作者：XU Zhaohui | 来源：福州大学
Having graduated from a university with many foreign teachers, I was used to seeing them on campus. I appreciate the significant contributions they have made to our reform and opening endeavors, in particular to the quality of our teaching. I became an English teacher with my university upon graduation and was astonished to find one day that the number of foreign teachers here had been diminishing each passing year. It was not my primary concern as I was just an ordinary English teacher. I could only count myself lucky when I was a student and felt sorry for students at that time who couldn’t enjoy the same privilege as I had had.
However, whenever I have a chance to meet foreigners, I would like to make friends with them, play Shadow Boxing and do other sports together with them. Occasionally, I would attend their lectures and invite them as guest visitors to my classes and to the English Corner. Frequent contacts with them have also helped improve my oral English, broaden my horizon, enrich my life, and above all, offer me a new perspective to see and interpret the world in a much more comprehensive way. It has sharpened my cross-cultural awareness and promoted our friendship.
Never before had I seriously considered what I could do to help alleviate the awkward situation of there being a scarcity of foreign teachers at my university. As the famous Chinese saying goes, “don’t comment on something which is not your own concern and confine yourself to your own duties.” I think it summarizes, to a large extent, the mindset of most people around me. When you are not in the position, don’t worry about the job to be done by the holder. This kind of indifference to the chronic problem was widespread and contagious.
I had been used to the scarcity until one day when an outstanding student of mine, Mr. Liang, came to tell me that he had some trouble understanding what a foreign visitor had said. The touch of nervousness, anxiety, uncertainty, and diffidence in him really came as a great shock to me. This kind of association and communication skill is a must for college students. However, our students had unfortunately little or no exposure in this regard. Many times I have been told by the authorities that our English teaching was backward and ineffective once our graduates did awfully in English job interviews. To me, what is more ironic in this case was that Mr. Liang had been actively involved in the management of our English Speaking Association and he often visited the English Corner. If it was difficult for him, then it might be the same case for others. The shortage of native English teachers on campus was to blame.
If this was not a good enough reason for me to take action, then the ensuing incident really served as a turning point. In 2010, I was entrusted the job of coaching 3 top English public speakers in my university for the provincial round of the FLTRP Cup National English Speaking Contest for College Students a couple of weeks before it was held. Being ambitious, as I believed my students were generally recognized as the second best in the province, I put in a lot of hours coaching them. But we suffered from a fiasco and returned with 3 complimentary awards. What a shame! In sharp contrast, a lot of unheard-of colleges and universities in the province got higher rankings and carried off at least a 3rd prize. I began to trace causes for such poor performances and found possible solutions as well, apart from my lack of experience, a shortage of funding, an absence of a sound and consistent training mechanism, and the undesirable English learning environment were to blame. What was the most astonishing was that one of my contestants even failed to understand a simple question from the native question master. I therefore ascribed contributing factors to nervousness and limited exposure to foreign teachers.
So I decided to embark on a road to “fight” for more foreign teachers for the students. I first made some investigations as to why we had fewer foreign experts compared with others. Then with the approval of the dean, I wrote a letter to the president pleading for improvements on foreign teachers’ salaries and the building of a mechanism to introduce as many foreign teachers as possible. Immediately, it received very positive feedback from the president and eventually gave birth to the Stipulations for the Recruitment of Foreign Teachers in my school. A pay rise ensued, and then a staff room was given to them. Privately, I invited quite a number of foreigners I had met to my university and they helped us in various aspects. For example, after one visit, Mr. Terence O'Sullivan from Canada came forward to visit our English Corner every week; all I had to do was to arrange for pick-ups. Students also volunteered to do liaison and accompanying jobs even though they sometimes had to do it at their own expense. They simply wanted to seize the precious opportunity to speak to foreigners. Mr. Terence O'Sullivan also offered to give a series of lectures to students in our English Debating Society, the first of its kind in my province. I often whole-heartedly compared him to the reincarnation of Norman Bethune, a Canadian surgeon who sacrificed himself in 1939 during the anti-Japanese War in China.
