Practices Taken for Granted Teaching in China

After teaching in the States and hearing on the news the superiority of Chinese high school education, I’ve been on the lookout – what makes China better than the US in teaching their teenagers math and science? What can I bring back home so that we can compete, so that the US will create its own new generation of mathematicians, scientists, engineers?

So far, it’s not a pedagological secret or groundbreaking philosophy – it’s much simpler, and it’s taken for granted.

1. The students will sit in their seats. Their assigned seats.

2. The students are ready to work as the bell rings.

3. The bells ring.

4. The students believe they can figure anything out, with assistance. No one says, "I just can’t do it," or "I just don’t get this," or "I’m not good at this." They accept that it is their personal responsibility to learn the material. Failure to understand only means they need to work harder.

5. Every students has his own textbook.

6. Meetings are time away form planning and teaching. We meet only for one hour a week, so meetings are efficient.

7. Teachers are hired because they know how to teach. Administrators let teachers set their own agenda, according to curriculum. Teachers use their own pedagogy, and find their own professional developent.

8. Results speak for themselves.

9. Administrators administrate. Needs are filled, deadlines are met, information is communicated, even without email or mailboxes. The administrators make the machine work. They leave the teaching philosophy and pedagogy to the teachers.

One of my favorite parts of this school is "Night Study." From 7-9 every night the students are back in their classrooms studying. Each teacher takes one night a week to supervise. The students have this dedicated time to work on homework and try to complete work independently, which you don’t get during classroom time in the US because the teacher is near for help. It gives the night duty teacher time to answer students’ questions, provide small group tutoring, confer with individual students, and give guidance on non-academic matters (What is LA alike? Where are the best college students in the US?), all the valuable things you don’t have time for in the US. When we were in high school, the "directed study" was invented to get more "time on learning," but it was only study hall in a classroom. Night Study is what directed study was meant to be.

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3 thoughts on “Practices Taken for Granted Teaching in China

  1. It reminds me of my time Community College teaching. Each of the students would have elaborate and unique reasons why they had a hard time with the work. But each student’s story had one thing in common — they had only spent 15-20 minutes trying to do the assignment! Finally, I wrote on the board and had the entire class repeat together three times: “MORE TIME!”

  2. You can’t overlook the fact that unlike America, where high school and middle school graduates are more or less average people, in China it actually means something to have made it that far in your formal education — especially since the drift away from communism in recent years has gutted much of the access average Chinese once had to schooling. Your students represent much more of an intellectual and educational elite than would be the case in a similar situation in America. As such, it is not surprising that they perform better.

    Also, China is not a democracy. Whereas many schools in America have had to lower their academic standards due to community pressure for things such as higher high school graduation rates, public schools in China are not answerable to the general populace to anything even vaguely approaching that degree: i.e., they can maintain their academic rigor because they are not forced by an electorate to bow down to the level of the masses. Democracy may be the best form of government yet devised, but that is not to say it is without its challenges.

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