Yesterday was my first day teaching English at a local school. Right off the bat, it was clear that there were some gross miscommunications about what was expected of me and, unsurprisingly, I had to adapt quickly. The desire to provide a high-quality teacher and classroom for their students was clear, but the local teachers lined the hallways unpacking the students’ textbooks and decorating the halls indicated that receiving my training just hours before my first class wasn’t out of the ordinary for anyone. From my Western lens, to expect anything prepared at the last minute to be high-quality, is wishful thinking, but in this East Asian context, that seems to be the standard.
Interestingly, there’s also an undercurrent theme of a phrase roughly translating to “close enough,” that seems to be in response to these pressures. These lofty expectations often are for the sake of face, and so when work is done, “close enough” is a pardon from what shortcomings may occur. So, when my school says, “only English will be spoken here,” but the teacher needs to whisper to the youngest of the children in their native tongue to get them to comply to the English instructions? Well, “close enough.”