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Everyday challenges teachers face in China


Language Barrier

Since most of the people in China do not speak much English and most of the signs are in Chinese characters, it can be challenging to find your way around or to ask for directions. This can be daunting for anyone who doesn't speak any Chinese aside from "Ni hao" but don't let this scare you. Chinese people are very helpful to foreigners, if they can't answer your question, they would most like direct you to someone (or something like an interactive digital signage) who can. In addition there are a lot of apps nowadays that can translate Mandarin/Cantonese for you. Some can even talk. 


Large Classes

China has a huge population. Because of this it is typical for schools to have large classes having 40 to 50 students per class. It can be overwhelming and intimidating to manage a class of that size but if you think about it, it’s just a chance to educate and help more children. Bring throat lozenges and water to class with you, or check with your school if they can provide you with a portable microphone so you want have to scream to be heard by your students.


Encouraging students to speak up

Brought up in households where children are raised to bring nothing but honor to the family or talking back to elders is not tolerated, it is common for students in Asia (not only in China) to find it difficult to speak up. Some students view their teachers as authority figures that one should not speak up to and some for fear of being laughed at if they give the wrong answer or they mispronounce a word. Thus it can be challenging to get these students to speak up – to ask and answer questions or to just give their opinion and you sometimes find yourself wondering if you’re actually getting through to them or not.


Students are not used to thinking outside the box

Students in Asian countries including China are typically used to traditional learning practices geared toward passing exams - memorization or copying facts. Because of this, many students who are not used to thinking independently and analytically find activities that require creative thinking such as creative writing challenging.


It’s a no-no to fail a student

Most parents believe that their one and only child is faultless. If a child fails, it’ll be your fault or the school’s fault. You’ll be criticized. The school will receive complaints. You may even be asked to put on a ‘demo’ class in front of said parents. All very stressful, all very avoidable.


English is not a major subject

In many cases, English-speaking teachers will be teaching oral English in China. Since your class may not have periodical exams or homework, like in other classes taught by local Chinese teachers, it is often seen as the “fun” class. As a result, students may want to work on homework from other classes or socialize, and your school may even cancel your class last minute in order to free up students’ time for other things. This can sometimes feel a little disheartening and insulting, but try to understand what the students are going through – the pressure from family and society, the pressure to be married by age 24 or to do well to bring prosperity and honor to the family.


How to separate being friendly and being a friend

Outside of class, students may be eager to hang out with you especially if you live in a dormitory on campus. They may even invite you to their home for dinner or to go out on weekends. It can sometimes be difficult to create a boundary between just being friendly with your students and being their friend, especially if they’re consuming too much of your free time outside of class or they start expecting favors from you. Parents can sometimes engage in subtle gift-giving in the form of fancy dinners or a small red cash envelope in return for small favors like putting their child who is hard of hearing on the front row or making the test a bit easier.     


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