed they owned three copies but no one could find any of them. None of their books can be checked out.

Loyola was the worst of the bunch. You must make an appointment a day in advance. There’s no special room for rare books, just a messy windowless office where two women were working. Their office smelled like old books, which isn’t necessary. I was there in the morning without an appointment and when I asked if I could just make one, the librarian (clerk?) told me I’d have to call, which seemed absurd.

Yet at both the CHM and Harold Washington, I was treated well and while no one would (or could) do my homework for me they seemed invested in my success and were happy to help.

I’m so glad I took this class. While I think it takes a lifetime to really become an expert in this field, I loved being introduced to the wild world of rare books.

Kudos to the teacher for challenging us, not making us do a group project, and for being so approachable when brought up questions. You’d be surprised how often that’s not the case.

Oliver on Standardized Testing

I learned about this segment on John Oliver’s HBO program. Oliver goes to town on every facet of standardized testing: the silly ways schools try to psych students to take the tests, how confusing some questions are, how Pearson education pulls in big bucks while paying test graders they find on Craig’s List peanuts to score high stakes tests and how opaque the whole game is. He didn’t address how corruption can creep into the process as seen in Atlanta, but he hit all the major problems with testing.

Though I sort of liked standardized tests, which I realize is a bit bizarre, I see their limits and believe the current system is too expensive and nets few benefits.

Kudos to the kids who refuse to take them. As the Grumpy Old Teachers wonder: Why don’t more students opt out?

A tweet about Grumpy Old Teachers led me to the Oliver report cum lambast. I am sort of hooked on this podcast. Basically, it’s what it says two veteran teachers skewering and whinging about the more ridiculous aspects of teaching. They digress a lot, but sometimes they’ll edit out (and tell listeners when they have) discussions of basketball games or of Costco hauls. Grumpy Old Teachers have got me thinking of joining the tech-oriented teaching organization ISTE. They’ve got global and student rates, which fall within my budget.

Watching the video and listening to the blog made me thankful that I’m not teaching in the US K-12 world. Now I’m not happy about the social promotion we have here in China, but from what I’ve seen there’s little anxiety about testing here. Heck, if the kids don’t pass the CET-4 (College English Test, band 4), they take it or a watered down version till they do. No pep rallies for a test, just an assembly and cash prizes — for teachers and students.

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