Life in a Private Chinese School (Part 2)

“There is indeed a second side to the coin when it comes to how Asian students and Chinese teachers operate in comparison with Americans.”

How and when students are allowed to speak is kept in check by the all-so-common classroom rule, “Raise your hand before you speak.” I don’t know how many teachers consistently follow through with this year-round, but I know it’s plastered on every front wall I pass by. What I also have seen through the doors of the 5th grade classrooms are groups of students who are engaged, bored, daydreaming, drawing, raising hands, answering questions, etc. This is about the same that I’ve noticed while teaching in America. The difference comes when and how students speak. When? When the teacher calls on them or else scolding might occur. This is unless the teacher is a foreign teacher or is a new or young teacher who is not confident. When I say “foreign teacher,” I mean an English teacher who is from a country outside of China. The nice thing is that I haven’t had any behavior problems the three years I’ve taught there.

How can a student speak? It depends on the assignment, just like the US, but what isn’t the same is when a consequence is delivered. The students don’t look at any Chinese teacher they are speaking with. It’s cultural. No eye contact or else it’s considered disrespectful. I’ve guided them in how to converse with foreigners so they have it more often with me. They usually don’t speak up though with my Chinese cohorts unless asked a question, talked to by a young or new teacher who isn’t confident (see a trend here?), or very passionate about the truth they believe. I’ve seen tears from my students, but sometimes change doesn’t follow. I learned that quickly so I’m a step ahead of the game when it happens. I show confidence because it appears to be linked with respect somehow.

Respect and confidence are major factors in the classroom, but so are grades. Recently, a high school Chinese student shared his experiences of studying in America. I would recommend you read about his “challenges, differences, and outcomes.” One of the situations he mentions is how Chinese teachers announce test scores publicly in front of the whole class. Everyone knows everyone’s scores. We can’t do that in America so I don’t do it. There are just some little things I do to introduce the students more to American culture. A few of these implementations (or maybe it’s my personality), I believe, provide my students with time to be vulnerable, share from their hearts, and learn better/faster. Because of this, they have asked me in the past to approach their Homeroom Teacher as a mediator. Why? This is how Asians (at least Chinese & Koreans) are instructed to communicate. If you have a problem, go through someone to approach the other. But hey, some Americans do this too. The motive may be the same, but I’m not quite sure since it may depend on an individual basis.

Remember when I noted in Part 1 that I asked my students for feedback at the end of the last school year? One of the classes had several who wrote that they didn’t appreciate it when I cheered on another 5th grade class in the handball competition. If you didn’t know, Asians can be very…very…competitive. Some aren’t, like America. But these several wanted to let me know what was going on inside of them. I loved their honesty and bluntness. It turns out that I had to cover for a Homeroom Teacher that week. Thus, I was able to “coach” those students, not just high-five them. The ones I talked to regarding this instance were comparing their class to the others. And it doesn’t stop there. Let’s go back to the scores in class. When announced, the students compared quickly and with whispering voices. Anyone else seeing the pattern? It is more obvious now than it was this past year. What a Chinese-English teacher in my office said was absolutely on point. I asked her if she and the other teachers were comparing test scores of their classes because I kept hearing names, scores, classes, and comments spoken in Chinese. “Of course! We’re raised to compare.” No wonder…

So much more makes sense when you hear and take time to process the other side of the coin. It merely takes flipping it to grasp an understanding of the ones you’ve misunderstood. This process happens to be harder than one may think.


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