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Guest Blog: School Culture in a Private Chinese Boarding School

Almost routinely over the past couple of months, I have been met with interesting experiences as I continue my teaching stint in a private Sino American school here in Zhangzhou, China. So let me share a little about the school culture, which cannot possibly be covered in one blog entry, but here’s a snapshot.

After spending years teaching in U.S. schools, I am struck by the iconic differences in our country’s respective teaching pedagogies. Everything from teacher/pupil ratio, length of school day, to learning environment and teaching materials, varies, in this tea factory-turned private school system I have come to enjoy living and working in.

Whereas multi-modal teaching and experiential learning experiences are common in all American schools, these are practices that have yet to find their way into the broad network of traditional educational institutions in China. Subtle changes are beginning to appear, however, and in the duel diploma classroom where I teach, I have access to the same technology as my American colleagues. I use an iPad with Aps and a JBL Bluetooth speaker to project audio. I can connect it or my Apple computer to a Chinese version of a Smart board, which has Internet and an integrated ‘smart’ podium with a Windows-based computer and an overhead projector. My students have a laptop in their classroom lockers and engage in assignments that involve their use daily.

In traditional classrooms throughout the rest of the campus, however, use and access to multimedia equipment and Internet is restricted to the teacher. Students are not allowed to have personal computers in the classroom and the school and library are not equipped with them.  Smartphones, ubiquitous in American schools, are also not allowed.  And video games, as beloved to teenagers in China as in America, are a rare privilege confined to a few hours of play on weekends. It’s possible that, as a result of not using computers for writing assignments, penmanship--almost across the grades--is outstanding. Not just legible, but actually beautiful and a pleasure to read. The first time I wrote in cursive on my white board, my students were awed and ‘wowed’ out loud over it. They are fascinated with English writing and think it’s beautiful. I gained a new appreciation for the opportunity to practice good writing through them and I’m careful to form my letters well in their presence.  A practice, I’m sure, that my teaching methods professor would have been pleased to witness.

And the sheer number of students… well that’s where the rubber meets the road in terms of quantifiable difference. I quickly found out that a private school of this size, with a 7,000-member student body and growing, requires an educational system conceived and administered in a completely different way than private schools in the States, if only for practical and safety concerns. Students number 60 to a class and the length of a school day can run from 7am to 11pm, depending on grade level, with breaks for breakfast, lunch--and an intelligent and much appreciated convention at this school given the length of each day--the mid-day break (12:00-2:30). This is the time in the day when student, administrator and teacher can go back to their dorm or apartment to have a rest or take a nap before returning to afternoon classes that end at 5pm. I call it the ‘pause that refreshes’ because after dinner, which includes a little extra time for basketball, ping pong or badminton, everyone returns to their classroom for evening study hall at 6:30pm.

These kids put in some heavy-duty classroom hours, yet seem to take it in stride.  Of course, teachers put in long days too, especially when they have evening duty. From my point of view, teachers in China demonstrate the same love and dedication to their students as teachers in America, under more challenging circumstances.

As for the students, you’re one of many here and expected to pull your own weight and work hard to succeed. No handholding, no excuses.  Somehow it all works, Monday through Saturday…. and Sunday mornings for seniors.     And in the main, harmony and order prevail. 

Deborah Enright  (En Di)

We are thrilled to welcome Deborah Enright to The Reading Room Blog. Deborah is an American teacher currently living in Fujian Province as she teaches in adual diploma program. We will be featuring her updates as she settles into life in modern China.