Back to School: Tips for Teachers

Whether you are starting afresh or returning to your current school, the start of a new academic year is a great opportunity to reset, reflect and revitalize your teaching practices. Here are some tips on navigating the opportunities and challenges of the crucial first month back to school.
August 26, 2022

1. Be Prepared

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.

Whether you are using an old school overhead projector, or a state-of-the-art model, you need to be prepared. Photo by Nitish Lakra on Unsplash

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.

Lesson planning is the lynchpin of a successful start to any semester. Photo by on Unsplash.

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.

2. Build Rapport

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.

Demonstrate subject profiiciency early on in your tenure in a Chinese classroom. Photo by Yustinus Tjiuwanda on Unsplash

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.

Setting expectations and creating routines, such as the layout of the classroom, can provide a sense of stability for your studdents.. Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

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.

3. Be Available

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.

Be available for building relationships with colleagues, and be open to new culttural experiences. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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.

4. Manage Upwards

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.

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

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.

Maintaining lines of positive communication with school management is always the best way to address any challenges you may face. Photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

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.