Teachers of Handan #31
Melissa Kapeckas is nearing the end of her visit to China. Her administrative exchange has been full of learning and growth, and we are very much looking forward to her return. We are also excited to host Mr. Pei, principal of Handan No. 31 Middle School, next fall. Mrs. Kapeckas will return to IACS on Tuesday, April 23rd!
With the tragic events of this past week, I am eager to return home to my family, friends, and community at IACS to simply be together and express my gratitude that they are an important part of my life. I spoke with pride to the teachers of Handan No. 31 Middle School about the dedication, compassion, and care for students that our school has; as we return to school, it will be difficult and important to return to normalcy, but I am confident we can do it together.
This blog post pays homage to the teachers of Handan No. 31 Middle School. One of the absolute joys of being at Handan No. 31 Middle School was interacting teachers. Consistently, teachers asked me for feedback on their lessons and were eager to know how they could improve their teaching and how they could help their students be more assertive and creative. English teachers (almost all who had studied in China and had not been abroad) wanted to know how they might improve their own command of the language, and ways we teach foreign language at home to help our students acquire the language. Their thirst for knowledge and desire to stretch their teaching practice was inspiring.
The Bureau of Education is working to change the face of education in China and move from a lecture-based system to a more student-centered one. In debriefing with other principals, schools, as you would expect, are in varying places with this shift. At Handan No. 31 Middle School, group work has a presence in classes, although, often, students are not yet being asked to apply their knowledge and assessment does not appear to be built into lessons. In one English lesson, I observed students worked to create unique skits with varied themes and then answered listening comprehension questions about each skit. Other group work tasks involved lower-order comprehension questions or following the directions of a physics experiment. That said they have laid important groundwork with a staff that is eagerly asking what they can do to improve their practice and build their students’ skills.
Peer observation is central to the work in Handan No. 31 school and many schools in China. Teachers are expected to observe colleagues in their department 1-2 times/week and they are observed generally once/week by colleagues. Each of the classes I observed had 7 teachers taking notes on a school-wide template. They debriefed both informally with the colleague when they saw them and in department meetings. All teachers agreed that this was an important means of support and for their growth.
How do teachers fit this in? Teachers teach less blocks/day in a longer work day. Many teachers at Handan No. 31 Middle School teach only 2 blocks/day during the 7:30-11:30 and 2:30-6 school day, leaving lots of time for observation, collaboration in planning lessons together, and meeting with students in tutorials. Depending upon if it was an exam year, teachers and students often were expected to come back after dinner for study together until 8:30 and/or all day Saturday. The average class size is 50 students in cramped quarters, posing a real challenge to moving to a more student-centered classroom.
Teachers often discussed feeling pressured by the long work day. Teachers earn 40-50,000 yuan/year ($6600-$8800 US dollars/year). At this rate, often a teacher would have to live with family to save for 10 years for being able to buy an apartment. Cars are relatively new to Handan and teachers ride bicycles or motorbikes to school, as they cannot afford cars.
Like in the US, teaching is a profession with distinct rewards and some real challenges as well.
~ Melissa Kapeckas