We have all experienced that teacher who is going through the motions, sliding the same transparencies into the overhead projector that he or she has been using since the late 80s.
Cobwebs, dust and tiny spiders magnified on the screen. Handouts yellowed at the edges. It is spooky and disheartening at the same time.
Preparation, or lack of it, is obvious to any student, and Chinese students are generally a lot more demanding than those in the West. In China, teaching is a vocation of esteem. This makes for hard working and respectful classroom environments.
It can also make for quickly deteriorating student – teacher relationships if you don’t appear to know, or care, about what you are talking about. Preparation, for new and experienced teachers alike, is vital.
Being prepared includes: lesson planning, goal setting, designing your assessment procedure and records-keeping processes, anticipating questions and contingencies and designing responses to these, running a reconnaissance mission on the classroom tech, and getting the materials you need ready in advance.
You will never have more time than before the first class to get ready. Even if you have taught it all before, make it new to keep it fresh.
Building rapport in the Chinese classroom is not so much about being friendly and approachable as it is about displaying evidence of subject mastery, establishing behavior guidelines, and memorizing a suite of occasionally oddball English names.
Mutual understanding is the destination. Trust and respect are the vehicles to take you there.
While student centered learning strategies are great for creating agency and autonomy among students, these approaches will not engender confidence in your ability during your first lessons in a Chinese classroom.
You should aim to demonstrate content proficiency first. Bring in the pair work once you have their trust.
You should also set expectations on behavior and communication in your first lessons. What does respect look like in your classroom?
What do Jack, Rose, Moon, Swallow or Star need to know about the lesson routine? How should they address you? Communicating your requirements early on forestalls potential anarchy and creates a platform for respect.
While the start of a new academic year can be an overwhelming drain on your energy and time, it is important to be open to opportunities to foster relationships with new colleagues, especially if you are new to a school.
People will be naturally curious about who you are early on. If you miss the chance to interact, they may assume you don’t want to know them. If you are not a natural loner, this is not the result you want.
Being available is also about being open to new cultural experiences. Especially if you are new to China, or new to a particular region in China, there is going to be an abundance of new food, places and activities to engage with once you have the time.
The first weeks of a semester are the time to build relationships with local colleagues. They will generally enjoy sharing their culture with you, but will also be hesitant about doing so if you don’t show an interest. Be interested. Get involved.
There are always going to be potholes on the road to salvation, or semester’s end as it is also known. Whether it’s a calendar that spins like a kaleidoscope from week to week, or a sudden ECA that looms at you in the late afternoon, there are often going to be things you would like to change, or ways that your school could be improved.
Being able to manage upwards is going to help your happiness, and maybe also lead to lasting improvements in your school.
The art of managing upwards, especially in China, is about showing that you care, affirming your commitment to the organization, and emotional resilience. Displays of anger or frustration will not get you very far.
Presenting solutions, rather than just describing problems, will make you a more welcome visitor in your principal’s office.
The ability to collaborate successfully across cultures is likely to be the most beneficial transferable skill you will take away your time working abroad.
A new semester is a fresh opportunity to hone this skill as you help your students, and strive with your colleagues, to navigate another year of education in China.