Life in a Private Chinese School (Part 1)

If you could write a book, what would it be about and why?

I’ve contemplated this over the years, as if I’m a writer, and I’ve finally come to a conclusion. Though my mind has changed every so often, I have concluded that after teaching English in China for 3 years, one of the topics I would like to let the world know about is what Asian students go through while attending a private Chinese school. The things my students have told me have shocked me so much that I’ve felt prompted to speak with teachers and admin at our school as well as some parents (though I can only relate to them so much until late Sept when our firstborn arrives). As I like to exhaustively reiterate, the following is not to place any Asians in a hot seat or bad light. It is to give the misunderstood, the young and upcoming generation in the East, a frame to paint a picture of their hearts.

It’s eight o’clock in the morning. The sound outside is not that of birds chirping. It’s a cat screeching at the top of its lungs to be set free of the chain that’s bound it to the local car wash. Don’t worry. We foreigners would find this strange whereas a national would go on about his or her day. This cry is followed by buses transporting hundreds of K-12 students to our school. As they flow through the front doors and to their classes, the students must greet their teachers as a sign of respect and courtesy. Either a kind, warming response or a chilling silence follows. I would say that these acknowledgments have been changing as of recently based on the Chinese teachers’ age, personality and belief. Are they traditional? Are they young and seeking respect from youth who question those “close to their age”? It just depends. Each case varies while the big idea does not. I deserve respect.

In American education it has been coined, “Don’t smile until Christmas.” That is since a teacher would possibly want the students to respect, learn to submit to authority and familiarize themselves with the distance that comes in their relationship (at least at first). The space between a student and a Chinese teacher, on the other hand, stays more detached for the most part even if teachers do stay with their students for three years from 1st-3rd or 4th-6th grade. Have no fear! There are classes dedicated to character building for the students since our school has a holistic education approach. Times for bonding also come with field trips to different parks once a semester. Both countries have their approaches, but sometimes it comes down to the teacher’s philosophy. The main hope of a student at our school would be to have a respecting, open and willing to learn teacher because three years can be a very…long…time.

There it is again. That word. Respect. Toward the end of last year, I took time to speak with most of my students individually about ways that I could improve as a teacher and in the way class was done. One of the key issues I wanted to discuss was why several students out of the total 54 had written comments about not liking Mr. Scott angry. This is because I rarely get angry, and I hadn’t needed to seriously reprimand a student the whole year. But instead of seeking students’ reasons for why they had jotted that down, I went a different route. When questioning them on anger in the classroom, I asked about ways that a teacher could express frustration. A step further included desiring to know how students really and truly want teachers to correct them when strongly displeased. Thankfully my wonderful students answered with honest, sweet responses. They want teachers to give them nonverbal corrections, “speak in a normal voice,” and not hit them. All things I do and firmly agree with. Yay! Lastly came the bomb. “Do you think when a teacher hits or yells at you that you are respected?” The answer 100% of the time was NO.

These questions came from concerns that had risen inside of me throughout the course of the year. I saw and literally heard students being shamed publicly in front of others whether it was students or teachers present. I did notice that it was less intense when I was present though a couple teachers became more open the more I observed their interactions. Before we jump to too many conclusions, let’s turn the table…

Another side of the spectrum comes with students in America behaving the way they do. Let me start by saying that I have had some awesome students on fire for studying and becoming a better person. The other side has been shown when those who didn’t care at all showed up and let me know it. Was I offended? Not at all. Love first, teach second is what I was told to do. In America, students could tell off a teacher and get suspended. Children in China wouldn’t dare do that unless they had a spoiling set of parents or grandparents. In fact, a couple students I know run the ship at home and consequently fell behind at school. But to be honest, out of these two scenarios, more shock came when teaching in America last year.

There is indeed a second side to the coin when it comes to how Asian students and Chinese teachers operate in comparison with Americans. This is what has been on my heart the past few weeks, and it is only a part of the picture.

To be continued…


5 thoughts on “Life in a Private Chinese School (Part 1)

  1. Nice insights, having taught in Taiwan for five years, I see a lot of things that I can really relate to.,Would you be interested doing an interview with me for my blog about your experience living in China and the challenges you’ve faced linguistically and otherwise? I think it’d be cool for my readers to hear your perspective!

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