I’m Charles Abelmann, an educator who has worked in international development and as a leader of public and private schools. I am currently directing and producing films, as well as executive coaching. My approach to filmmaking is influenced by my experiences from education research, policy and practice. I am very excited by this career pivot and finding a new way to honor narratives to influence reflection, learning and action.
In 2020, there were over 100,000 Americans teaching English to millions of Chinese students online. With billions of dollars in venture capital funding, the English as a Foreign Language (EFL) industry was poised to become the largest sector in the ed tech space. In 2021, with US-China tensions rising, the industry collapsed overnight with the announcement of a new policy restricting for-profit education in China. English Hustle follows teachers in the USA, and the Philippines, living through this rollercoaster. My film also offers insights from experts on Chinese history, politics and foreign affairs. English Hustle explores important issues related to cultural connections and global citizenship by looking at the life of these gig teacher workers and the connections they formed with their Chinese students.
I began my research because I was fascinated by the size of the online teaching industry and how many new teachers were connecting to Chinese students from all over the world through many different Chinese based companies. I was aware of the tensions in US-China relations and yet there was this industry with millions of Chinese students connecting to foreign teachers and forming meaningful relationships. I wanted to explore the life of teachers, the industry, and the impact on students and families. I believe it is important to document and share what happened to the teaching of English in China, in a historical context.
I invite you to watch the trailer and learn more about the film: