Kids have been Fooling Me for Years
I’ve been living in Shanghai for four years, and a lot has changed in that time.
I’ve seen developers knock down enormous neighbourhoods and build skyscrapers in mere months, I’ve seen the whole city completely empty during the height of the stay at home orders; And I’ve seen Chinese kids and teenagers do everything they can to try and unnerve their weird and high energy “foreign teacher.”
I work here as a drama teacher, which is a really weird job to have in a country where drama is not a standard subject. Drama is only offered by a few schools, these are usually wealthy, private, or arts-focused ones.
But the schools that do offer drama don’t take it very seriously, and neither do the students.
Drama is not one of the subjects that contributes to the kids eventually getting into university, which is the only goal of every Chinese student, parent, and member of staff working for a school in any capacity.
I seriously think that any parent living here would sell their last piece of clothing if it would get their kids even a marginally improved chance of getting into university.
Teachers that teach “real” subjects can make a killing offering training that directly results in improving key skills. These teachers find their students to be angels who hang on their every word and work their asses off to see results.
But non-essential teachers like me? We see the kids for who they really are, which is stressed out little panickers who study 7 days a week and need someone to take their frustrations out on.
So it seems that one of my unofficial roles as the teacher of their most useless subject has always been their unknowing stress target.
I’ve performed this role for years, but was only made aware of it recently when one of my students filled me in on everything I’d been missing.
Why didn’t I know it was happening? Entirely because I never bothered learning the language.
The Advantage of Ignorance
There’s nothing more exciting to rebellious kids than a teacher who’s unable to understand them while they speak the language that is most comfortable to them.
This exciting advantage can be utilised most efficiently during class breaks.
Students choose a space that is very close to wherever I’m sitting and relaxing, and will then engage in loud and super dirty conversation that if a teacher were to hear and understand would result in them getting into mountains of trouble.
But because I can only understand words that relate to food and the obtaining of food, I never have any idea of what’s happening.
I only know that this is happening from their ‘subtle as a brick’ face expressions as they speak out the naughtiest words they’d never dare to utter in any other context.
Another, less easily pulled off move is nick-naming the teacher with a name that they say is affectionate, but is actually super rude.
Extra satisfaction is derived if they can get the teacher to repeat the name back to them.
Another way of implementing this tactic is during lessons where they’re asked to break into groups and assign themselves group names.
Some kids are smart enough to use English words that sound really similar to Chinese swear words, instead of the actual swear words themselves.
This way, the teacher will feel safe saying the word out loud and has no idea that they’re unwittingly swearing.
(An example is the word ‘shabby.’ So, if you’re a teacher and your students ever want to be called ‘shabby kids’ or ‘we are shabby’ then you have been tricked).
Being a crafty kid is not unique to China, or any country. I was a pretty devious teenager myself, and gave teachers horrible nicknames. I didn’t even have a language to apply in covering it up.
The universal truth is that school is boring and kids are crafty. The secret to getting through it is just to be aware of what’s going on, but shake it off.
Keep perspective of what really matters.. such as making that sweet sweet coin, then using it to buy video games the kids could never hope to play.
Wouldn’t video games be a far more efficient way for them to blow off steam? Kids in Shanghai are never allowed to play games except on public holidays, and I think that’s ridiculous. I think that’s a recipe for a generation of adult-children who play too many games as a way of getting back at their overbearing parents.
Maybe they’ll play until they’re so bored of their environment that they move overseas, and end up teaching kids who speak something other than English or Chinese, for example, German.
Then years later they’ll see those German kids sniggering in a corner and they’ll realise.. oh god.. it’s a cycle.
Who’s going to break the cycle? Will it ever end? We may never know.