I have been teaching for six weeks now, and in that time I have made some interesting observations, mostly school related, that I would like to share.
1. Kids around here are allowed to be kids a little longer. They are much more innocent than many of my middle schoolers back home. Recently, at an overnight at school I saw 7th graders toting stuffed animals, and other cozy comforts. They know very little about drug and alcohol abuse (which my middle schoolers back home sadly know too much about).
2. There seems to be very, very little boyfriend/girlfriend drama, and what I’ve seen of it is very innocent. I have not seen a single couple holding hands or even talk of couples in grades 7-12.
3. Girls wear limited/no make up, middle school girls are not shaving their legs.
4. The kids have access to the best technology. Now, granted, this is a private school, so these kids are coming from families with plenty of money. This school is not cheap. They all have new Mac Books, they have the nice headphones, they can navigate the technology much more fluently then I can and have shown me a thing or two, or three.
5. The teachers share their WeChat (texting and social media app) and phone numbers with students openly. We have homeroom WeChat threads and on those threads the kids are completely appropriate and respectful, teachers use it as a format to remind students of upcoming events and school work. The students in my homeroom even post inspirational videos and memes for us to talk about.
6. I can’t call a parent with a concern or issue regarding their child without first discussing this with the Head of Department, counselors, and some admin. I think because this is a private school, and one with a range of cultural backgrounds, we must determine the best way to handle concerns before making calls. Chances are, if a call is made, I won’t be making it. I can contact parents any time with positive information or contacts regarding permission slips etc. I just cant’t make calls home with concern until multiple parties have been informed and strategies are made. This is different than back home where I am encouraged to call the parents regarding concerns as soon as they present themselves.
7. Boys are extremely affectionate with each other. They are constantly touching each other, hugging, linking arms, tickling. I have even seen 7th and 8th grade boys sitting on each others’ laps. This would be socially unacceptable back home, but here it is no big deal. They rough house as well, of course, but there is just a lot more touching between the boys.
8. Relationships between the girls seem to be comparatively the same as girls in the US, but again, without as much drama (as far as I can tell).
9. A small number of the kids seem to be terrified of me. It may be cultural, they seem to be the kids that are not as fluent in English. Their reaction to me speaking to them or coming up to them in or out of class is a physical one. They can’t look at me. Their whole bodies actually shy/turn away from me when I am near. They look SO uncomfortable with my presence. I try to be quieter, calmer, gentler around these students, but I still call on them in class and I still check in on them. I can not hear their response at times. Usually I have to ask them to speak louder. I don’t believe they mean any disrespect. Hopefully they will become more comfortable over time.
10. The kids I am working with all have Ayi at home. These are maids. The word means “Auntie” and the term is used for in-home help, custodial staff, and more (I will write more about these women, but in another post). Regardless, I have students who have never made a bed, never cleaned their room, and will probably never wash their own clothes as long as they are living at home. Some students also have drivers. Some have personal tutors. Despite this, in school they are hard working and respectful for the most part. However, there are the “little princes” and “little princesses” of the bunch. It would be hard not to be a princess when you are dropped off at school by your driver, in a very fancy car, in middle school.
11. If I want a true assessment of my students’ writing I have to have them write in class, because if I send the work home as homework it may be completed by a tutor. They don’t all have tutors, but there are a decent percentage that do.
12. The students are from a variety of backgrounds but predominantly Asian. I have students from: China, Malaysia, Singapore, Taipei, Taiwan (but we can’t talk about that), Hong Kong, Thailand, and a small handful from Europe (Spain, Belarus, Swedish). I have no Caucasian Americans in my classes, but I do have a couple of Asian students who have lived for a time in America.
13. My own kids are the only Caucasian kids in their classes. School is VERY different for them. More on that another time.
14. We have received emails from the head of school reminding us that we need to be mindful of what we write in emails regarding the Chinese government. I am not to talk about Taiwan in class, display the Taiwanese flag, or have maps that show Taiwan on display in my classroom.
15. Snacks are a VERY big deal for these kids. Kids K-12 can buy snacks at lunch in the cafe, and they do…by the pocket full. They can get ice cream in the cafe before they head over to the canteen for lunch. If you mention that they can bring snacks to some event, they will begin organizing the snack menu immediately amongst their friends, and they will bring bags of snacks . They are good at sharing. They want me to taste things and sour candies are very popular.
16. My American culture is of interest to them. They are quick to giggle about Trump. Gun control is of interest as well, and hunting. Hitting a deer with my car, seeing wildlife, and people hunting for food/sport brings them to the edge of their seats. They are shocked to hear that I enjoy working outside in my yard, and growing my own fruits and vegetables. Really these kids are city kids in a communist country, so they have many questions about my semi-rural, American lifestyle.
17. I enjoy getting to know their different cultural norms as well. They are proud of their respective countries and enjoy telling me about them. They show respect to me in a variety of ways. Korean kids give me one mid-level bow when they see me in the halls or when they come into my room. Thai kids bow multiple times as we cross paths, and end up bobbing their way past me in the halls. Chinese kids hand things to me, anything, with both hands and a little nod, I think I am supposed to receive things with two hand as well.
These observations are simple and stand only as further introduction to my experience here. I have SO MUCH to learn. Often I feel like an American idiot in this new place and Chinese life and culture is full of intricacies and processes that I am spending a lot of time trying to figure out. I’ve made some progress, however, and life is getting easier here.
We are headed to Beijing this next week for China’s National Day break. I am excited about meeting up with an old friend of Aaron’s and seeing the sights in Beijing that I have been learning about for years. I will be sure to take lots of pictures to show you…I feel a history post coming on!!