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Dealing with Chinese Parents in Chinese Language Schools

If you work in a private language centre which teaches young learners and teens like EF Education First, Aston English, Sesame Street, American Eagle, etc, then you will be regularly coming into contact with Chinese parents.

"Oh, for f*ck's sake, really??! They're staring through my window....AGAIN!!

Can't I just teach without feeling like I'm in a goldfish bowl??!!"

Lose the Us vs Them Attitude

You MUST NOT have an Us vs Them attitude, and if you do, then knock it off!

It can be very easy to slip into an Us vs Them mindset, especially for foreign teachers in language schools.

However, thinking like this should be avoided at all costs and there are a number of very good reasons why. Here I'll look at some reasons why misconceptions occur and, later, steps you can make to make the parents being there work for you.

If you are having trouble with Chinese parents, then take 3 minutes to read on!

#1 - Cultural differences


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Eastern and Western differences...not just a cliche

Yes, that old cliche. We've heard it all before 'the Chinese are different to westerners'. Well, the fact is, they are.

You must have been in the street and there are a crowd of people standing in a circle watching two cars that have just nudged into one another in the road. Passersby will see that a group has formed and wonder on over to join and stare at what everyone else is staring at. The two drivers arguing with each other don't seem to mind that a large group is staring.

In the west, a) we wouldn't stop and stare, and b) we'd tell people where to go if they were watching!

What I'm getting at is that it is a cultural norm here to stop and watch things of interest going on. No one around thinks you are being nosey whatsoever. If a Chinese parent is bored waiting in the corridor of a school, where else do you expect them to look? At the wall?! Obviously, the point of interest is going to be their child's class, and so this is why you get faces at the window...

Parents are not 'checking you out' or 'grading your teaching'. Once you get your head around that it is normal here to stare, and that parents are just showing a natural interest in their children, then you probably won't get so worked up by it.


#2 - Being a Parent

Put yourself in the parents' shoes.

As a parent, it is very natural to want to understand the processes going on at the school, how your child is getting on with the syllabus and the other kids in the class. Are they struggling? Is the class too easy for them? There are a million and one questions a good parent could (and should) have.

I'm a parent myself (I have a 11 year-old son going to Primary School in China) and I always have questions to ask the teachers in his school. The problem is that sometimes it can seem overwhelming because of the sheer numbers of parents waiting after each of your classes. But if you stop and think about it, wouldn't you be asking questions if you had a child in a school yourself?

If you had a child in a class in England, Canada or the US, and the teacher 'did a runner' each time you wanted a quick chat, you'd be pretty frustrated about that, right? It is exactly the same here. 

Make yourself available for parents, they need you.


#3 - Sending a child to a language school in China is expensive

Sending a child to a language school isn't cheap. You may be thinking 'that's not my problem, I teach English, the money thing is someone else's problem'. This is where you are wrong.

At the end of the day, without paying customers, WE don't have a job.

Trying our best to involve parents, give great classes, educate well and give a good customer experience is EVERYBODY'S responsibility. Showing an interest in the business is an important step into growing the school and if you want to become academic management within schools and make yourself invaluable to the school.

So, we have established the why parents seem to ask questions and be around the school all the time. Let's now look at how building a good teacher-parent relationship can work for you.

The benefits of building better relationships with Chinese parents.

Taking aside that this is something we should be offering parents as a good service anyway, let's look at how it can make your job better.

#1 - Making your students feel happy and motivated

"John, my naughty 9 year-old is sooo disruptive!" You may be saying this as you get back to the teachers' office.

Have you ever considered the effect of praising any of his good effort's with his parents in front of him (no matter how small his good efforts were)? John is probably used to being the naughtiest in the class in all his classes and all his teachers shouting at him. If you were to ask him to speak to his parents after class and said to his parents (through your Teaching Assistant if you need to), "Hey, are you John's parents? He was great today at reading", I promise you the effect on John's motivation, behaviour and liking towards you would be considerable. Positive reinforcement through parents is very effective.

Next week, any students you spoke about with their parents in a positive way will feel much better about coming to class, behave better, be more swicthed on and this will have an amazing effect on your class overall.


#2 - Student retention

As we mentioned before, teachers should have a big interest in the school growing academically and as a healthy business. Students re-signing for another course (and not going to other rival schools in the city is crucial), and this is where student retention is so important.

A teacher which takes 5-10 minutes after class to speak to parents and answer parent concerns will always have higher retention figures of students than other teachers. Many schools have bonuses for teachers who score high retention figures, so go for this! Even if your school doesn't have a bonus scheme, it will still get noticed by the management.


#3 - Easier presentation classes

At the end of the course, many schools have an 'open door' class where parents can watch and throw questions to you at the end.

I've heard of teachers who have been completely demolished by annoyed parents with prickly questions. It comes as no surprise that these teachers were the same ones who pushed their way through parents, holding their CD player, books and lesson plan, with not so much as a glance at the parents back to the staff room as quickly as possible!

If they had spent a few minutes talking to parents, addressing concerns and building friendships with the parents, then that horrible outcome would never had occurred.


#4 - Networking with parents

Parents who put their children into expensive language schools often have good government jobs, have a high standing in the community, or have management roles in private companies. Often they are business owners.

By speaking to parents, you may find that you might get invited to a private family dinner with some parents, be invited to a good event on your day off, a round of golf, a movie, a trip away, whatever. All of these opportunities are not only fun and pleasant, but could present some wonderful chances for you here in China. You can make some real and very meaningful friendships with some of your student's parents.


So what is the outcome?

You only have benefits from speaking more with Chinese parents

The outcome is that if you are one of those ones who push through parents as quickly as possible and have the Us vs Them mindset, then you are making a big mistake.

Embrace the opportunity to speak to parents. Take the time to speak to the parents, help them to understand you as a teacher!

After a few weeks, you'll feel an important part of your student's week and the parents will be all smiles when they see you. Your classes will improve and your standing in the school will improve. Don't be shy, make the effort to engage and speak to the parents from tonight onwards. You'll never look back!

by Stuart Allen  TEFL Lemon

by Stuart Allen

TEFL Lemon