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.

Wrapping Up, But Not Done

Exactly two weeks from today, my wife, our boy (inside of her!) and I will fly back to Qingdao for our fourth year there. The past several blogs I have written were part of a series entitled Culture Shocks in China. While shocks will inevitably still happen upon return, I would like to take the focus off of that since the upcoming weeks and months to come will be much different from the past four years of my life. With that said, I have enjoyed writing, processing and sharing some of my deepest struggles with you. But the truth is…it’s time to move on.

A couple friends have recently informed me that when living in a place that’s not your own, it’s around the 3-year mark that the most frustrations will happen. The result—either I make or break. I don’t have to envision and force change of this other culture within my ethnocentric self; I can let my heart break from that selfish desire. Because of being daily reminded about this struggle while we’ve been in the US, I took a couple days this week to read several chapters from a book called Foreign to Familiar by Sarah A. Lanier. I wasn’t up for a whole new book since I just started another really good one, but I wanted to see what content this one held. At least a few caught my eye because of living in China so I thumbed through them.

1. Hot- Versus Cold-Climate Cultures

3. Direct Versus Indirect Communication

4. Individualism Versus Group Identity

8. Different Concepts of Time and Planning

9. Practical Next Steps

Why these chapters? They’re the ones where I have wrestled with the most, especially 3 and 8. What gnaws at me now is what I read on those pages. Stories that are sincerely unfathomable and practical steps that sound like a piece of cake are all being stirred up in my confused mind. But they caused me to remember what one of my friends said, “It’s the fourth through seventh year when the most fruit from your labor can show.” So there is a bright future ahead… Friends are certainly for providing encouragement and challenges.

I hope that is what I have offered you as you have read the accounts covering consequences in a Chinese school to being stared at in public. As memories (good and bad) come and go, I hope you realize that shocks and difficulties can actually work out for the good. In fact, people in this world have more similarities than we know. Some of them just may be deeper. Look for those connections and make them. Seek out the contradictions and understand them. We are never done wherever we are.

Consequences of Teaching in a Private Chinese School

The student’s view of life in a private Chinese school is quite interesting and will definitely give you the inside scoop of what we teachers and adults are blind to. It’s a reality check since it’s unfiltered honesty that isn’t intended to hurt anyone. (If you haven’t read what life is like for Asian students and Chinese teachers, here’s Part 1 and Part 2.) I’ve received some objections regarding specific consequences that have been dealt within the last year. I strongly feel that my students would want others to know what happens to them at times. So I’ve created a list.

http://tinyurl.com/pjrs6hg
http://tinyurl.com/pjrs6hg

The Top 5 Worst Consequences Asian Students Receive

1. Write a Chinese character 100 times. – When I first heard that this was the result of not writing a character correctly, I about had a heart attack. I couldn’t imagine having to do this though I wrote sentences once or twice when I was a lad. A particular student had to do this two times. He was not known as the most studious, but he had his moments. What made it worse is that he had to do it while missing a Special (Art, Music, etc.). Thankfully, I talked with the Homeroom teacher, and he didn’t miss any of my P.E. classes. I also talked with our admin about this.

2. Stay at school until your homework is done. – It’s more of a last resort, but this can possibly show a student how much “power” a teacher has or “respect” one supposedly deserves. The teacher calls the parents for permission. If they say it’s fine; no problem. The student literally stays at school and will work on homework or correcting mistakes (that were probably assigned for homework). No worries! He/She can eat at the cafeteria for dinner. Now the time to return home could be a different story…

3. Write the class rules 100 times. – When my Chinese-English teaching colleague shared with me what he assigned to a student, I couldn’t help but chuckle. I had just been told by that student what this teacher did, and I had to approach this issue. I was slow to speak since I had to hear the story first. After gathering details, the situation still didn’t seem that serious (she said something in class that didn’t have the class go off-task). So we talked. He asked what I would’ve done, and I told him. After more mutual understanding, the teacher said that he’d lower the consequence to 20 times each. That was still 100 sentences with having 8 class rules. I expressed how I wouldn’t do this at all, the negative side effects and how admin said not to do this a couple years ago.

4. No WeChat for the week. – WeChat is a very popular app created and used a lot in China. It’s a mix of Twitter, Instagram, and iMessage. It’s unique, user-friendly, and quite handy. The students were going to have their big tests in Maths, Chinese and English that particular week. Because of this, one class’ Homeroom teacher instructed her students not to use this app at all for the week since it hindered their studying time and capability. I guess she had to do it since the parents wouldn’t (or couldn’t?). I just can’t imagine a teacher in America doing the same thing and the students actually following through. No offense to the Americans though it turned out that my Asian students succeeded. All except a couple, that is…

http://www.wechat.com/en/
http://www.wechat.com/en/

5. Run. – Every morning, morning exercises take place in schools across China. It’s not that bad really unless your students don’t care, come up with health excuses not to jog or somehow need to tie their shoes every couple laps. The total jogging comes out, I would estimate, to around 800-1200 meters. Not bad because it could be more. For some, there is. I’ve had students been told to run extra laps afterward because of being loud in the classroom, not jogging during exercise time, or whenever the teacher feels like it. Convenience over safety. Little do the teachers know that the students in fact jog or walk.

The word consequence in Chinese is 后果 (hòu guǒ), which translates directly to “after fruit.” That’s what you get from the cause in a situation. The result is the effect, or “after fruit.” When consequences like the ones above are given to children, it confirms for me even more the reasons why certain students don’t change and continue to act the way they do. What we do to a child shows in the way they act following our dealing with them. We as adults and teachers must keep this in mind. We need to remember what “after fruit” we want our children, our students and the upcoming generation to grow up to be.

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.

http://tinyurl.com/lfr725t
http://tinyurl.com/lfr725t

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…

http://instagram.com/p/gsf0SlKvtD/?modal=true
http://instagram.com/p/gsf0SlKvtD/?modal=true

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?

http://www.finazzositalianrestaurant.com/blank-open-book1.jpg
http://www.finazzositalianrestaurant.com/blank-open-book1.jpg

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…