Chinese is a difficult language and can take years to get to a basic level in a non-immersion setting. My DS 12 started taking Mandarin in 3rd grade and only now in 7th is he able to have actual conversations in full sentences and read characters (and DS is quite able in languages... this is his 3rd.... second being Spanish which he learned in an immersion school.) There was always a lot of cultural study as part of his Chinese curriculum and DS found it helpful and enjoyable. The first few years (though in elementary, they only went twice a week) the goal was vocabulary acquisition and learning the tonal properties. They didn't start really putting it together until 6th grade and there were always worksheets in the mix. That's not to say your DS's teacher is great... only the possibility that your DS's expectations for language acquisition might not be in line with the norm for the language.
As a parent whose done a lot of advocating for her kids over the years, I'll tell you that timing is everything. The prior email about the teacher, remarking on the school's lack of communication in public and then wanting to further discuss the Mandarin issue afterwards was never going to go well. Add to that, middle schoolers are tough. I don't doubt your son is being truthful in this situation, only keep in mind that middle school IS an age where kids, in general, complain a good deal and can be unfair about who gets blamed for their woes. Like I said, I'm not saying this is the case for YOUR child, only that middle school administrators and teachers have some valid reasons to take student complaints with a grain of salt. It may take several families coming forward about his Chinese class to make changes. Put your feelers out not only kids in THIS class but find out how kids the 8th graders are doing in regards to ability. Stay positive. Schedule meetings instead of trying to catch them before and after things. Have your DS take some responsibility for talking to his teacher. Maybe he should share his frustration that he's not acquiring the language as fast as he thought.
Spanish is a great alternative, faster to learn and certainly useful. I suspect you could get your DS up to speed with a tutor over summer... a college/high school kid or fluent neighbor who can start him on the basics a couple times a week. This year's 6th graders will not have gotten far.
As a parent whose done a lot of advocating for her kids over the years, I'll tell you that timing is everything. The prior email about the teacher, remarking on the school's lack of communication in public and then wanting to further discuss the Mandarin issue afterwards was never going to go well.
I agree that it is helpful to learn how to be tactful and positive in communications with the school. Administrators hear from a lot of parents and often in a complaining style of expression. Everyone wants what is best for their children. If I had acted on every complaint my children voiced in middle school and high school, I would be a major pain to the principal at our school. I have tried to pick my issues carefully and only go to bat for the most grievous issues. I also take the perspective that children can learn something from every situation. So how do you handle a teacher like this? Come up with ideas together. Figure out how to stimulate learning of Chinese on his own if the desire is strong. The class will not necessarily do any harm to him. If it is not ideal (as much in public education is not) how can he supplement?
Thanks for the thoughtful replies. This is the only time in 17 years of my children's schooling that I have come to the principal with an issue and she did agree to speak with me after the PTA meeting. My husband talked to a former co-worker of his who's son happens to be in the same class (he is in 7th grade and it is a combined 6th/7th grade class), and she had some of the same concerns about the quality of the teaching, and this co-worker lived in China for 8 years, so she obviously can judge that better than we can. We are not quite sure what we want to do from here.