Posted on January 19, 2018
Letter to the Education Department
Since arriving in China, I have had many moments when I wonder “What are they thinking?” One of those moments happened earlier this week when all of the foreign teachers in the Bao’an District of Shenzhen were asked to write an essay of 1000 words about what they learned, their strengths and weaknesses for this past semester. Whoever thought this was a good idea must have read it out of a book of management ideas. I haven’t met a teacher yet who has taken this “assignment” seriously. Here is my essay. Reading between the lines, you will have a better understanding of what teaching English in China is like.
To Whom It May Concern,
I have been a teacher for many years. I enjoy the way that I can see the marked improvement of an individual who is working towards a goal. I have taught many subjects and many age ranges. When I decided to come to China, it was with the expectation that I would be able to further my experience by becoming a foreign teacher.
I envisioned a large classroom of students eager to learn. Myself being the teacher eager to teach them. I knew that the class would be 50 students or more, but it was a challenge that I was willing to accept. I have taught classes of around 75 or more students. With the help of an assistant or two, we were always able to manage the classes. We had students who were able to learn the material and we saw changes in their lives. This is why many teachers keep teaching; because they are able to influence positive change in the lives of others.
I envisioned students who had small knowledge in foreign languages coming up to me at the end of the semester, able to hold a short conversation. This was my expectation because I felt my methods were proven. My daughter and I are language learners. In a few short months, I watched my daughter learn French through very simple activities. I knew I could use these activities in the classroom and see many students succeed.
In the past semester, I have learned many things about myself and teaching in China. I have learned that my methods may be great, but this is not what I am expected to do in the classroom. The first week of teaching first graders, I was told that asking them “What’s your name?” was too hard. I was told “Let them sing songs they will feel happy about learning English.” When I am in the classroom, though my title is Oral English Teacher, I am expected to entertain students.
The first week of teaching fifth graders, I noticed they were not expecting to learn, they were expecting to watch videos. I thought maybe I was mistaken. I prepared many incremental learning lesson plans. I searched for many ways they could learn English and practice speaking. I attempted to implement these lesson plans in my classes. A few weeks later, I was told that the students thought my classes were boring and they wanted to play games.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. This problem is not mine alone. It is the constant complaint of many of the foreign teachers I meet. We came to gain more experience teaching in the classroom and to share what we know about English. The longer we stay in China, the more we also must learn. We must learn to be entertainers!
In reviewing my semester of teaching in China, I realize that I am deficient in many areas. They are areas in which I must make improvements in the future. I am deficient in my ability to be flexible. I did not come to China to be a sing and dance teacher. Now that I realize this is what is expected of me, I must put forth more of an effort to sing. I must learn some moves to entertain my students while they are learning new songs. If they learn the English words that go along with the songs and the dances, I will be very content. I have met many people who said they learned to speak good English through listening to music. Maybe my approach has been wrong all along. I will learn to be more flexible and therefore, I may see more improvements to the language skills of my students.
I must improve in my ability to take criticism. Designing lesson plans take time, especially when you are trying to do it correctly. When a teacher spends hours putting together lessons so that their students will receive quality instruction, it isn’t always a simple matter to hear that other teachers feel it is too hard. It is even more difficult to hear that your lessons are boring. To go from being a favorite teacher, an instructor in whose learning center all of the volunteers want to work because the work and the atmosphere is fun, to being a teacher who is told that her classes are boring because there are not enough games,that is hard. In the future, I will practice letting criticism slide off of my back. I will not let the words of others affect my work.
I must improve in being calm and at peace when I am teaching. I take my job too seriously. If there are students who wish to talk among themselves and not pay attention to my lesson, I will learn to accept this. I will look at them with understanding. I know that there are different learning styles for all students. Some students are encouraged to take classes in which they have no interest. I am able to look at them knowing that if they choose not to take the opportunity to learn, it is through no fault of my own. If they wish to grow up in a society where the emphasis is on speaking English and their skills are below satisfactory, I will let the blame rest with them. I presented the information in a professional manner.
I consider myself fortunate to teach in China. I consider myself fortunate to teach at my school. I have some kind co-workers. I have incredibly cute students. I have had some amazing days of wonder when I enter the school campus. I never expected to be impressed with morning exercises or art festivals put on by students. These things have been eye opening experiences I would not have missed for anything.
This semester has also brought with it many moments of self examination. I know that as my teaching career here in China continues, I will be given more of these moments. I will continue to adjust and grow. I will become the teacher I am expected to be by the Education Department.