#13 Teaching at Taizhou Teachers College-Teaching Observations

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June 17th 2006
Published: October 7th 2006
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Arthur & SueArthur & SueArthur & Sue

Outside one of our local primary schools. They are the hosts for this year's teaching competition.
This week Hans and I were given the opportunity to visit local primary schools in order to observe the annual English Teaching competitions. Each year, all over China, similar competitions are held in order to give Primary School teachers a chance to showcase their skills and abilities to peers, parents and authorities. This is an opportunity to really build your status as well as that of your school and also to share pedagogically what you have learned as a teaching professional.

In China, teachers who are considered the “best” are given postings at the “best” schools and are given the “best” students. Competitions like this are of some importance in determining your “ranking”, other factors being your qualifications, experience and ongoing commitment to study. Conversely, if you are considered of “lower rank” you are often sent to poorer schools and given students who may be struggling with their English language studies. Both Hans and I made the observation that this is in sharp contrast to the West where we often allocate the most experienced and talented of our teachers to the students we view as being in the greatest need.

On arrival we were greeted warmly by one of
Courtyard PatriotismCourtyard PatriotismCourtyard Patriotism

This striking statue is featured in a prominent position in the courtyard of the school.
the coordinating teachers and the vice principal of the school. We were then quickly shown to the demonstration classroom where the first of the competition lessons would be “performed”. On the way, we were treated to many welcoming, smiling, eager faces in the “real” classrooms where normal daily lessons were already in progress. The rooms were light and airy, with large windows, affording any passer-by a great view of the goings on inside. However, they were packed with about 60 students! So all you teachers out there, think twice before you have a whinge about your class sizes! I also observed that, contrary to Australia, the students do not wear official school uniforms. The only thing in common being the little red neckerchief that indicates allegiance to the Communist Party. After briefly being distracted by us observing them, all eyes were focussed back on the teacher and the lesson progressed as if we weren’t there. Teaching heaven?

The school has at least two demonstration classrooms. The first was a large room where observers’ benches had been placed behind the students desks at the rear of the room. The students was already seated and a number of observers, including several
Raising of the FlagRaising of the FlagRaising of the Flag

Local students raise their country's flag in a daily ceremony. Picture courtesy of my colleague Hans, as I was too slow off the mark and muffed my photo!
judges had occupied almost all the available seats. Hans, Arthur and I slipped in as discreetly as possible. Not surprisingly, we caused quite a stir, not only in the students, but also in their audience. The teacher contestant was a very young looking (they all look like that these days!) but confident young woman who quickly settled the students and commenced her lesson. Topic of the day was “My Goldfish” From the moment she started until the end of the 45 minutes every pair of eyes was glued to her. She gave a professional and thorough lesson utilizing many methods I had learnt in my TESOL course. I was impressed by the way she broke down skills and linked them back together again, logically and in a very “user-friendly” format. I recognized Professor Rassias’ philosophy of ensuring every student has the opportunity to speak almost every minute of every lesson, either individually or in groups with lots of repetition. The students were eager to answer, emphatically raising their hands and saying “Let me have a try! Let me have a try” In English , of course! Not a word of Chinese was spoken from beginning to end. My students, please
Keen as MusturdKeen as MusturdKeen as Musturd

This class was packed to the rafters with about 60 smiling, attentive students. They were very surprised (and pleased) to see two Westerners pass by their classroom window. Consequently, we were treated to a lot of beaming faces, waves and a cheeky "V for victory sign" or two!

Our next observation was to take place in a different location. This demonstration “classroom” was in fact a mini- auditorium, with a small stage and fixed seating for the audience. Again, there were many keen observers: peers, parents and interested others such as ourselves. The theme of the lesson was the same as the previous one, and both Hans and I were a little distressed to see a number of poor goldfish waiting their turn, temporarily housed in small containers with barely enough water to cover them, never mind swim around in. One poor creature was in a styrofoam coffee cup, about 1/3 filled! This on a hot summer’s day! Arthur was a little bemused at our “misplaced” concern and informed us that every grade 3 class in China would be doing a lesson on Goldfish that day. Surprisingly (?), this piece of information did not make us feel any better!

This time, the teacher had chosen a less traditional set up with students arranged in small groups. The stage being very limited meant that this group was somewhat smaller than the previous group we had observed. Again, the teacher used a lot of stimulating material, including
Setting The SceneSetting The SceneSetting The Scene

Here one of the contestants' supporters helps set up the technology in readiness for his friend's demonstration lesson.
a video, poem and song in order to present the information to the eager students. It must be remembered that these students have only just met this teacher. The contestants are only given 15 minutes to familiarize themselves with the class, and to “cue” them so they know what the teacher expects. As before, students ardently answered the required questions, but time and the nature of the competition did not allow for use of interactive student activities, only teacher-oriented activities. A little difficult I think under the conditions available.

Regretfully we had no time to observe further lessons, besides, I could see that Arthur had had enough of the Goldfish theme! Such an interesting experience. I really felt for those young teachers. I would guess that most of the contestants had less than 5 years experience, and the thought of being put “on show” under these conditions could be daunting for even the most experienced of teachers. There is an expectation of perfection here, and I was a bit disappointed in many comments I heard (those that I understood, that is!) focussing on such things as small pronunciation errors instead of the methods used to deliver the material.
The AudienceThe AudienceThe Audience

Each auditorium allows for an extensive audience of peers, parents and judges

Anyway, overall I think everyone was pleased with the opportunity to see some of their colleagues shine and to glean information in order to develop as teaching professionals. For the parents, it was an opportunity to be “part” of the educational process and have more of an idea of what is happening in their children’s schools. For myself and Hans, it was a valuable opportunity to experience first hand the changing attitude to traditional teaching methods in Foreign Language Instruction in China, at least at the Primary School level.

To my students who are to become teachers in the next year or so, you have a great opportunity to really inspire your students by making your lessons stimulating, informative, relevant and fun. Using communicative teaching methods affording lots of student-student interaction as well as teacher-student interaction are very effective in meeting these aims.

Thank you Arthur for another wonderful experience! Definitely worth the break away from my end of term marking!

Additional photos below
Photos: 10, Displayed: 10


Ready To GoReady To Go
Ready To Go

These excited 10 year-olds are intrigued by having two Westerners in the audience.
Model ClassModel Class
Model Class

This was a demonstration class of about 40 students, about 20 less than usual.Here they are saying "Hi" before the start of the competition. This teacher decided to use a traditional layout for her lesson.
End of Class RewardEnd of Class Reward
End of Class Reward

Goldfish stickers for good work! Hans, in the background, takes the opportunity to speak with some of the students as they leave.
New VolunteersNew Volunteers
New Volunteers

Next group of "model" students ready to go, waiting quietly and patiently.

12th October 2006

Amazing Stories
Hi Treadie, I have finally had a chance to read some of your "blogs" They are wonderful!!! I am excited about China. We start our tour on 1st November. Hope to see you at Interhash. On! On!
13th October 2006

haha ! maybe the school is my homeschool! yes!

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