The bulk of my time has been spent teaching students and yet I haven’t really talked much about it. The semester is just about over and all in all, I feel like it has been an huge success and I am looking forward to teaching another year.
In fact, the last week has been quite fun. In my speaking classes we had parties to celebrate the end of the year and to reflect on how much they have changed over the year. I’ve been fortunate to teach about 60 of the same students the whole year in both writing and speaking classes so I’ve gotten to know them and seen how much they’ve grown. When I first started I spoke slowly, and used small words and was never sure how much they really understood. Now I can speak at almost my normal rate and while I still try to use common vocabulary (and avoid slang) they understand almost everything I say.
I’ll be honest, at the beginning of the year they just seemed like a mass of black hair to me, and getting to know them individually took time. Luckily foreign teachers have the advantage of not having any curriculum to follow and being allowed to come up with out own lessons plans so I slowly got them to come out of their shell with creative exercises and team building activities.
College students in China are completely different than college students in the west. For one thing, they are much more innocent. High school in China is a tough time. They literally spend every waking moment studying. In fact, many of my female students told me they had short short hair so they wouldn’t “waste time” taking care of long hair. That’s how busy they are.
So by the time hit college they are less experienced then their western counterparts. They’ve never had a job, never had a boyfriend/girlfriend (many of them have never been kissed), never learned to drive a car. But there are good parts to their inexperience too. They aren’t sarcastic, don’t disrupt the class with outbursts and even though they might be somewhere else in their head, they seem like their paying attention in class. (The foreign teacher often debate if we think the students are naive or innocent and if that is a good/bad thing. No conclusion has been reached at this time.)
Another big difference is their generosity. If there is ever food in the class, as a prize or incentive, the winner doesn’t keep it all. They have a little and then share the rest with their classmates. They also freely share their items, like a pocket translator, or tape, with whoever needs it. It’s quite refreshing.
There is also a culture of respect here for teachers. While it can be a bad thing (as they are taught to never question the teacher) there are many good things that comes out of it like attention to class and doing what the teachers asks.
Once I went out to lunch with a student and as we finished I went to pay. “No, no,” she insisted. “I’ll pay.” “But I’m your teacher,” I said. “It isn’t right for you to pay.” Exactly,” she said. “Your my teacher so I must pay.”
This year has been a big success for me, and my students play a large part of that. Both in and out of class they have been so helpful to me as I navigate the waters of another culture. In fact, after many discussion classes I felt like I learned more than they did! I’ll have a new batch of students next year and I can only hope they are half as good as my students from this year!