So I teach English at a high-school in Zhongwei, Ning Xia, China. I lived in Shanghai as a kid (expat family) so Ive seen all the big cities and all the tourist spots. So I jumped at the chance to move somewhere off the beaten track. Zhongwei is an ancient city, its history goes back to the Tang dynasty and was founded on the old Silk Road and more recently has had some serious development because of the mineral wealth of the surrounding lands.
Anyway you aren’t here for a history lesson. So Ive been teaching here for just under a year now. I teach Gao 2 (final year before uni). One thing I’m not used to is the huge classes. The biggest is 92 students cramped into a room that barely fits 60 (“normal class size”). The fucked up thing is they separate them into classes based on their skill level. Basically the brightest ones get a small class of 44, then we have the middle of the road classes, kids move around these every semester, going up or down based on their performance but with 4 classes of around 60 students each they are all pretty much the same. Then you have the low class of 92 of the “stupids” as the head master calls them behind their back. When ever a kid gets moved from to or from of the top or bottom classes they make a big deal of it in assembly in front of the whole school (upwards of 1000 students). Its fucking heart breaking to see the kids faces when they get moved in to the lower class, no one stops the stadium full of their peers from laughing and talking while the headmaster reads out their report card in front of them all, the teachers join in. OFC everyone claps when a kid gets moved up. In the time I’ve been here we have had 8 suicides. Most of them were just faceless. Chinese schools are not great at developing individuality. One kid in the high class stayed in my mind. Really bright, really hard worker and that is a whole different ballgame in China. He had asked me for some extra English lessons weeks before it happened. He had always been the best of the best and he was becoming just one of the best. I wish now that I had said yes but at the time I was just to busy (still am but now I’m teaching extra classes in my lunch breaks) and so was he. All the students are fucking hard workers and TBH the difference between the top and the bottom classes is absolutely nothing.
Anyway, after 6 months I had started getting to know one or two of the kids by face if not by name. When you teach more than 600 kids a week it can be hard. There was one kid that really got to me. I was diagnosed as Dyspraxic when I was young (you can thank spellcheck that this is legible) so when I saw the signs in a kid in the bottom class I was fairly sure I could help. I took it to the head of English (my boss) and he didn’t quite understand. I told him about the problems the kid was having and suggested some stuff that helped me in the past. He just brushed it off saying the kid was just dumb so I went online and found some literature on the subject to show him. He looked very concerned after reading the translation I wrote and just responded that “We can notice him” (his english is atrocious). So, happy that I did a good thing, I went back to preparing lessons. I looked for the kid in class next time I had them, hoping to see him with a laptop (the school just bought a bunch of laptops for the teachers and we had hundreds lying about) but I didn’t see him. Next week was the same. I went back to my boss and asked him about the child. He told me that the kid had been moved. I assumed he meant to a special school.
Life went back to normal, I had a spring in my step at helping overcome a students difficulties (that I lost 2 months later when a kid in the bottom class killed herself by throwing herself off the top of one of the school buildings). The worst thing was that I could not remember her face or anything about her, students here spend most of their time head in books. One of the girls friends had taken the loss about as hard as anyone would take the practically ignored suicide of a classmate, so I tried to talk to her but got nothing. I talked to her friends but all I could gather was that her parents moved often for business so she lived at school. Her grades were slipping badly, she was disrupting class and I think she was getting drunk before school (not uncommon among the older students and teachers). I went to my boss to bring it up, she lived on campus so if she was getting drunk it was certain other kids were as well. I told him that I thought the kid needed help and he responded that he would look into it. I looked out for her in class the next week but didn’t see her. I went back to my boss and asked him if everything was alright. I’ll never forget what he said next “she has been dealt with”. That was all he would or could give me. At first I wasn’t sure what he meant and I’m not even sure he was. There were no other schools for miles, some of our kids had a 3 hour drive into school. We were the end, we occasionally took in “troublesome” kids from the high-school in the main town but the only way kids left our school is if their parents moved away.
In china the students stay in their classroom and the teachers come to them so I never took register or even counted them as it would take most of the lesson. After then I made a point of trying to remember each of the kids I taught. I never had to do any marking; that was handled by other teachers, so I never had a good idea of who was in my classes (I was the only person in the city who had ever spoken english outside of the classroom so my time was precious to the school). In classes of that size we would always have sick kids or kids who were absent but looking at the lowest class of students I recalled the first few months with them, cramped into a freezing room with 2 or 3 kids to a desk. I looked at the class, all staring at me intently and noticed something I hadn’t before. Several of the desks were one to a child. This was the norm for most of my classes where there was enough desks for each child but the bottom class had always been so crowded. I was teaching the passed tense to that group for the umpteenth time when I decided to do a headcount. 75. 75 students. Down from the 92 I had at the start of the year. We had had 2 suicides in that class and 7 had moved up but 92 to 75 was strange. The school had just recovered from flu season so I put it down to that. I continued my headcount for each class. The top group had gone up by 5 since the start of the year. The troubled kid in their group still was with us at that point and we had only had 2 students move down, both of which I can happily say are settled into their new class and doing better without the pressure. That brought us to a total of 47. I confirmed the number with a headcount. The top group didn’t take many sick days. I kept a log of each class and how many students in each. The middle group had lost some students to moving up or down to the “special” groups. But each class was more or less the same as when they had began. The only difference was in the bottom group. I asked off hand to the head master what happened if we needed to expel someone (we never did, you cant imagine how tame kids are here). We were literally the only school around so we couldn’t. We got other schools undesirables.
Schools in China get funded based on how many students they have but more importantly, how well they do at their end of year exams. We were the run off school for the province yet we had one of the best pass rates. One of the main reasons I took the job was because of the great pay, better than anywhere else in the province. Well I have kept up the head counts for the bottom class (everyone else’s stayed the same). We are going into exam time now and even though we have had 8 new students join us we are down to 67. I ask the other teachers but they just say the students moved if they reply with anything at all. Ive been to the police here, but they do nothing. Sitting here in my office, looking out across the mountainous reaches I think I may have solved it. Every day at 5am truckloads of people go out to work in the mines that make this little town so wealthy. At 8pm they come back. After counting the kids in the class of “stupids” I cant bring myself to count the trucks for fear of seeing a familiar face.
I understand, that is why we must let the clown fucker extraordinaire be free and fuck to its content far, far away from us and our clowns. It is not just for our safety, but for the safety of the remaining innocent clowns.