He is Special Needs

When first arriving in China to teach EFL, the first year and a half was quite the ride. It was during the Chinese New Year of 2012 that I realized where my heart lies. Children with special needs and the time I spend with them does something very rarely other acts can do for me. It gives me unspeakable peace and joy. Therefore, when I was asked by a Chinese colleague what my passion was, I told her I’d like to be with the children sitting on the side of the road here. Provide food for them. Show them they have purpose. Guide them in truth and love. One experience left an impression on me. I was blessed to visit a school only for children hard of hearing or with developmental disabilities (see below).

I had one particular student in my 3rd grade class who other students looked down upon and didn’t regard any of her comments and actions with respect. I took time with her in class and outside of it, even if English was her L2. It was with these thoughts in mind that my wife and I returned to America for the 2012-2013 school year.

handing out gift bags our school put together

The year back in the US was very informative and helpful. I ended up having a caseload of 25 students who had mild disabilities, and I enjoyed growing with them very much. While working as a Special Services teacher, I learned quite a bit about differentiation, how to advocate, and little ways to make change. All of these qualities are vital for any teacher, but when we moved back to China in 2013, I had no idea how much had changed with the school, particularly in its struggle with some students. The student I had before had improved greatly, and she is now allowed by her peers to be more involved in academic events. The athletic ones still not so much. I have a few students currently in 2nd and 5th grade who require more support in their individual ways, and I love that my classes have these needs.

On the rise as of lately is one boy I’ll call Jay. He possibly has no special need, and I say “possibly” because I haven’t observed him. His mother was told by the school she has to come and observe him daily. I say “no special need” because of my collaboration with other special education teachers via Twitter, email, blogs, etc. The reason why Jay may have a “special need”? He’s different from the other 99% of the school. That indeed is an overstatement, but you get the picture. Jay is in an education system which heavily relies on culture and tradition. Students are demanded to sit up straight, fix mistakes in any subject (Chinese, Math, English) by the tens and at times hundreds, not touch their pencils while teachers are talking, look down and grunt in agreement with whatever the teacher or admin say, and pass standardized tests that are one size fits all. I know, I know…students looking down and agreeing with authority is cultural. But what if culture and tradition don’t know much about children with special needs? Our Chinese elementary principal has told me thrice she doesn’t trust doctors who say our students have “sensory issues” or “no problem at all.”

Now our school leaders don’t know what to do. Thus they’ve decided to weed these students out before accepting them. Say what?! I know, I thought the same. Because of “not having the resources or the team,” future 1st graders have to attend a few subjects on a Saturday in a classroom setting to see how they do. From there, the admin and teachers observe to see from their perspective who may have a “special need” and can’t fit our bill.

people fear
This breaks my heart, but I understand why the school has done this. There are a myriad of reasons that would take more posts to delve into, but again, it breaks my heart. These students, children…are misunderstood. How would you feel? What would you do in my situation? Comments from teachers and parents alike would be great! I’m all ears.


Color Day in Qingdao

Yesterday was our school’s Color Day, and let me just be frank. I really really enjoy spending this kind of time with the students. The interactions they have with each other and the staff are priceless because they are quite different from the daily norm and grind of the semester.

I had two classes in the morning that went well, and I saw several students who really put effort into their color costume, face paint or whatever it would take to show the pride they have in their color. As I mentioned briefly on Instagram before, our school has this day where five colors represent certain values that we hold dear as a body. The colors are as follows:

Red: 精 (Excellence)

The young ones on the Red Team line up to move locations.
Time outside together while the colors walk across the stage.

Blue: 德 (Virtuous) – I just realized I have no Blue pics. Yikes…

Orange: 智 (Wisdom)

The Orange Team represent!

Yellow: 爱 (Love)

On my way to hang out with the yellow students…
The Yellow Team showing off. 😀

Green: 新 (Modern)

The Green Team! No Hulk this year… :\

Classes were normal in the morning, but after lunch the activities set in. From 1:30 – 2:15pm, the groups split into their colors and did team-building games at various locations on the campus. I took this time to just walk around, admire and take in the connections and memories being made among the collection of grades 1-12. The high school students came up the ideas for the activities and had to lead each group. The younger ones followed through and did their best to reach the goals.

I saw leadership, teamwork, laughs, focus, intensity, teachers, students, staff and excitement build as the time flew by. That’s what happens when you have fun, right?

The Best Dressed!