Never before had we sent any of its contestants to the National English Public Speaking Contest for College Students in Beijing before 2012, so I decided to make my 2nd and 3rd attempts in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Over the years, foreign teachers Larry DuBose, Ryan D. Vess, Ilana Nunya, Paul Doe, Leah Doe, Michael Nussbaum, Pierre C. Pepin, Michael Oviedo, et. al. were successively mobilized to offer help in their unique ways. In 2011, we got awards commensurate with the ranking of the English discipline in our province and with hours and efforts we had invested in it. In 2012, Mr. CHEN Jinfeng, our English speech contestant won the championship in Fujian Province. My dream to send our contestant to the national final finally materialized. This was something really marvelous for a university which is primarily science and engineering dominated. Even though I put in many hours in the capacity of a private coach, I was fully aware of the limits of my ability and the contributions from various foreign teachers involved together with some other Chinese colleagues.
Along the path, quite a number of foreign teachers have come to my mind and I could not help recalling what we have done together in the past few years.
I could remember that at my request after the Christmas banquet held by my school in 2011, the group of German teachers headed by Anja Feege decided to go to our Christmas Party organized by the Oral English Association. Because of its absence of native English teachers, I was worried about the popularity of our English Corner on Christmas Eve (also the location for the party) which was basically run by students. The number of native English speakers was at its lowest then, so together with some Chinese English-speaking teachers, our arrival was really a great sensation. It served as a great boost to the festive atmosphere. Various Christmas festivities had already become an everlasting memory for all students and teachers present.
I could remember Ryan D. Vess, who worked part-time in an orphanage near our old campus and helped my speech contestants rehearse in different lecture halls and showed us around the orphanage. It was the visit there that helped my top speech contestant Miss Zheng Danni gain a much deeper insight into the essence of volunteer work and then regain her confidence to naturally deliver her speech on stage. As her coach, I also learnt a lot from this visit: In public speaking, first of all, you have to be convinced by what you are going to say before you address the public. Foreign teachers might play an irreplaceable role compared with their Chinese counterparts and our functions in English education could be best described as complementary.
I could remember Mr. Michael Oviedo, an American teacher from Xiamen University, who benevolently travelled to give a series of lectures. He is a prestigious coach in English public speaking and has led his contestants to win many awards nationwide, like the first national runner-up in 2011 and the 6th place in 2012 in the FLTRP Cup National English Public Speaking Contest for College Students. When he presented his lecture entitled “The Fundamentals of Effective Public Speaking: Some Advice for Chinese English Learners” in the lecture hall in our main library which was full, the attendance rate was unprecedented, the equal of which I have never seen since. Earlier in the 2011 FLTRP CUP Provincial English Public Speaking Contest, at my request, he took pages of notes when my contestants delivered their speeches and gave very positive feedback to those who failed. He even offered to help polish our contestants’ drafts the following year. After I sent him our drafts, he raised a full sheet of questions for them, gave insightful, critical but intriguing comments, and later even hosted my contestant Mr. CHEN Jinfeng who travelled all the way to his university to receive joint trainings with his contestants for the national final.
Previously Michael had helped a contestant from another university to get the 9th place in the national final and he told me that it was his pleasure to help raise the bar of English education in Fujian Province in any way he could. His email to me reads: “Despite my hectic schedule, I still would like to devote what free time I have to help coaches who are interested in becoming more familiar with English-speaking competitions. When they become more competitive, all the students in Fujian Province benefit. Not only do they have great models to emulate, but also those models set goals for them to surpass. This competition to me is about allowing every student in China the opportunity to compete on an equal playing field no matter where that student studies. It is about providing students who may not have many opportunities with the keys to the kingdom. Most importantly, however, it is about developing young minds who will lead China in the future and providing them with a forum to share their ideas with their peers.”
