Two weeks in China with Durham University.
With help from the Stephenson College Bursary fund I took part in a trip to Shenzhen in Southern China.
The most important thing I took from our trip was how many similarities there were between the two countries and their teachers. Often we look at countries in other parts of the world in a very detached way. What I found more than anything is how much I had in common with people on the other side of the world. Teenagers, surprisingly enough, were still teenagers in China. As much as we have an image of strict disciplinarian teachers and pupils marching around courtyards, at the end of the day children are children. They played together, joked around in the corridors and teased the teachers. They even did the teacher’s marking for them!
Pupils seemed to genuinely enjoy school, and took pride in their work. Textbooks were a big part of learning in China, and are something I think we should adopt here. When I think of how much paper I go through every day on my teaching practice it makes me wince: first there’s the exercise books, then the sheets we stick in the exercise books, then the sheets they use once to read from and then throw away, and not to forget the endless spelling lists and timetables sheets. In China they have a workbook. That’s it. One for each subject which has all the information they need in it. There was no fussing handing out sheets, sharing one between two then fighting over it, or collecting them back in and inevitably losing five or six. In this way the classrooms were much more organised despite the extra twenty or so pupils!
It’s difficult not to get lured into accepting a job while in China, the teachers are respected, well paid, well rested and not overworked. And I think we could all do with a two hour nap in the middle of the day! However, I did find myself getting bored. Only teaching two 45min lessons a day was find when we were visitors to the school (with sightseeing and jet lag to get on with!) but wouldn’t be my ideal every day. The days are long, and as the resources are already provided in the form of textbooks, there isn’t much to do in the way of planning. Furthermore, I think I’d get bored re-teaching the same lesson to eight different classes, as primary teachers we’re used to constant change and excitement!
We were warned before we left not to mention the three T’s: Taiwan, Tibet and Tianamon. While in China I did notice the one topic no one mentioned: politics. While in Britain it seems I can’t finish a sentence without mentioning Brexit or spending cuts, in China the political system is rarely, if ever discussed. However, I did not get the feeling that this was a massive problem. People seemed happy, Chinese businesses were thriving, and the city seemed to be very successful, so maybe we are the ones who are too preoccupied?
Collectivism was something I noticed that was very different to attitudes in Britain. Here we are told being different is good, often actively encouraged to be so. However, in the schools in China the sense was more ‘we are all in this together, let’s stay together.’ Deviating from the group, in terms of behaviour or work attitude, was frowned upon, and pupils did not applaud disrespectful behaviour, but would be happy to tell the individual themselves to stop it.
Overall it was a great experience, and I would definitely do it again. My eyes were opened to new classroom strategies, as well as a whole new outlook on education. What struck me most however, as I have said, is the similarities between children across the globe. Children are children wherever you go!