And when 2:30pm rolled around, it came time for the first round of “Best Dressed” of every color to walk across the stage (see above). As the staff and students walked by in their own individual fashions, much smaller groups from every color were chosen based on their costumes. It was such a good forty-five minutes to an hour of just natural bonding time with students that I know as well as others that I just met. But it didn’t stop there. The next ten minutes or so were when the colors took group pictures followed by a school-wide one. It may or may not have been a little toasty when so many gathered in one spot. As they say, 人山人海. 😉

Getting ready for the school-wide pics

While we walked away from all of the festivities, I reflected with the other elementary foreign teachers about the afternoon. One could immediately and totally learn so much more about students days like this. A prime example would be one of my 2nd graders. A boy, *Jason, at the outset of our time outside for stage-walking he clung to my arm and gave me several hugs throughout. Instantly I learned that this child needs physical affection. (Gary Chapman always comes back to me in moments like these.) Obviously I cannot fill the void that his parents should give, but I can be a source that he can daily reciprocate with in appropriate ways.

Students like Jason emphasize the reason why I am a teacher. We can guide students in their intellect all we want, but their hearts are what truly matter.

a cellphone

(We interrupt our regularly scheduled blogs on Culture Shock in China to bring you this short story…)

My wife and I were shopping for baby supplies at Target a few days ago. It was going smoothly, and the excitement inside me was building while I was daydreaming at the same time. I kept imagining a little critter at all these different stages and ages that my wife and I were discussing. I even got to pick out my favorite outfit for the boy. Oh yea, some of you may not know. We’re going to have a boy! At least that’s what the Chinese hospital told us, and we’re assuming they wouldn’t joke or lie about this since the gender is something nationals actually aren’t allowed to know before the birth.

With random thoughts popping in and out like a Chuck E. Cheese game, a young girl’s voice came out of the blue.

“I want… I want… I want a cellphone.”


I should have walked away and tried getting my mind off topic by talking with my wife, but the conversation between the girl, her father and grandma was too funny to be true and it didn’t stop there. The grandmother pointed the sentence out over and over to the shopping father and how it was a full sentence. The father then stopped and asked the grandma to write this down. The girl was “2 years and 3 months old,” and this was one of her first full sentences. In fact, it may have been the first one. I’m not quite sure because of not catching but just a gist. Following this, the grandma asked the girl to say “daddy.” It took the girl several times before she responded.

By now I’m sure you’re thinking, that’s socially unacceptable. Who would drop eaves and then blog about it? And you know what? You are right! I tell this story though to make a point. What do I want my child’s first word, first sentence to be? I won’t be able to control everything, and I don’t mean the technology issues. Right now, I’m reading a book called The App Generation. I’ve been poring over the book to understand my students better, but it seems that much of what’s been stated thus far has been quite relatable. Reality check! What I really mean is that I won’t be able to create my boy’s firsts, and I don’t want to try and live through him. Sure I had my wife buy an All Star outfit for him, and I would be lying if I said it was because it was “cute.”


Raising our child his first year in China will be interesting to say the least. We’ve seen it firsthand. In months it will be our turn, Lord-willing. What will our boy want? What will I want for him? I can tell you one thing. My cellphone won’t be at my side at all times for him to see because what I want will be in my arms and in my heart.

An Island That Likes to Sing

I gave my 8th grade English Club an assignment that incorporated a Silly Starter, an assortment of options for the most random prompts (see the pic below). The main idea this time was to “Write a silly story about an island that likes to sing.”


The following is my chosen favorite. The student thankfully agreed to let me post this. 😉

An Island That Likes to Sing

Once upon a time, there was no ocean and all the islands were on the ground. There was an island. This island was a special island because it could sing songs. Animals liked it very much because it could change their feelings.
One day, a little fish fought with her best friend and she was very angry so she went to found the island and told her what should she do. The island sang a song. Then, she knew what should she do and then, the little fish said sorry to her best friend. A mother fish lost her baby in an accident. She was so sad that she couldn’t stop crying. She went to found the island and hoped to got some advice. Then the island sang a song to tell her that she shouldn’t cry all the time. She should try to find her baby. The mother fish tried her best to found her baby and finally, she found it. The island became more and more popular. And some people knew this island, they wanted to steal this island and let it sing songs to them every day. But the island didn’t want to leave the animals and the animals didn’t want to leave the island, either. They decide to protect the island. But at last, people got the island. The island was so sad that she had a sore throat and couldn’t sing anymore. She could just crying. And she cried all the day and finally, her teir (tears) became the ocean.

When the student finished, I almost cried. Sure there were grammar and spelling mistakes, but when a point comes across that doesn’t turn up too often, I put the mistakes aside and focus on the gold that is shining.

Sometimes, the students (5th grade included) surprise me with their creative ideas, plot development, descriptions, and new words. What really hits my heart is when some of them go below the surface. A few of my 5th graders, especially, share their hearts through their journals. Others have me laughing out loud in the office.

“I wish I could laugh like you do when I check my students’ homework,” a coworker said.

“You don’t have my students,” I replied.

Be proud of your students or children, focus on the bright spots once in a while, and take advantage of the golden moments. The next generation is coming. Be an island that likes to sing to them!