I could remember Pierre C. Pepin, a Friendship Award winner from Canada who has been working with my university for more than 10 years. It was at his suggestion that we jointly modified our contestant Mr. CHEN Jinfeng’s speech scripts to compete in the national round of the English public speaking contest. It was he who offered to come as an adjudicator to the Debate Open in my university from April 11 to April 13, 2014, the 1st large-scale regional English debate contest in my province. He is a living example of “It is never too late to learn” and “Live and learn” as he did not know much about the British Parliamentary debate format before the tournament. However, he volunteered to help when he learnt that we were seriously lacking in hands and was willing and happy to learn how to give an oral adjudication from the very beginning. Soon after the tournament, I was surprised to receive his email showing his gratitude for being offered such an opportunity to do volunteer work. It was also with his generous help of proofreading statements of purposes and reference letters that I successfully sent two of my elite undergraduates to America in 2014, one to pursue his doctorate degree at Arizona State University and another to pursue his MA at Brown University.
I could remember the gorgeous day when I arranged for a visit for Dennis Owen Beal, a foreign teacher who phoned to tell me that he was interested in my university and would like to see if there was a job vacancy here. I showed him around the campus: We travelled from the poorest school to the richest one. Bathed in the sunshine, I was discovering and rediscovering the beauty of my university. To manifest the justifiable needs of our students for more foreign teachers, we made a special trip to relevant departments. We were trying to create the needs and vacancies for more foreign teachers to come aboard as the conditions in my university are improving. It might startle you to learn that the senior applicant had some trouble with his legs but he wanted to walk the extra miles to demonstrate his good health. Once he could produce relevant documents together with certificates of good health, irrespective of the ailment in his legs, I would like to persuade those who are in charge to recruit him for his rich experience in teaching, enthusiasm and love for students, and devotion to the cause of education.
Besides the improvements on salary, living conditions, etc., I guess the crux of rendering our universities more attractive to foreign teachers is to give them all the necessary help with a human touch. Whenever possible, I would invite colleagues or friends who are driving Mercedes Benz to pick them up and show them around. I would send our elite students to meet them either at the airport or at the railway station. I would seek some financial sources to offer coffee and some other beverages in the Book Bar in the university library for foreign teachers who went to the English Corner there to help students with their English. I would privately arrange for a medical check-up and treatment for a foreign teacher who fell ill on the weekend. It strikes me that care and attention are vital to nurturing friendship with foreign teachers. These acts of kindness and goodwill might serve as a finishing touch if they are alone here in China. Gradually, a kind of mutual trust is built up. In my eyes, most foreign teachers come to China because they love the country, the people, the language, and the culture. What we can possibly do for them is to make our university, our students, and our teaching system more adaptable, acceptable and lovable to them.
When students and even graduates forward information of foreign teachers interested in and seeking employment in my university, in fear of losing such a good opportunity, I react as quickly as possible: Asking for their resumes and other materials, sending relevant documents to the dean and assistants in charge of foreign affairs, inquiring about the processing, giving them some feedback, showing them around the campus, inviting them to dinners with students who are eager to meet foreign teachers to check if their English is good enough. Gradually, this has already developed into a routine job for me now. I do all these in a private capacity and at my own expenses. Some people might argue that this is none of my business. But if I didn’t do it, then students might have become the biggest victims and the likelihood for them to go international would have been significantly reduced. In spite of all kinds of difficulties, I do it with no regrets for students who are in desperate need of foreign teachers.
I guess that I have already become the first contact for many foreign teachers interested in my university now, as some strangers have contacted me and would like me to help them navigate through the tedious and time-consuming process, even though I have never been officially assigned the job. Anyway, after years of experience, I have become a sort of problem-solver, a facilitator, and even a non-official supervisor for them in the hope that an increasing number of foreign teachers might come aboard and work at my university. Then both students and teachers will eventually become beneficiaries as we take solid steps towards building a more international university with higher quality applicants. In the context of globalization, it is our common goal to help as many students as possible to realize their dream to become global citizens.
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