Teaching in Shaowu

Our first day of classes was a real eye-opener. Georgia was overwhelmed by the number of students and the wall of noise created by 64 seven-year-olds in a small classroom. When she yelled "Be Quiet!" the students would happily chorus "Be Quiet!" back and then immediately continue making noise.

Schools in China are a little different than schools in Australia. The students sit in a grid formation, 8 rows by 8 columns with a few spare students at the back. They are taught to speak and read in unison, and one can't help but feel somewhat like a drill sargeant when your words are barked back at you by so many voices.

The education system in China is heavily based around exams. All students take official exams every semester, and the results are very important in choosing which university / school / classes each student will be enrolled in next semester. For instance, not all of the children in our school get lessons with foreign teachers; only the ones who scored best in last semester's exams (and, I suspect, the ones whose parents topped up the school's coffers most). Although this system has relaxed in recent years, one of the local English teachers told me that when she finished school the government told her what career she would take, based on her exam scores. Especially for government workers (such as teachers), it is very difficult to change jobs.

The teaching revolves heavily around textbooks. It is rare for students to do work that isn't precisely prescribed in a textbook, so the activities we bring into the classrooms provide a big change of pace for the students. The students see English classes with foreign teachers as being very fun, which is good because they get involved in activities, but also bad because they tend to goof off a lot.

Especially in the primary school, the students aren't able to understand instructions given in English and this makes running the classes very difficult. To help with translation and class control, we have a Chinese assistant teacher in each class. Georgia has two teachers who she works with, Joyce and Candy. These girls are quite fun and we hang out with them quite a bit. I work with eleven different local teachers so I haven't bonded with them as much, although a couple of them are very friendly and helpful.

There is another foreign teacher here who teaches the grade 4, 5 and 6 students. His name is Shane and he is also from Melbourne. He is a mad keen traveller - you can see his travel blog here. He is great value and has given us some useful tips about Shaowu and travelling in general.

The pics below were taken when we got together with Shane, Joyce and Candy for Candy's birthday (Candy is sitting on Georgia's lap).

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