Every expat’s teaching situation is different.
However, if you teach at a public school in China, you likely won’t teach the same students every day.
For example, let’s say Grade 4 is split into 6 classes. You’ll probably only teach each class one day per week. Or, depending on how many foreign teachers your school has hired, you might teach fewer classes and see each section twice per week.
The other days, a Chinese teacher leads English class. These people are your co-teachers. You go to them to report a student misbehaving, to update them on a class’s progression, or to ask questions.
And yes, you should ask questions.
Communication styles in China and Western countries are vastly different. In China, saving face is important. If your co-teachers disapprove of something you do in the classroom, most of them won’t tell you because they don’t want to embarrass you.
So to ensure you do a good job, take initiative and ask them questions. They’re more likely to be honest with you if you come to them. Here are four questions you should ask your Chinese co-teachers to become the best teacher you can be. And the more you communicate with your co-teachers, the closer you’ll become!
1. “Was that lesson too easy/difficult?”
Sometimes you can tell if a lesson is too hard or easy for a group of students. If everyone knows the answer to each question or if they all respond with blank stares, you know you have some changes to make. But other times students are so eager to please you that they’ll try as hard as they can, so you can’t tell kids are struggling. Or just a few smart kids will answer all the questions, so you don’t realize most of them are lost.
Or you just don’t realize why a lesson is so hard, because you don’t speak Mandarin. You can’t understand the kids’ questions.
I once asked a teacher if a lesson was too difficult. I had created what I thought was a simple worksheet for my Grade 1 students. The children had to match the words “Swim, Read, Dance, Sing” to the corresponding pictures. Easy enough!
Then the teacher told me everyone had a hard time with the assignment because I had printed the first letter of each word on the worksheet was a capital letter. None of these six-year-olds had ever seen a capital letter before!
Good thing I asked. I never made that mistake again.
2. “How do these students need to improve?”
Even if the same co-teacher leads two sections of Grade 6, the classes could have different strengths and weaknesses. Tailor your lessons to each group of students. One class might need help writing, while another class may have created a quiet environment, so they’re all too shy to develop free speaking skills.
It’s extremely important to ask this question if you know students have an exam coming up. Always ask your co-teacher what kids need to review before mid-terms and finals!
3. “What games do they like?”
Your co-teachers see these students almost every day, so they know which activities the students enjoy and which are flops. Rather than enduring a trial-and-error process, just be upfront and ask. My co-teachers would sit politely and watch a game I had organized go over poorly with a classroom and say nothing. They didn’t want to hurt my feelings! But if I asked them for game suggestions, they always had a mental list prepared.
4. “What films do they like?”
You’ll be surprised by how often you find yourself in the position to show a movie. Find a film the kids like in English with Chinese subtitles. Every once in awhile, I got a bad cold and lost my voice, so I couldn’t teach. Thankfully, I knew the kids loved “Frozen,” so I showed the first 40 minutes in class, and they were thrilled!
One of my friends rewarded students for good behavior by showing clips of their favorite shows or movies at the end of class. Chinese children don’t necessarily like the same media Western students like, so be sure to ask your co-teachers.