China has made me feel anything but “big,” it’s respectfully made me feel very small, which I’ve come to very much appreciate. China, a world leading power, is progressing faster than ever in its education system. It’s taking on new ideas with different approaches, shaping educators to be energetic and work together effectively. Change is a long and ongoing process, but it hasn’t stopped China from taking it on full force. I am only a second year ESL teacher and a first year ESL teacher in China. I’m not an education expert, nor a child development specialist, nor am I versed beyond my own brief experience with China’s education system. With some research, observation, and a better understanding of my surroundings, however, I have really found Chinese students and the education system here to be fascinating. Are younger generations of Chinese students growing in a more nontraditional and even undisciplined way? Are they adapting a more Western, independent way of thinking? I posed these questions to myself during my first year of teaching and have made three key observations about working inside the public school system here in Shenzhen. With that being said, I only work at one school in a small part of a gigantic city in an enormous country, so please take what I am reflecting on with these realities in mind in this 3 part series.
Inside Looking Out: Teacher Development and a Commitment to Classroom Collaboration
China’s Education System is the largest in the world….and I can’t believe that I have the opportunity to be a part of such a grand system where teachers are highly trained and respected. The future of China’s Education System will only continue to grow and improve. In an article posted by China Education Center Ltd, they explain the growing standards for teachers in China noting, “China has a consistent teacher development system. Teaching has historically been and remains today a highly respected profession in China. Teachers have strong preparation in their subject matter and prospective teachers spend a great deal of time observing the classrooms of experienced teachers, often in schools attached to their universities. Once teachers are employed in school, there is a system of induction and continuous professional development in which groups of teachers work together with master teachers on lesson plans and improvement.”
My Chinese counterparts have graciously and whole-heartedly included me in this holistic learning process of shared learning. I have witnessed this firsthand, as well as been a part of, teacher trainings weekly and attended conferences to improve the ESL development. I listened to my fellow Chinese colleagues, as well as joined in on, the conversation about Western culture, whether it was about food, family, holidays, or the education system. I was so impressed by how much all of my Chinese colleagues who taught English wanted to work together. I shared my experiences with them and had some of the best and most interesting conversations. It felt as though they were genuinely interested in where I came from and wanted to learn from me. I was taken aback by this when a teacher first came up to me asking me for advice. “Me?!,” I thought. I wasn’t sure I understood.
I was shocked that they wanted to learn from me, how they wanted to really work together and enhance the learning environment of the classroom even more. A few other English teachers and I have collaborated ideas to help design lesson plans that have made an even better fit into my classroom environment. We are striving to get our classrooms to work together cohesively by building a healthy relationship amongst each other. The other teachers and I discuss what classroom management tactics work and others that don’t, as well as what students excel at versus struggle with in certain areas.
In my department at school, our classes are comparatively autonomous. We get to create our own lessons and utilize our own methods, unlike anything the Chinese teachers have ever done in their classrooms. My classroom experiences here, including my observations of other classrooms and teachers, has led me to feel that classroom size is a major impediment to creativity. Chinese schools are slammed packed all day with class sizes numbering in the +50s, and at my school, each period is only 40 minutes. It can easily feel like an unrelenting assembly line, where building a connection with individual students becomes difficult, to say the least. Teachers are changing lessons, however, and trying to make each class more effective. Teachers are attending meetings, speeches, and workshops weekly to master these tasks even more. Working together and creating more involvement within the classroom as a whole can make this overwhelming class size seem very doable.
I have worked and gotten to know some of the most amazing Chinese teachers, and they are very happy and motivational to be around. They raise the standard for “hard working.” There are the everyday frustrations, of course, with the pace of our jobs, with students, lesson plans, workload, and the many misunderstandings that can arise in any job, but in general, these teachers carry out their challenging tasks with unbelievable resolve and effort. I admire them and hope to continue to work as hard as them