On my planet…..



I’ve found that moving out my comfort zone is probably the best way for me to challenge my self as an educator and learner. Sometimes I may only put my big toe out the comfort zone but moving to China to teach was like jumping off a cliff with the fingers crossed hoping wildly there may be a net or at least a big fluffy cloud I could pretend would cushion the fall.
I had expectations but I couldn’t have been more wrong and despite wanting to turn back immediately as soon as I arrived there was absolutely no way I was going to. That’s what happens when yer wee mammy brings you up to “just get on with it hen”
I had come from the safety of a fabulous department, supportive colleagues who indulged my tendency for noise, song and nonsense and a curriculum that gave me room for creativity to the polar opposite.
Some of my preconceived ideas were realised, magnified and quite frankly slapped me square on the backside.
I landed in an area of China that saw me fly to Beijing, then fly 3 hours south, 6 hours on the train then 45 minutes by taxi.
I lived in campus in teacher accommodation and I worked 5 days a week mostly starting at 8 am and finishing at 6pm with the odd evening class. Classes were two hours long and my resources were a piece of chalk. Ta daaaaa.
Classes of between 30 and 40 student teachers who had never heard a native English speaker……you can bet I was thankful for my elocution lessons by then.
Initially I was charged with two first year classes for English language, two second year classed for language and methodology and a fourth year class for English Literature.
Courses? Eh no,but I was told what they didn’t want.
It was a classic example of people working in the same place but nowhere near working together.
There was a real competitive edge between them both academically and politically and I was struck by this profoundly.
I was working with another 2 VSO volunteers. One of them I bonded with immediately
– she had a degree in languages but no teaching experience save for 3 years in China. She understood the system in China and was an absolute god send in terms navigating the political landscape ( and I don’t mean staffroom politics of chairs and cups) and keeping me sane.
I clashed with the other volunteer terribly….but it has given me hours of stories and giggles.
I was there for a year and was very aware I had to hit the ground running much to the annoyance of many people round about me. I wanted to give my student teachers a brilliant experience but also help the teachers to improve their practice.
That was embraced. Not. Well it was eventually and the results were staggering.
I started a programme of observations and then co-op teaching. This involved a real change of mindset for the teachers. They were very secretive about what they did: some thought they were too good to learn anything from each other never mind from a wee fat bird from Scotland ( those leaving parties has left me looking slightly more than rubenesque!)
Getting teachers to talk about their practice and look at how to perhaps tweak, change, and dare I say it improve was just not the done thing and the dean of the faculty was initially very hesitant. However, we made him think it was his idea ( ladies….you know what men are like) and hey presto it became part of their programme. It’s always made sense to me…..
Observation, dialogue, next steps…….


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