Prior to moving to China I heard all sorts of things about the expectations of children, related suicide rates, and the immense amount of pressure these kids are under. Now, now I see it all first hand. I work for not just one of the best English schools in the city, but THE BEST English school in the city. The school has amazing credentials and students whose parents have the utmost highest expectations of them. Even working here and having the head knowledge of this, I often forget what their parents expect of them. That is until I watch a kid crack under the pressure.
As I taught classes as usual one Saturday, there was a girl who was being unusually insubordinate. So I attempted to follow my usual three steps: have them stand up at their desk, have them stand at the back of the room if they can’t keep quiet and still at their desk, and send them to the local teacher’s office. She stood up after much effort to get her there. Then when she wouldn’t do as told I tried to send her to the back of the class. She wouldn’t go. So I pulled her to the hall to talk to her. She immediately started crying. She told me she didn’t like me and started crying harder. She kept mumbling things under her breath and wouldn’t answer my questions. I had her go sit at her desk in the classroom and I went to fetch the local teacher. When we returned the student had left the school.
During my 30 minute break, I sat outside trying to figure out if I was really that terrible of a teacher. I felt like the worst. Guess who wasn’t going to win teacher of the year? Me.
The local teacher came outside and told me the girl had 3 extracurricular classes (2 hours each) on Saturday and Sundays. She had musical, English, and instrument (not sure which one…). She was cracking under the pressure of her parents expectations for her. She was in school Monday through Friday plus 6 hours on Saturday and another 6 on Sunday. Her summer holiday (as well as many other local students) is not actually a holiday. They have English intensive, this is where they go to English class everyday Monday-Friday for 2 1/2 hours a day. This does not include their other extracurricular activities they are doing.
Many Chinese parents want to push their children to be the best. Not just good, but the best. When I lived and worked in the U.S. every Chinese person I knew was excellent at something. They were the best at it. They were either the math whiz, the best at their instrument in band, or anything else they could be the best at. This is a mandatory part of their up bringing, they have to be good at something. They have to be the best. They have to beat everyone else out…
This started me thinking about why they do these things. So I started reading Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. It is a very interesting book and gives an insight to the raising of Chinese children. It also makes me sad for these kids. I see these kids in my classes at the preschool and at the English school. Before I do oral exams each semester, I ask each student “are you nervous?” The answer is always yes. Then I ask them why. Most of my students tell me their parents will be upset if they do not have a very high score. Some of them go in to more detail, but I am leaving it at upset.
These kids are expected to go to school during the week, and it isn’t what those of us from the US would consider a typical school day. Students are in school from 7:30 am – 5:30/6:00 pm. These students are also in extra-curriculars on the weekends. During summer and winter breaks they stay in high drive by going to intensive English school or putting in extra hours with their instrument or other things.
Their talents come at a price. Being from the good ole US of A, I have been taught the value of a fun childhood. My parents taught me to study and to work hard, but they also taught me not to take myself too seriously and to have fun. As I work with these kids, I try to make class times fun, but educational. I want them to remember that they are valued, loved, and cared about.
Growing up, some of my favorite teachers were excellent educators, but also some of the most loving and caring individuals. They understood that the fun and enjoyment they created around the lessons they taught would be directly linked to the enjoyment of learning. One of my science teachers made class so enjoyable that I wanted to be a marine biologist at one point of my life. My dad made learning about politics so enjoyable for a long time I wanted to be the first female President of the United States of America. My chemistry teacher in high school made it so enjoyable, I wanted to be a pharmacist. The little I did know about what I really wanted to do in life was that I wanted to work with people in other countries. I wanted to help them in some way. Halfway through college, I changed my major, received a certificate in TESOL/TEFL, and graduated with a degree in English. I wanted to teach and help cultivate a desire to learn in children.
These kids have immense pressure on them to perform well, have the top grades, be the best, be a prodigy. My only expectations for them are to participate and try, even when things aren’t the easiest. If it is enjoyable, they want to come back to class – it isn’t a chore.
Coming in to this new semester (Summer Intensive), I’m trying to work extra hard outside of class to come up with things that are fun, yet educational. These kids are worth the out of class investment.