East meets West in the classroom

Yew Wah School              photo (1)

I have always wondered how students learn when they speak one language and the teacher another and now I know, total submersion. The students leave their Chinese voices at the door each and every day they come through the school gates.

I work at one of the many international schools in Yantai (Shandong province) where the students have all their lessons in English. The concept behind the school is that the students will be given a first class education straight from the mouths of native English speakers. As with many things in life there is a price for this education and this price is a considerable one. The fees that I paid for my four year degree program would barely cover the tuition fees here. The school is part of an organisation that has different institutes throughout China and the school in Yantai is particularly successful on paper at least, ask any of the long standing teachers here and they may have a different answers.

During my first few weeks here I quickly learnt that there is a lack of organisation and it seems this can be said for many schools across the country. It varies from not knowing which classrooms will be in use over the weekends to whether the staff will have the national holidays off, which they seem to forget happens every single year. There is unarguably a lack of urgency and it feels like the Chinese have adapted the “manaña” mentality of the Spaniards. As a person that lacks to plan ahead and know what is happening, this has without a doubt taken some time to get use to.

My role – Myself and my colleague who is actually a friend from home run the weekend courses at the school. The children who come to the weekend classes attend the public schools during the week come to us for extra tuition. In each of the classes I have a teaching assistant of which I soon found out are both the best and worst thing in the classroom.

Teaching assistants – The role of the assistant is to ensure that there isn’t break down in communication. When you consider that kindergarten children aged 5 have a better grasp of the English language than I do of the Chinese language at age 27 you can see I will inevitably hit stumbling blocks. They are also there to help with any disruptive behaviour and to perform the basic admin tasks for the class. The time spent with my assistants for the majority has been a pleasant experience apart from one. A lady who has a good level of English but feels that it is better than mine. We have battled relentlessly over the “voals” and not the “vowels” in the English language. We clash over the level of work as she thinks that some of the language structures are too “conflex” and thinks we should skip past them. I’ve tried to explain to her that its good to push the students but this is not an idea she agrees with. It’s my 8th week teaching and I am still trying to teach her the word is complex and not “conflex.” We are also at logger heads as to where people cook, I’ve told there that people cook in the kitchen but she is determined that people cook in the “chicken.” As you can imagine little mistakes like this can be a nightmare in front of a room full of children. Like with the students I realise that this is a learning process for both of us so I can only hope that we can learn our kitchens from our chickens as we move forward.

Good behaviour V’s bad behaviour – The school operates a system where by any student that performs well throughout the lesson receives a blue card and once they have five of these they can trade them in for a gift. Sounds like a good idea right? Not when these cards are used to appease parents. On more that one occasion I’ve been told to give a blue card to one particular student because their parents have threatened to remove their child from the class if they don’t get one. Or perhaps I can give it to a certain child because they have had a bad week and it will make them feel better. In my mind this is not how the system should work and I will only give out a blue card to someone who actually deserves it regardless of what their parents will do or say. During our first meeting with the head of our department who doesn’t speak a single word of the Queens, which is ridiculous when you consider he works in an English-speaking school, we were told to love the students and to treat them kindly. This means that discipline is pretty much non-existent! The main reason for this is money, as long as the students are in the classrooms it means the money will keep rolling in. If I start sending students out of the class for misbehaving this could seriously upset the apple cart and parents will start complaining and removing their children from the program. It’s at times like there where I feel that the school runs in order to please parents instead of trying to educate the students.

The Students – I have classes which I love to teach and classes which I know are going to be a lot more hard work that they should be. The majority of my students are fantastic! I have my own set of girls who when I arrived with my hair in a bun they immediately go and put their hair up too. One child makes me elastic friendship bracelets every week which I have to wear throughout the lesson, I don’t have the heart to tell her that they are too small and I fear I will lose the blood flow to my hand. Unfortunately I do have some students who like to push the boundaries.  So far I have one child who enjoys sitting under his desk for the majority of the class and when he’s not doing that he’s screaming out the answers to the questions. Another student brought a dead bug to class complete with a homemade coffin and during the break drew a roller coaster on the board for said dead creature to ride on!!

All in all it has opened my eyes up to a different education system. My school here in China and countless others across the country aspire to be like the Western schools as they are deemed to be better. I wouldn’t like to pass a comment on this; the only thing that I can say is that the children here work hard. The students I teach on the weekend have it slightly easier as they only have a morning or afternoon of extra curriculum activates. The public school starts earlier and finish later than my school, students also spend all day Saturday and Sunday in school. When they get any free time is still a mystery to me. The children here are seen as the future of the country and are pushed to be the very best. I am undecided whether this is the best way forward for these students. Academically there are without a doubt leagues ahead of students in England but I also feel they are missing out. After school swimming, footballs clubs, girl guides and scouts and such are simply unheard of here.

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One thought on “East meets West in the classroom

  1. Sounds like you are having a really interesting time. If you are only there for six months I think you are right in sticking to your guns on certain things. Unfortunately, many Asian schools see themselves as businesses first and schools second. Good luck!

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