In the US, education reformers and policy makers seem to constantly be ranting about how US schools and learning lag way behind those in other countries. Having spent several in-depth years in public schools in Seattle, Virginia and DC and having worked very closely with learners from Kindergarten through 12th grade, I feel I have some pretty good insight into public education, learning and teaching in the US. Being in China this year has been a big paradigm shift especially when it comes to the way students learn here. Granted I am working with college students, I have nevertheless been challenged many times with the teaching approaches I use. When it comes to getting students to open up and share their opinion or when I try to make my lessons more student-led, as opposed to teacher-led, I sometimes hit a wall. This has led me to wonder whether my college students have been deeply engrained from a young age to learn what is told to them and are not offered many opportunities for self-discovery. I was therefore, curious to visit a primary school to see the practices that are used in the younger formative years of education. Also, perhaps I could learn a thing or two about what is effectively being done in classrooms in China to share with fellow educators in the US.
My school day began at 7:30 when I arrived to meet Ms. Liu, my contact at the school who teaches English to 3rd and 5th graders, both grades I have some experience teaching as well. In China, teachers do not have their own classroom, instead, a class of students has their own room and the teacher arrives at that room when it is time for his or her lesson. Even in primary schools, teachers focus only on one or two subjects. Ms. Liu and her teaching partners were quite surprised when I told them that elementary teachers in the US teach ALL of the subjects. Ms. Liu taught a maximum of 4 lessons on Monday and Fridays and 3 lessons on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. That’s right, she taught 17 hours a week. Meanwhile, elementary-teacher counterparts in the US teach at least 35 hours week. Is it any wonder why so many teachers (myself included) burn out so quickly from the teaching profession?
|China's future doing their morning exercises|
At 8:20, the teachers met and lined up on a path by the school field. A few minutes later, the older students marched out and lined up in 5 lines on the school track. The national anthem came blaring out on the speakers and two students raised the Chinese flag. Students then started doing some morning exercises to get energized and ready to learn.
Later that morning, I had the chance to sit in on two English classes in fourth and fifth grade. In China, students are now learning English as young as third grade. English is considered one of the most important pillar subjects in school along with Chinese and Math. In addition to the English kids learn in school during the week, many students get additional tutoring on the weekends. Some students go to private language schools while others may have private tutors (a job I had in the fall here). Why so much emphasis on education and learning, learning, learning all the time? Knowledge and education is seen as the key to success in China. If a child does well in primary school, she will then do well in middle school and then get into a prestigious high school which will ensure she will do well on her college entrance exam, which will ensure she will have a good job in the end in which to support her family. So already at a young age, children are set on the track to future success by working very hard in school and on weekends.
|An engaged 4th grade English lesson|
Twice in the day, the students had an interesting ritual called “Eye massage”. For ten minutes, the students shut their eyes and then massaged around their temples, noses, above and around their eyes. Student monitors came around with clipboards checking and making sure all students were doing their eye exercises which was supposed to help students relax and get rid of any headaches and pressure that would inhibit learning. Although a strange practice, I don’t think I would mind having “Eye massage” time in my classroom in the US!
For the last hour of the day, students cleaned up their classrooms and then got their homework assignments from their teachers. Again, students seemed to go about doing these activities with efficiency and little fuss. I was really quite amazed at how disciplined the students were but also how easily everything seemed to flow and get done. It’s true that the teachers are very well respected and have their place in the school. Nevertheless, the students seemed to have a certain flexibility and freedom to go about doing what they needed to get done. All students seemed to know what was expected of them and what the consequences were for not following through with what was expected of them.
|Healthy school lunch- This isn't your corndog and pizza!|
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