“Why am I here?” The simple answer to this question is I am here to prepare for the main part of my summer program with Amity; namely to teach Chinese teachers how to more effectively teach English in the Chinese school system. In order to do this we have to first become English teachers in China. We were told by our program coordinator that this time teaching in the countryside is not a big part of our program. Our main focus is to observe English classes and then experience the challenges of teaching, by hosting our own classes.
When I came here to this school in the beginning I was expecting to teach English. However, the classes I teach are lectures that give the students cultural background about the United States. I do not consider this teaching. Instead, I am a lecturer to a crowed that only understands basic spoken English. The more I “teach” and the more I observe English classes the better I begin to understand the education system.
In my previous time spent in China, my focus was on learning the language and culture to better understand China as a whole. Although I knew about the Gaokao (college entrance examination in China) and strict education regulation I did not completely understand or experience how it works. Now as a “teacher” and observer of English classes at a rural school in China I have gained a surprisingly new and different perspective. The education system in China focuses on one test, the Gaokao. Thus, when teachers give classes they “teach to the test”. Students are not encouraged to ask questions and are given little opportunity to voice their opinion. Classes are memorization. They are not forced to output/speak English or to listen and comprehend English. The students career and a lot of their future depend on the Gaokao. Doing well is the main priority. As a result, important aspects of language learning are ignored to perfect/memorize the type of English questions that are present on the test- which do not include any speaking or listening.
There are many more discrepancies in the Chinese education system that make it easy for a student to fall through the cracks or cause incomplete knowledge –such as with English that are hard to ignore but my focus for this time is language learning. (I should also say that education is a big and very important part of Chinese culture the stress put on a Chinese student is very different than that on an American student. China as in every country has flaws and areas of improvement especially in education.)
I want to be able to make a direct influence or help in a bigger way. It is hard to contain my desire to push for some change. But for now all I can do is observe the how English is taught and crate a way to grow the way English is taught in China. In the second half of our program, Amity interns and I will create a new teaching method for English teachers in China. The goal of the second half of the program is to teach English teachers how to effectively incorporate oral and listening comprehension in and out of class in a way that fits with the demands of an education system reared completely towards the Gaokao.
At the end of my week I was finally able to breakthrough to the students! During class I created activities that my students were able to engage in, they were more confident in speaking, and willing to volunteer for both questions and answers! It was great! Although most the students still laugh at the energy I bring to the classroom, I think of it as a way they show engagement and I hope that some of my energy rubs off (which it seems to be doing). My first class on Monday compared to my last class on Friday was quiet, timid, shy, giggly, and not willing to engage any further than laughing. By Friday all the students were engaged, enthusiastically raising their hand with questions, comfortable speaking English despite mistakes and overly energetic and open to participate in class. Teaching with energy takes a lot of energy! During the school day I do not realize how tired I am or how much effort I put into class. When I return to my hotel at night is when I feel exhausted but still have to work on altering lesson plans. Being a teacher is a handful! But the engagement of students (good days) make it well worth it!!
This environment is drastically different than their usually English class, which consist of a teacher lecturing them in Chinese about English grammar and multiple choice worksheets. After discussing with one of the English teachers in the school we identified that the problem was no motivation or time to focus on speaking and listening comprehension because the Gaokao focuses on reading and writing. Confidence, willingness and motivation to speak English are thus lacking in the students. In this short observation/lecture period at Huashan High school it is my goal to build those characteristics in the students’ even if just a little.
Also on another note it is time for the middle school students to take the High school entrance exam! It is taken pretty seriously. My job this weekend is security check. Scanning students with metal detectors and counting to make sure that no one is sneaking in. Here are some pictures!