I am certainly in no position to argue with educational psychologists or neurologists about the functions of the human brain and the paths by which children arrive at conclusions in general, but I am one of the only five people in the College of Education who are student-teaching in China this semester, so I do feel I have at least a little authority on the subject of classroom management.
One thing the students from last year’s cohort warned us about was thinking the students would be like automatons, parroting back our every word and doing precisely as they were told as if they were programmed to do so. It is absolutely true that my Chinese students do not behave in this way, but by and large, they are more obedient. I cannot imagine an American classroom with seventy-five students having the minor classroom-management issues that I’ve had so far.
My biggest problem with my students has been talking, which is to be expected. There are a bunch of seventeen-year-old kids crammed into a room, sitting close to each other, boys next to girls; of course they’re going to get chatty. The Chinese culture does not allow for dating before upper middle school (high school) is over, but regulation can’t stop hormones, and there is a not-insignificant amount of flirting happening each day at school.
When teaching in America and confronted with students who were talking, I stopped the class, sometimes in mid-sentence. It didn’t take long for students to realize that everything had come to a halt because of their lack of attention, and they, chastened, hushed quickly so class could proceed. But in China, my silence is greeted with confusion. I imagine they are wondering why I’m standing there, saying nothing. Here, in order to quiet students down, I have to call them out individually, shush them, or make them stand in front of the classroom. I have never had a situation in America where I’ve had to do any of these things; I cannot imagine the indignation American students would respond with if I treated them that way, but Chinese kids expect it. That’s the way classrooms are managed here. In America, if a teacher shushes a classroom, students get in on the action and start shushing each other, and soon the classroom is a sea of shushes that is even more out-of-control than the original talking. Here, though, it gets students’ attention, and they pipe down.
Teachers yell at students pretty regularly here as well, though I cannot imagine a situation so dire that would require me to do so. I generally subscribe to the belief that anger does not belong in the classroom, though of course, on occasion my emotions have gotten the better of me. The day I wasn’t feeling well and assigned my students to answer questions about their behavior, I did not yell (and not only because my throat hurt); it’s just not in my teaching philosophy to yell. I remember teachers from my own high-school years who yelled, and they were the ones students hated. I don’t need my students to like me, but active hatred doesn’t serve my classroom goals well at all, and yelling only fosters an adversarial relationship between teacher and class. Not at all the sort of community I want to build in my classroom.
I have difficulty remembering to shush in China, and I have a feeling it will be one of those things that I will finally catch on to by the time I leave and carry the bad habit with me to America. Hopefully, though, I can leave the shush in Asia along with the idea that it’s OK to yell at a class of students, and leave my Chinese students with a positive impression of me.