What I thought
When I first arrived here in Shijiazhuang the only goal I had was to survive. I needed to learn how to plan lessons efficiently and effectively within the given time parameters. I needed to learn how to stand in front of an audience most of the day and not be so scared or worried about it. These are just a few of the challenges I had to overcome while first teaching abroad. When I finally mastered these aspects and others, life ran more smoothly. It was not until a few months ago during a workshop that I realized a major aspect of teaching I had previously overlooked, coordinating with the local teacher.
The importance of the local teacher
When I first got here I was informed that all of my younger classes would have a co-teacher, a local Chinese teacher that had exceptional English. I had not really considered what this meant and became more of a friend and coworker to these teachers rather than “co-teachers”. On occasion, we would talk about a student that was doing remarkably well or students that gave us a hard time. We would often talk about the parents that observed our classes and what kind of feedback they gave us. Very rarely would we actually talk about the class itself.
A few months ago, we had a workshop about working with our local teachers rather than working next to them. During our discussion, I realized many things that I had not really thought about before and started to incorporate them into my planning. I started to talk to the various local teachers more frequently about more specific topics. I began to see why some of my classes did not go the way I wanted them to go. The teachers were not working together to achieve the same aims and goals and asked different things from their students. They were not sure of the classroom policies, the aims and the expectations.
I finally started to talk with them about what they did in their class and compared and contrasted our policies and styles. When we started to standardize our classes, I started to see changes in the students’ behaviors and their capabilities. We agreed upon management issues such as only letting one student use the bathroom at a time and having to raise your hand ask for water before drinking. As our routines started to align, the students started to behave better. Their English also improved as we started to use the same aims.
Communication is the key
I heard of a specific situation in which a foreign and local teacher were not communicating with each other before class. At the beginning of every class, all of the teachers do a little hello song to welcome the students and get them ready for class. It is important because it sets up a weekly routine and it allows the students to feel comfortable and safe. One of the teachers started to allow the students to act as the teacher during the hello and goodbye song because it got the students more involved. Well, when the local teacher had her class, she did not really do this and preferred to run the class strictly teacher-to-student. The students tried to act as the teacher in the other class and it was not acceptable, thus creating a confusing environment. It seems like nothing but it really explains why the students get confused as to what the expectations are. Having two different personalities teaching them a week is hard enough without having different classroom rules and expectations.
I think it is very important to work together with the local teachers. If you do not work with them to achieve the same goals, the students will not know what is expected. It is not really fair to the students if we do not set the standard and try to work together. Co-teach does not just mean two teachers, it means working together to create one great class.