Going into this, I was probably the only one who hadn't travelled anywhere, so I didn't even know what to expect. That said, this wasn't an opportunity I wanted to pass on. I feel like this trip really allowed me to learn what some of my students face when they come into my class not knowing English. As well, it allowed me a glimpse into what education looks like in other countries. I learned so much from this experience. Also, I learned
FOOD EQUALS HOSPITALITY
Every meal felt like a huge event. So many of our meals contained multiple courses that just kept coming and coming, sometimes to the point where you were so full, you were just praying the fruit would show up signalling the end of the meal. Before our trip, I thought I had experienced Chinese food, but Western Chinese food is a very different entity than food that you get in China. I was so glad that we had people who took charge of ordering for us, because I wasn't even sure where to start. I really tried to take risks in the foods that I tried, stuff I might have turned down if I had been offered it back home. I tried warm corn juice and duck tongue, among many other things, some I have no idea what they even were.
When I was at my schools, I was shocked by the amount of food they would give to me for lunches (see below) until the last day when I tried to again say that they did not need to provide me with Western foods, as well as the Chinese food eaten by all of the staff and students. The English teacher at the school laughed when I told her how much food they had been giving me at lunch, I assured them I would be fine with what everyone else was having, so I thought for sure that today I would have only one meal at lunch. That day, they brought me a Chinese lunch AND SNACKS (chicken wings, popcorn shrimp, fries, burgers, and butterflied prawns)! She told me that food was a way that they show hospitality, and that makes so much sense. I can even make connections to other cultures who I now think, must share that view. At my last school, many families were Punjabi and they would always offer me food and chai tea. Instead of refusing, I'm going to remember that food is a way of people reaching out and trying to connect.
The whole time I was in China, I felt hugely valued. I don't think I have ever felt so valued as an educator. In BC, during times of bargaining, I have felt devalued and even hated by the general public, so it was interesting to see how teachers are treated in another country. I loved how students all wanted my autograph and that even the English teachers wanted to pick my brain about teaching in Canada. I was seen as an expert because I was from Canada; my one school had all the principals and English teachers come for a lunch meeting to learn from me and ask me questions. They even had a reporter come to talk to me and she stayed half the day. Students would bow and say hi to me every time I passed them in the hallways; I felt like a celebrity.
Another thing that shocked me was the amount of time that Chinese teachers are given to mark and prep for their classes. There was definitely a sense that the well-being of teachers is important. This is something that I need to keep in mind after this trip, that my mental health and well-being are important and I need to take care of myself. I am so used to saying yes to everything that is needed of me, going in even when I'm not feeling 100%, and doing whatever I can to help my students be successful. I really need to work on that work/ life balance.
CHINESE SCHOOLS TAKE PRIDE IN THEIR STUDENTS' ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Not unlike schools in Surrey, Chinese schools all really took pride in the accomplishments of their students. We were greeted at schools with student performances, displays of student work, and photos of student activities. Students performed for each other in singing competitions, they presented some of their talents during assembly like presentations especially for me, and chose students to teach me some of the things they knew, like calligraphy. At one school, I was told to pick out a drawing and handcraft from a table of work on display. Work was always displayed throughout the school, but also outside the school. At one school, every wall was full of photos and student work, every stairwell had projects on display. It made me wish that we didn't have Fire Marshalls limiting the stuff we could put on the wall, because it was so neat to see. The space really reflected that this was a place where students were learning and that their learning was valued.
I think there are so many teachers in Surrey that are also doing a good job of taking pride in and sharing their students' learning and accomplishments. I also think using Freshgrade as a way of reporting, really aligns itself with sharing student learning. I talked about how we are using Freshgrade with Chinese teachers and they were really intrigued. One school at the Educational Forum for Innovation talked about a similar program that they use to share learning with each other, but it didn't sound like they share it with parents yet, just students and staff. I love that we are able to share out learning with parents in that way.
Most of the classrooms looked similar to those in BC, but they had all of these extra spaces for specific classes. They had media rooms, 3D printing labs, outside learning spaces, gardens, learning cafes, and math museums. They worked to have beauty in their classrooms and hallways by adding plants; these were seen as a source of pride. Teachers also had offices that were separate from their classrooms. In BC, schools have been closed if they are not full; empty spaces are frowned upon. Schools are built on a funding formula that make schools overcrowded before they are even built; some even open with the need for portables. Now, every square inch of a school is used; computer labs, French rooms, and multipurpose rooms have been deconstructed to make room for more classrooms because schools are overcrowded. Some schools have a whole school worth of portables. I hope our government starts to value education rather than see it as a business. It needs to be more about the potential for student growth and an investment in our children's future. I would love to see schools funded in a way that makes the new curriculum easier to carry out; teachers are taking on way too much out of pocket expenses and there is not the space needed to do the creative things we could do if there was better funding.
