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.


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…

Open and Willing

This year at our school, we have 12 Foreign Teachers (FTs) who come from countries such as the United States, Canada, and the Philippines. That isn’t what stands out the most in my mind. There are several quality reasons why the FT Team is so unique and great to work with. One thing is that everybody has lived in Asia at some point in his or her life. In those times, we have had the experiences commonly described as mountaintops and deep valleys. We as foreigners have taken notice of and have thought through the surroundings and what people within that particular Asian culture did and said, even if it was observing the fact that a lot of people stare at you. (Side note: This can be a hurdle for some, and it can be even more frustrating when returning to one’s home country and nobody is giving you a second’s glance.)

What I love most about the team is the experiences and backgrounds that each of us has and are willing to bring to the table. Not just are we willing to share, we are willing to listen. That’s why we have two ears and one mouth, right? We need to listen twice as much as we talk. I have seen and taken part in these blessed conversations many times already in just the first 3-4 weeks of work. I absolutely love direct, intense, serious questions/discussions that hit on the meaning of life and how to love our co-workers, students, and community the best we can with a changed heart. The best and worst thing about the team this year is that we ask those questions and seek the answers together. Best and worst? Yes, because it’s beautiful, yet horrifying, trying to mature with others holding you accountable personally and professionally. Just ask my parents.

I know… I know… there will be bumps in the roads whether it is differences, frustrations, or whatever may have you. A uniqueness of the current team is how the ones in the midst deal with it. I have personally learned that if it’s on your own that you deal with situations, good luck because failure is inevitable and more repeatable when not being willing to surrender your self to others. The thing is though that there are times when I can really see, feel, and experience the distinctions of those around me. This is the team that I want to be a part of. This is the team that is truly rare.

By the way, I just might be trying to define the Chinese Dream in my spare time.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival (later this week) to you all!

Some Mighty Work

The two years beforehand were spent in a land much different than the customary ways of which I was used to. The people stared, taxis honked, and the owners in the markets either liked you or gave you an unfamiliar eye. Two months previous to flying over to Asia, I had gotten married. We went from one honeymoon to the next, as the present culture in this new area had the way of a short-term trip to it. Everything was seen with fresh eyes, and the culture and its people were perfect.This didn’t last long, as I’m sure you are supposing.

A little over halfway through my second year, I felt a tug in my heart. A national asked me, “Daniel, what is your true passion? And don’t lie to us either.” Firstly, I was shocked that a national asked such a blunt question, but I was also joyful at the fact that she did this. Next came my honest answer. “Well, my true passion is working with children with special needs. You know, the people on the sidewalk here that are asking for food. Those are the people I want to be with. I love teaching English and being here, but I would rather do that.” This was what prompted me to return to the US in 2012. So we returned and both attained teaching jobs at a high school I knew well and was impressed with.

Though it was my third year of teaching, it was my first year in America. It was much different from the Asian education system I had been becoming acquainted with. It was a transition, to say the least. My wife and I had returned to America so that I could learn the ins and outs about special education. What I learned is that this means taking on a caseload of 25-30 students, team-teaching, and instructing students ranging from mild to moderate disabilities in the same room. Through the laughs and heartaches that have come through this year, my heart has been called to an area that is familiar. Not even halfway through this 2012-2013 school year, more and more reflections on the two years in Asia started happening. Many things began to make sense, and a lot of my pride and selfishness surfaced. A great majority of the reasons we had come back were personal reasons that could have been changed if we had taken them to Father and relied on the HS to guide us. Therefore, we contacted the same school in Asia. We wanted to work there again, if we could, but this time the reasons were different. We weren’t just walking through an open door like before, we were now being beckoned to come through the door and serve.

That is why this August, my wife and I will be returning to Asia to teach English. Father has confirmed this mission through our prayers, times in His word, and counsel from others. It just so happens though that it took a year back in the US for Him to do some mighty work in our hardened hearts.