"Wish You Happy Every Day": An Expat's Life in China

Hello, Teacher!
November 15, 2010, 11:30 am
Filed under: efl world, teaching | Tags: ,

During my first visit to a Dalian public school, I couldn’t believe that I was actually passing children in the hallways and not military personnel.  Everywhere my boss and I walked, a student who saw us coming would stand up straight and salute.  “Hello, Teacher!”

From what I can tell, there are no discipline problems in this elementary school.

By the time these students reach high school, things have changed, but only a little.  In the high school where I now teach, the students aren’t required to greet me in the halls.  But when I walk into the classroom, all fifty of them stand up and greet me: “HELLO, TEACHER!”

It’s most likely that the students are mainly excited to have a foreign teacher.  I later found out that I am the first foreigner to teach at this high school.  When I think about it that way, it feels like a tremendous responsibility and an honor–in a way, whatever I do in this school will come to represent an entire portion of the world. Or is that a bit of a stretch?

In any case, I’m trying to put my best foot forward. I ask the Chinese teachers at the school for feedback on lessons and for suggestions; I try to make my explanations clear and my activities interesting. This week’s class has been the best so far, I think: I taught them what a compound subject and compound predicate are, and then had them write a chain story using these sentence structures. They seemed to have fun.  As a way to connect to them, I also told them that I’m studying Chinese. Once, I used a word that they didn’t know–so I wrote the Chinese characters on the board because I couldn’t pronounce the word.  I expected to hear some surprised murmuring.  Instead, the whole class applauded!

My “rock star” status, however, does not impress everyone.  One of the senior teachers, Mr. Yang, is always quick to point out how hard people here work compared with Americans.  He went to America for a month or so on business, so he thinks he knows everything about it and how Americans live.  He has a point – life is definitely easier in America than it is here.  But I think he lets loose occasionally, like anyone.  Take, for instance, a few weeks ago, when I called him to tell him that I was too sick to come into work.  He said OK, then called me back twenty minutes later.

“Are you better now?”

“Um,” I said, “no? I’m the same as I was when we spoke twenty minutes ago.”

His advice was to drink hot water and take medicine, and then I would be better by tomorrow.

“Thanks. I’ll see how I feel in the morning.”

“OK,” he said. “But you know. I am at my father-in-law’s party. I have drunk. Too. Much.”

“Oh. Okay…”

“I called the principal to make other arrangements. But still. I have drunk. Too. Much.”

So I have a lot more sympathy for the students, who are getting a very different kind of education that I had in high school. I remember feeling burdened with homework in high school, but hey, at least I had a weekend.  How much free time do these kids get? NONE.  Well, they have a day off every two weeks, but then most of them attend classes or tutoring at a private school.  Each and every one of them wakes up at six forty-five; they eat breakfast; then, by seven thirty they’re in class until five thirty, sometimes even nine o’clock.  At night.

High school must be an incredibly stressful time for most families; kids and parents never get to see each other, and on top of that, the kids are always preparing for the “Da Kao,” which is a standardized test that determines where they can attend university.  As one teacher explained to me, their entire lives depend on how well they do on this test.  It makes the SAT sound like a fun party.

But maybe not the kind of party where you drink. Too. Much.


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