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1000 Students a Week

In the year 2013, after making my spontaneous decision to move to China, I became a teacher in a public school in the village of Gaoyao, Guangdong Province. I learnt many things regarding the education system in China, the way in which things are taught, and just how intense the school life is. Students in both public and private schools sleep on campus; they eat their meals there and sleep in dorm style rooms. They tend to go home one weekend per month.

School started at 6 am in China- when the alarm went off and the school that I worked in, Gaoyao number 2 High School, of 8000 students got up.
They went to the canteen to have breakfast, and started classes at 7 am. Classes continued until 9 am, when they had morning exercises outside on the playground.
All 8000 students lined up on the school playground and did exactly the same routine. There were 5 or 6 students leading the moves at the front on a raised platform. I always wondered just how they got onto the playground so fast; the formation resembling a military boot camp, with a flag raising to follow. I believe that morning exercises are good for boosting energy in the morning, and also a good excuse to do some extra physical activity.

After morning exercises, the students went back to the classroom and had 3 more classes. I normally taught these 3 periods; meaning a lie in most days.

Lunch was from 11.55 am until 2.30 pm, where they could go into the canteen and have food such as rice and vegetables, or a curious looking meat. They have a lunchtime siesta in the whole country which is good for the students to refresh their minds, but bad for the westerners who have had a lie in, and then go home for another nap!

Afternoon wake up call started at 2 pm, with glee-style music playing over the speakers. Students had until 2.25 pm to get into the classrooms, as barriers cut off the staircase and the principals would tell the late students off!
Classes in the afternoon started at 2.30 pm, and at this time of day, this class would be difficult to teach as the students were still in thei snooze mode. I sometimes played a ‘tap tap game’, which involveed the students standing up, I tapped the board twice, and the last person to sit down had to answer an English question. This game woke them up, kept them alert, and practised their English all at the same time.

Classes in the afternoon carried on until 4.50 pm, which meant there were 3 classes. The classes would consist of the usual subjects but taught in a very different manner to how we learn in the UK. Most of the classes are dictation, and being told the information instead of trying to work out anwers for themselves. They would be given a mathematical equation, for example, and told how to answer it. They would then be given questions with the same formula to practise.

Following the third class was dinner time, or activity time where the students could do as they please. This was the only free time until 7pm, in which the students also had to shower; it didn’t really leave them much free time to call their own.
Classes started yet again at 7pm, and this was the time for self study in the classroom which was watched by teachers. This lasted until 10pm, when the students then went off to their dormitories.

When Chinese students do eventually go home at the weekend, they have a mountain of homework to get done by the time Monday comes. Due to this fact, I liked to keep my classes light and fun, as after all, language shouldn’t really be learnt any other way. With 60 to 70 students per class, it was initially very intimidating; students wondering who I was and why I was in their classroom! After the first week, in which i taught 1000 students, I began to enjoy my classes more; inventing interactive games and dynamic activities.
I liked to play language games that included every student in the class. A good game I played successfully was called ‘word relay’. I gave each person at the back of the row a sentence. They then had to ‘Chinese whisper’ this sentence to the person in front, and they had to pass the sentence on by whispering to the next person, and so on. The sentence should reach the student at the front, and they then had to race to write the correct sentence onto the board. It was an energetic game, and ensured every single student was alert and paying attention to what was going around them.
There are a lot of useful games that you can play in large classes, and most of them can be adapted to suit every level. For more information or teaching help, contact me here.

Being a teacher in China has definitely taught me a lot about the differences between schools in the UK and schools here; discipline, learning styles and the level of students in relation to their age. In my opinion, UK schools have a lot to learn in regards to studying time, homework and the way the children (don’t) respect their teachers as much.
Teacher/student relationships in China are very different; it is more informal and friendly, yet in the classroom there is still the appropriate authority that a teacher needs.

I believe teaching in China has boosted my confidence no end, and taught me so much about the different ways people are, and the way they live. It was an amazing experience which I wouldn’t change for anything, and would recommend to anyone.

Spontanous decisions don’t always end up the way you expect them to, but take a chance or you will never find out how life-changing something could have been.

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