28 May 2009 11:44 AM

Shanghai Reflections - 2

by Dr. Rick

This week I’m writing about my recent trip to Shanghai, China, where I spoke at the quadrennial conference of AdvancEd/CITA, the international educational accrediting agency.  Earlier in the week I wrote about the Chinese interest in increasing their attention to students’ varying learning styles, their creativity, their need for more academic choices, and stepped-up encouragement from their educators.  (See my blog of 26 May 2009).


Today, as promised, I’m going to reflect on a more personal observation – my experiences with the young Chinese teachers to whom I spoke, their concerns, their goals, their dreams, and, naturally, their students.


First off, I must say it was delightful to be with these young professionals, new in their careers and full of the optimism and can-do spirit that come with a new career.  They are an antidote to the cynicism and politicking that threaten old-timers like myself and which we elders (if we have any sense) must avoid if we don’t want to be like the meanies in the faculty rooms of our youth.  (I remember one such unhappy soul who in 1969 told me, “Don’t trust any of them!  The administrators, the other teachers, and especially those rotten kids!”  I ignored her then and avoided her thereafter.  Smartest thing I ever did)


Here are some of the things we discussed, my new Chinese teacher friends and I.


  1. The children.  Of course, this was the first topic that arose.  Many of the teachers were middle school teachers, and once again I was reminded of the universality of kids.  Middle school kids in Shanghai are as much of a challenge as middle school kids in Baltimore.  They can have frustratingly short attention spans, annoyingly large reserves of energy, and exceedingly deep deficits in civility.  (As I wrote in my blogs of July 8, July 10, and July 11, 2008, the definition of a middle school student is a kid who runs wherever he’s going, and when he gets there he hits somebody!)  What struck me the most, I suppose, is the same thought that comes to me whenever I travel – how much alike people are all over the world.  Our customs and languages may be different, but the things that are truly important, like our children and their future, are pretty much universal.  These young teachers were eager to hear about and ask questions related to my experiences in classrooms.  Forget educational theory.  They wanted practical classroom management tips.  (See my blog of 11 December 2008 for a sample of what I told them.)

  2. Familiar themes.  They were interested in this blog and its tips on a wide variety of topics, especially tutoring, the importance of routines, role models, and “study buddies,” frequent themes I write about.  Asian cultures have long relied on tutoring for students to excel or to catch up, so they were intrigued to learn that tutoring is catching on in America and that I work for the country’s largest tutoring company.  As for routines, role models, and study buddies, these are ideas that also resonated.  One young teacher told me in halting English (but far better than my few words of Chinese) that he realized he must be a better role model for his four-year-old daughter!  (Click on “Archive” above for past blogs about these topics.)

  3. International languages.  English is taught as a modern language from the earliest grades in Chinese schools.  All of the teachers I met spoke at least some English, and many were fluent.  I had a translator who helped me communicate ideas more complex than “hello,” “good-bye,” and “thank you.”  Once again, I was reminded of the benefits of being able to speak another language in this interconnected world.  (See my blogs of 14 October and 16 October, 2008.) 

  4. Technology.  These young Chinese teachers are certainly “plugged in.”  They listened politely and, I think, intently as I spoke, but their attention was obviously sparked when I told them about this blog.  I’ve since heard from some of them, and one sent a happy picture of her and me taken after our session.  They rely on the internet to learn, to share, and to keep up.  They embrace the future.

  5. Professional Development.  They hunger to learn more about their profession, about educational research, about best practices, about how they can improve their skills and the learning of their students.  Teaching is an honored profession, and they want to distinguish themselves and their schools.  (See my blogs of 16 September and 18 September, 2008 about the teaching profession.) An idea I heard repeatedly is the need for increased opportunities for international teacher exchanges.  They’d love to travel (especially to America) to learn about other countries’ schools, and they’re eager to show off their own schools to foreign visitors.

I thank these young teachers for their kindnesses, their attention, and their sharing of their own unique experiences.  I look forward to hearing more from them in these pages, and I wish them all the blessings that come with this incredible career.       





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