With All Due Respect.

Normally I don’t write about teaching because it’s a bland topic. However I do tend to focus on compare/contrast, which is an easy topic to reflect on as a teacher. I’ve taught in several different cultures/countries including Korea, Japan, China, Burma, America and Turkey. I’ve found the contrasting attitude of parents and bosses in Vietnam, when compared to that of most other Asian countries, gaping in its differences.

What I’ve discovered about Vietnam that contrasts so much to the other Eastern cultures I’ve taught in are the duplicity and disrespect the average Vietnamese person directs towards teachers as well as others. Treacherousness seems so prevalent I daresay it’s as valued an aspect of culture here as it is in my own country, America. In fact, in that sense Vietnamese would make great Americans.

One common accusation you hear the Vietnamese toss at each other with seeming pride is “you’re a liar! Ha ha ha!” Although I think this accusation accurately represents every human on the planet, it’s also an accusation the Vietnamese seem to take a lot of pride in.

In the classroom, for example, teacher’s assistants are not assigned to actually assist the teacher. Rather they’re assigned as spies to snitch the teacher out for any minor digressions from the ubiquitously outdated and stone-petrified lesson plans dictated by business owners who know absolutely nothing about teaching or education. One might argue I’m jumping to conclusions. But I’ve been here three years and find this tendency impressively consistent.

It works like this. First the teacher’s assistant tells the manager you’re not teaching grammar and handwriting to the four year olds. Rather, you’re using song, dance and games to teach them how to speak English (methods proven over and over to be the best way for young children to learn). The manager tells you that you must teach the four year olds grammar!  You argue that’s impossible and tell them you have the research to prove it.

He tells you that your qualifications and experience count for nothing. Rather, his or her inexperience and utter ignorance of educational methodology are what count. The children, still not old enough to piss in a toilet, should sit quietly waiting for pen and pencil to write in a language they can’t yet speak. You argue this is ridiculous. The manager tells you to shut up and teach the four year olds to sit still and close their mouths when learning how to speak.

Then the T.A. notices that along with teaching what is in the curriculum, you also teach the children five times more than that. This too is reported to the manager. But not as “wow that teacher is teaching way more. The kids are getting so much.” Rather the T.A. reports, “the teacher isn’t teaching what has been presented to him by the narrow and incredibly limited dictates of the outdated and inaccurate syllabus.”

You explain to the manager that, yes, you’ve taught everything on the syllabus and more. The manager shakes her head and tells you you know nothing about teaching. She will observe your class and teach you how to teach. She observes your thirty minute class for less than five minutes, notices you didn’t mention the word “shirt” in that five minutes and marks where the syllabus says to teach that word. After this, your third remonstrance, you volunteer to show her that the children know the word “shirt,” and then some. But no. It’s too late. She tells you you’re a poor teacher and advises you to use the word “shirt” immediately when it’s on the syllabus for that day.

If the T.A. doesn’t snitch you out, certainly there will be a 75 year old grandma who’s never attended any school ever watching your class for the purpose of complaining about you. Or a child might go home and tell her parents they played a game. Parents complain about that. They want to know why four year olds haven’t yet learned to compose an essay. After all their four year olds have been in class two weeks already. Why don’t their children speak in complete sentences yet?  Again, you might mention they speak more English than Vietnamese, and offer to go to the classroom to show them the vocabulary the children have learned.

But it’s no use. The point is not whether you’re correct. Or successful. Or that children are actually enjoying learning. The point is you’re viewed as slave labor and a slave needs to be kicked down a few pegs no matter how hard he works or how successful he is. This is an deeply ingrained value. Workers must be kept in fear. Vietnamese also seem to believe they know everything about everything. They may not know how to speak English, or understand it, but they sure as shit know how to teach it.

When you talk to expats who work in business or industry or any other field, they point out the exact same screwy attitudes preventing so many foreigners from remaining to invest here. The Vietnamese simply refuse to listen to anyone at all no matter how qualified or experienced. They offer services at ridiculous prices and refuse to negotiate, so that businesses move elsewhere and Vietnam loses opportunity.

Treachery exists in the office as well. Vietnamese who work together snitch one another out to get each other fired, even lie outright, slandering one another to their bosses. Fights occur in the office. Women literally duke it out over losing their jobs. Some expat businessmen say their Vietnamese workers remain with them for years with no pay raise or promotion. Why? Because at least the expat boss won’t cheat them. The Vietnamese boss most certainly will.

Sure, I’m venting. No doubt about it. And no doubt the only other culture I know of to be as treacherous as Vietnamese is my own American culture. But expat opinions on these issues are overall consistent. When it comes to progress the Vietnamese tend to be their own worst enemies. They proudly shoot themselves in the foot. This is something Vietnamese immigrants to the west admit as well.

Look at how quickly the visa laws here change. Overnight. Three times in one week. Prices go up and down like a Himalayan horizon. Policies in the classroom change just as quickly, leaving teachers’ heads spinning. When, at 1:00, the boss dictates a change in objectives and the teachers fail to effectively teach this new objective at 1:15, enough so that the students will pass a test on it the next day, well, the blame sits firmly with the teachers.

While I enjoy living here, roofies and robberies aside, I find myself refusing to teach Vietnamese, instead opting for the non-Vietnamese living here in Vietnam. Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Malaysian. Other teachers, if they’re qualified, leave Vietnam after a year of frustration to go to other countries where they’ll be respected. They leave Vietnam to expats who have no other choice than to tolerate bullying. These are the teachers with no college or high school diplomas.

These teachers can’t teach anywhere else. Vietnam is their only option. They make the lowest amount possible and tolerate bullying because at least they don’t need to go back to school. In the end, this is how the Vietnamese prefer it. I daresay they prefer a high school dropout who can’t teach a damn thing. If their teachers are unqualified then students and managers can make themselves feel powerful by mistreating and belittling them. Qualified teachers might actually teach their Vietnamese students something but the managers and parents won’t get to do what they love best, which is to proliferate ignorance.

Some expats predict this quality may disappear with time. Their insistence on bullying and using outdated and poor techniques will be discarded for more modern techniques. Maybe this is true. But the question is whether that will happen in my lifetime. Anyone who’s lived here for any amount of time realize that it takes the Vietnamese much more time than most Asians to achieve their objectives. For example the Vietnamese have supposedly been building a subways system for years now. Yet there’s not any noticeable subway construction going on that I can see. I’d like to believe that the Vietnamese will grow out of the poor attitudes that prevail at the present. But thus far I’m a bit skeptical.