When parents are neglecting their children’s learning of English, how can they complain about a lack of results and progress?

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“Teacher, my child is not feeling well, we’re not coming to class today!”

“Teacher, my child has another important class this week, we’re not coming to class today!”

“Teacher, I am so busy I cannot take my child to school, we’re not coming to class today!”

“Teacher, I forgot we have class today. It is already too late; we will not come today!”

“Teacher …”

You’d be surprised how often I heard excuses like these, when parent’s decided that their students were not coming to their English classes on any given day. Sometimes the excuses are legit, people do get sick, other plans do get in the way sometimes, but it has become an increasingly bigger problem. I see countless classes where not all the students are present and for varying reasons. But when parents start to not take classes seriously, how can we expect their children, our students, to take the classes seriously? Learning is not magic, it takes hard work, dedication, motivation, attitude and perhaps most important of all, it takes time. But if a student is not willing to take the time, if the parents are not willing to give their children their time, how can we expect them to succeed? The truth is we can’t, but we still do! I used to teach at another private language school in Chongqing called Wawii English (华威英语). It was a good school, it still is, but I do not work there anymore. People work hard, teachers work hard but over the 2½ years I worked there, I noticed a decline in student attendance, even in my own classes. And very often students would be absent from class because of illness or because their parents were too busy, because other classes were more “important”, because of traffic, a talent show, a test or just because they didn’t want to take their students there or the student didn’t want to come. But how do you expect to learn, if you are not willing to take the time to study?

Parents no longer care about English outside of the classroom

This isn’t necessarily true of ALL parents, but it is surely true of many parents. Learning does not only take place inside of the classroom at select times. Learning is a process that gives rewards continuously, but only if you keep practicing what you have learned. Homework is part of that process and as boring as doing homework may be (I have been doing homework for more than 20 years, I know the feeling), it is absolutely necessary. Homework serves two purposes. For one, it helps the students to revisit and practice what they learned in their class, they have a chance to apply that knowledge to a situation and try to solve it on their own, learning as they do it at their own pace. Secondly, handing in the homework means the teacher will grade it, and it doing so, the teacher can see if the student has understood the concepts, their usage and meaning and can decide whether to review the content again or to move on.

But far too many students are not doing their homework. And far too many parents have stopped caring about whether or not their children are doing the English homework that their teachers have assigned. I used to ask my students to have their parent’s sign in their book to see that their children did their homework, and more than half never did. I used to send WeChat messages or QQ messages to my students’ parents to remind them of their students’ homework, and they’d still show up for class without having finished.

There also seems to be a lack of enthusiasm for students and parents to motivate the students to use English outside of the classrooms. Everything in China is done in Chinese. TV Shows are dubbed into Chinese, news is delivered in Chinese and the censorship of foreign websites means that the Chinese people largely rely on all-Chinese sources of information. When Chinese students leave the English classroom, they basically stop speaking or using English because they do not encounter it anywhere else. That is a major problem and a big reason why English seems to be so “difficult to learn”. The only way to learn a language is to keep using it, which is why I never quite learned Spanish and why I have forgotten 80% of my German. If students were allowed to watch English speaking TV shows and movies more often, even if they have Chinese subtitles, their retention would more than double. I had to learn English myself as a child, and while Danish and English are much more similar than Chinese and English, the Chinese students would see a very noticeable increase in retention almost immediately if they started using English outside of their classrooms.

Keeping their students so busy they barely have time to eat

I had a student at my previous school, a VIP student in a one-on-one class. I used to teach him twice a week for about 90 minutes, once during the weekdays and once on Saturday mornings. I think I used to have his classes on Thursday afternoons, and he was so busy, between primary school, my class and the class he had after, that he had no time to eat. He would come running from school, quickly picking up some very unhealthy food from the 24-hour store downstairs only to still be 5 minutes late and having not even started to eat his food. He would usually sit outside of the main entrance but I always told him to just come into the classroom and he could eat there in peace. I figured if we just talked for the first 10 minutes while he finished his food, it was still a kind of teaching. It was not what I was supposed to do, but I felt so bad for him. He’d go to school at 8 in the morning, finish at 3:30, come to my class around 4:20, and then run off to another class maybe not finishing until after 8 o’clock at night. Then he’d go home, and not go to bed until all his homework was done, get up Friday morning and do it all again.

It is bad enough that parents are not letting their students go to their classes, but on top of that, they give them so many other classes to also attend, that they do not even have time to eat a proper meal during the day. How can we expect students to perform well at school when we don’t give them the time to go to their classes and we do not give them breaks to rest and eat?