It made me wish I could design a school and have these kinds of spaces. I have flexible seating in my class, but even that is made difficult here because we have to pay for everything ourselves. I really wish schools in BC were funded in a way that made empty spaces possible so that we could have Makerspaces, learning breakout spaces, and empty rooms for specific subjects, like 3D printing or math museums. How awesome would this be? I would love to have an outside learning space outside my portable or a math museum, where ways we can use math and problem solve is highlighted.
During the Educational Forum for Innovation that we attended, I learned that schools in China are using robotics (like those that elementary schools were given in Surrey), using design-based learning, using Makerspace to teach other skills that align with student interests, and 3D printing. At one school we visited, students were presented with a design problem and they got to create it (see pictures below); the clubhouse like spaces were displayed throughout the school, inside and out. It would be amazing to have the funds to do something like this. Other things like labs with one-to-one devices or 3D printing labs were also well represented in China. I applied for the 3D printer grant in Surrey last year, and my school received one; my students were excited to be able to create things using it. Unfortunately, I did not get to take it to my new school with me, so hopefully this grant will become available again.
I'm not sure why I thought that things like Makerspace, flexible seating, creative commons spaces instead of libraries, and design-based learning would be something only seen in North America, but I was happy to see that we seem to be doing things in Surrey that are seen to be innovative on the world stage. I know we have amazing things going on in our district and it was awesome to see that the things we are doing are right up there with those schools that presented the amazing things they were doing. It seems like the new BC curriculum really aligns with what other countries, like China, are doing. I felt really proud to represent Surrey Schools. I really appreciate how Surrey is making it possible for teachers to do these things in their classrooms, by making grants for 3D printers, tools for schools, and providing all elementary schools with robotics kits, although I wish we had more room to be able to do these things like they seem to there. One thing I would love to see happen, is what they were doing in one school's cosplay department. Students designed and then sewed the costumes, then they used students in other departments, art and photography, to represent what they had created; they turned these images into the most beautiful book, picture something similar to a yearbook. I really appreciated how different departments were working together to create such a great record of the work they were doing. Possibly some secondary schools are already doing something similar?
It was great to be able to talk to educators in China and have them listen to some of the great things we are doing in Surrey Schools. One teacher was in a room full of devices, talking about how his dream was to be able to share learning with students in other countries. I was able to tell him about how I connected with other countries through Skype, blogs, and social media to discuss our learning and participate in global events like the Global Read Aloud. I gave him my email, so I hope he will take me up on the offer of our classes connecting. I also was able to sit and talk to large groups of teachers about the things I am doing to encourage students to think critically. It was really rewarding to be able to share things I'm doing in my class. I realized that I should do that more, so I will make a goal to blog more and share out my learning.
I know that some areas of China has a lot of air pollution, so I expected there to be other types of pollution as well, but I have never seen a city so clean. While on a bus in Hangzhou, we actually saw someone scraping the gum off a bus stop. I never even saw garbage on the streets. I wonder if this is partly because they teach children to take pride in their environments by making them clean up their schools themselves? Students are responsible for cleaning their own classrooms and another area of the school; I saw students sweeping and mopping. I know my own classroom can get so messy by the end of the day, and it's hard for me to even get my students to clean up their own stuff. I would like to know how they instil that mindset into their students? I can't imagine having rows of plants in the hallway without them getting destroyed.
Overall, I had an amazing time in China. I loved being able to compare what we are doing in Surrey to what is happening in another country. It is amazing to see similarities between students here and students there, learning here and learning there. I also feel that I have a better idea of how students feel when they come in to my class knowing little to no English. I know I was unwilling to try speaking more than a couple of Chinese words after not being able to hear how to do the correct pronunciation for thank you. I know I had a student like this in my class a couple of years ago; I knew she was capable of saying more, but she rarely did in class, just in smaller learning groups. At the time, I didn't understand, but now I do. I'm so thankful that I got to be a part of this trip since it was such a great source of learning for me.