When you are considering teaching english in China, you have a lot of things you need to know in advance, so that you could teach well in China.
Cultural differences between China and the western countries
Whether you’re teaching Chinese students in a western setting or there’s only one Chinese student in your class, and whether your Chinese students are from Mainland China or elsewhere, the Chinese culture is very strong. Your students will make better progress if you understand and respect it. And if you’re teaching in China, then it’s essential to understand the cultural background for your own comfort. Here are some of the most obvious and relevant differences:
The importance of education and attitude towards teachers and homework
From the Chinese viewpoint, education is very formal and serious, and teachers are expected to tell students exactly what they need to know. Students are expected to respect teachers, work hard and do lots of homework in order to succeed. Sometimes the appearance of studying—being present (though not necessarily alert) and learning lists of words—seems to be more important than being engaged in learning.
Styles of education and learning in the school, student behavior and motivation
In Chinese education, factual information is important, fantasy is not; science wins over arts. Students expect to be taught steps to solve problems. Teachers must not be questioned or challenged. Reading is simply the decoding of information and facts rather than a pleasurable occupation or discovering opinions to be responded to. So it comes as a surprise to them—whether within a mainstream western school or with a foreign teacher in their school in China—to find that they’re expected to problem-solve, without necessarily being told exactly how. There could even be more than one answer to a question. You’ll want to facilitate and model problem solving, and your students should be actively involved rather than passively observing. Encourage them to question you, and help them discover that reading is a constructive process.
Families and home life
In Mainland China until very recently, only wealthy families (who could afford the fine) and ethnic minorities in rural areas were permitted to have more than one child. So most children have no siblings, and no aunts or uncles. Each child has six doting adults (parents and grandparents) pressuring them to succeed for the sake of the family. On top of that, there are far more boys than girls, and boys are often treated with more deference than girls.
Special interests and special abilities
Chinese students love numbers, math and things that are predictable. They don’t seem to mind if things are complicated. So if a class of students appears bored, try giving out something like word search puzzles and immediately you’ll see such total engagement that even recess is of no interest until they’re finished.
The importance of “face”
Nobody likes to feel stupid or be made to look silly. But you have to realize that “losing face” is a much, much bigger issue than that with Chinese people—especially adults, but also with children and teenagers. If you notice a change in your students, you might like to consider that they have lost face, and look for ways for them to save face again.
Handling cultural differences in a classroom setting
Whether you have all students in a mainstream classroom in a western country, or are teaching English to students in China, you have already taken the first step: being aware of the differences. Depending on the age and ability of your students, open discussion times about cultural expectations can make students (western and Chinese) more sensitive to other cultures. Groups of students could complete projects and present talks on their own or each other’s cultures. Students in a Chinese classroom—especially if they haven’t yet had much experience with foreign teachers—may at first be surprised, or even somewhat disconcerted, and hopefully eventually delighted by your teaching style.
Enjoy the respect you get just from being the teacher, and pay attention to these differences to keep on earning your students’ respect by being an effective, fun teacher.
Teaching in China involves in learning about Chinese education background and Chinese culture. It’s not just about teaching method or teaching materials, it’s more about knowing your students and their way of learning, trying to combine western teaching with Chinese students and Chinese teaching is the key. Hope you have a good experience working in China and know more about this great country!