At its core, teaching will be the same regardless of where you are. Your primary goal as an educator is to transfer knowledge to your students in the most effective ways possible. However, effective methods of pedagogy are relative to many factors, including students’ ages, class sizes, classroom management, and certainly language of communication. As a result, my time teaching English in China has been dramatically different than my time teaching English in America had been. Several comparisons and contrasts can be found between the two.
The most obvious difference between the two is the class size. As a special education teacher at both a high school and a middle school in the United States, I had very small class sizes: my biggest class had only fourteen students, while the average was around nine students. During my time teaching at the middle school, I had a total of 46 students throughout all of my classes.
To be clear, a general education teacher at these schools would have an average of about twenty-two students per class, which is typical throughout the country. Here in China, I have an average of 55 students per class. I teach fourteen distinct classes each week, adding up to a total of 770 students, give or take. Each class only meets once per week. This means that there is extremely limited time to get to know your individual students. Individualized instruction is virtually impossible, meaning that your lessons need to be accessible by all students at once.
Classroom management and relationships with my students are also very different in China than they were in America, largely as a result of the class sizes. Developing positive, genuine relationships with your students is a key part of managing your classes, but it is very difficult to develop such bonds in China. In America, I had daily opportunities to promote individual interactions with all of my students, which (ideally) built their trust in me as well as my understanding of them. In China, those opportunities are few and far between.
The only authentic interactions I have with my students here, outside of instruction, take place during the eight-minute breaks between classes. During this time, I set up for my next lesson but, more importantly, play games and joke around with the students. I make funny attempts at practicing my Mandarin, play rock-paper-scissors with them, and crack jokes whenever I can. I do my best to take any (appropriate) opportunity to show my students that I am indeed a human with a personality, rather than just “another white person from far away, here to teach them some new words.” These moments, brief yet valuable, also serve a role in my classroom management.
Young learners (learners of any age, frankly) will be more engaged with a teacher that they can get along with and trust. Whereas disciplinary actions can be implemented gradually in America due to the amount of time you have with your students, everything must happen at a much quicker pace in China. These sorts of personal interactions help to quicken the pace for disciplinary actions.
The most fundamental difference between my experiences of teaching in America and in China is what I teach, In America, I was considered a “Language Arts teacher.” This meant that my classes focused on reading age-appropriate literature as a means of developing students’ analysis and comprehension skills.
On the other hand, here in China, I am an “Oral English teacher.” Teaching this style of English means that I am teaching the English language. This teaching style shows itself in several ways: introducing new vocabulary, practicing basic conversational skills, and teaching different sentence structures. In short, teaching English in China emphasizes one word at a time, whereas teaching English in America emphasizes one idea about a whole text at a time.
Both experiences have distinct advantages and disadvantages. I prefer teaching Language Arts because I enjoy literature and focusing on the ins and outs of a story. However, the schedule and workload in America is much more demanding as it calls for many more teaching hours and a lot more time dedicated to lesson planning. Teaching Oral English in China is great as well because I love working with the young kids and the workload is extremely light: I only have to plan two lessons per week and I never have to grade anything or collect homework.
Which do you prefer?