Parents (and some students) have lost respect for the teachers

Teachers used to be highly respected. Especially so in China. Unlike any place I had ever visited, China seemed to hold teachers to a very high regard, they were very well respected and I saw numerous examples of this in my first couple of years teaching here. Students would bring small gifts even if there was no real occasion, I have had parents asking me out for dinner on several occasions and I have received small letters, and other small tokens of appreciation from students and parents. It was common my first couple of years, but I have seen with my own eyes how the perception of teachers is slowly changing for the worse. I am not saying that teachers should be worshipped, I do not think teachers are any more important than other professions, but teachers have a long history of being very renowned in China and it has been considered a very noble profession for centuries. Until now.

Teachers in training schools seem to have become more or less like glorified caregivers. This sounds harsher than I intend or it to be, but the way I see parents and grandparents dropping of their kids sometimes up to an hour before their class starts, they expect their teacher to come and talk and play and take care of their child. What the parents do not often seem to understand is that if we are not teaching, it is because we have a break. And if we have a break it is likely because we have been teaching for the past 2-3 hours straight, without as much as having a chance to go to the bathroom. I do not at all mind spending time with my students before and after class, but considerations have to be made for the sake of the teacher. I do not think parents always fully realise how busy teachers are (although they always say “I know you’re very busy”), but in reality, we do not always have the time, or the energy to play with a 4-year-old for 30 minutes before we even have our class. We also need to rest, to eat and clear our minds, just like your children do after several hours of being at school.

Parents have also lost so much respect, that common courtesy is sometimes being left out. When I grew up, I learned that if you have an appointment, or a class and you are not coming, the first thing you do is you let the other people know that you are not coming. In this case, when students are not coming for class, 8 times out of 10, we do not know until 10 minutes after the class has started and we are calling the students ourselves. Even if it is 5 minutes before the class starts, all it takes is a simple phone call, a text message or a WeChat message to say that you, or your child, is not coming to class.

And when a student is performing badly in class, or misbehaving, it is now also mostly the teachers fault, not the fault of the child. Children will be children, right? Kids do what kids do! They have to be allowed to run around and be mean, fight, throw things around, pull the teachers hair, erase everything the teachers is writing and touch everything all the time. Because that is what children do. When are we going to stop letting children get away with these things just because they are children? When does it become a matter of raising them properly, for them to have proper social skills and manners? I remember when I was a student in primary school, if I did badly in class it was most likely because I was not paying attention. We never blamed the teacher for me not understanding, it was my own doing. Lessons are not always fun, the teacher is not always happy, that doesn’t mean you cannot learn. But you need to focus, be quiet and pay attention, otherwise it doesn’t matter how well the teacher has prepared. If you’re not listening, you’re not learning.

I know so many excellent teachers, foreign and Chinese who put so much work into planning every aspect of their classes to perfection. Games, activities, interesting content, cross-curricular content, interactive presentations, videos and music. It’s all there. These teachers have excellent teaching skills, they present their content in a clear and efficient manner, and yet their students are playing on their phones, pulling each other hair and talking louder than the teacher, and yet we blame the teacher for the student’s bad performance?

Lastly, parents have too much of a say in what happens in the classroom. I kind of have the opinion that the classroom is sacred. And when class has begun, the teacher is the “Lord Commander” of that room. I do not allow parents in my classroom when I am teaching, unless there is a good reason. They disrupt, disturb and they take away the focus of the students. Also students are shy around their parents and they won’t respond much with them sitting in the background watching everything they do. Parents should trust that the teachers know what they are doing, they are paid to do this job for a reason, because they are good at it.

I welcome advice and suggestion, from co-workers as well as students and their parents. I welcome it so much, that I often ask for it directly. However, when I have a class of six students, and I have six sets of parents all saying “I want you to pay MORE attention to MY child!” If you want your child to get VIP treatment, you should sign up for a VIP class. When your child is in a group class, I will teach to all of the students, and it is my job and responsibility to tailor the lesson to fit their level, ALL their levels.

If you’d like me to teach more songs and more stories, tell me and I will see if I can find an efficient way to work it into the school’s approved curriculum. If you have a good reason for your suggestion, by all means share. But please, do not come and tell me that your student just “wants to have fun” and we should just “play more games”. Learning happens through games, yes, but not until you learn HOW to PLAY the game in the first place.

Learning takes time, attitude, motivation, hard work and dedication. I mentioned this before, but it also takes trust. The students have to trust the teachers, and so do the parents. There is a relationship going on, like a chair that has three legs. Teacher, student, parent. Teachers need to teach the students and keep in touch the parents so they can communicate about progress and about classes and when students are not coming. Parents have to communicate efficiently with the teachers, sharing as much information about the students as possible and they should help the students’ progress in their classes by keeping an eye on their homework and helping them, motivating them to do better without putting too much pressure on them. Finally, the students should follow their teacher’s instructions and provide feedback, but they also need to listen to, and communicate with their parents so the parents can let the teachers know how they are doing. A stool with three legs. If you take away one, it will topple over and that is when learning stops.