Self Evaluation 10,000 miles away style
Being completely isolated linguistically, culturally and emotionally really gives you the chance to consider what is important to you both professionally and personally.
I think the it’s things I learned professionally that influenced me majorly on my return and have stayed with me.
I only had a year to do as much as I possibly could and I hit the ground running. The sense of urgency to get stuck in and start a sustainable project that could be continued was a constant in my mind. With absolutely no other commitments it is easy to throw yourself in but wrong to expect anyone else to do it. My placement partner was tired after 3 years in the Chinese system and we would have a clashette from time to time. Lethargy and frustration at the lack of urgency would be a recurrent battle but often won!
Isolation had a massive impact on my work rate but that was not necessarily a good thing for my health. I still would quite happily work longer hours than are good for me because I still have that childlike enthusiasm for teaching and education. That age-old phrase of if you want something done ask a busy person has a different meaning now for me. In discussions this summer a very good friend and I were discussing work rate and hours and how often people who can juggle are seen as being successful and perhaps what we need to do is learn to juggle less and invest more time in relationships with people at work.
2.People are more important than paper
Linking in to the last point about personal relationships, trying to explain the importance to the student teachers about the need to know their own students was in interesting task. They didn’t see that as important and were more concerned with the imparting of knowledge rather than looking at their learners as individuals. Again, I had to be careful to blur any professional lines or cause other staff to lose face but I was keen to make sure the message about child centred learning was clear. I got into hot water for refusing to change marks for students despite pressure from my superiors,I know they probably did change fails to passes both for economical and political reasons: paper being more important than the quality of teacher or their level of professionalism and confidence. I learned how to compromise on a massive scale but also how the tiniest of gestures or concession would allow me to move forward with progress and partnership working.
My Chinese colleagues didn’t feel valued for feel able to make a request for support or development for fear of it being seen as sign of weakness. I made a promise to myself that I would try to make sure I valued my colleagues and that they knew it.
Going from delivering classes of 50 minutes to 30 teenagers to classes of 2 hours of 50 trainee teachers really made me deconstruct my delivery, pace and challenge. Coming from ICT, lots of resources and my own room to stark teaching spaces and a piece of chalk taught me that the biggest resource was myself.
Teaching student teachers who had already been up for a few hours either working in fields or helping at home was just like teaching children who had not slept, who were helping at home: they all needed someone to realise that and where necessary. It the. A wee bit of slack and remind them that someone cared. Being able to give 100% in class is the least you can do. In school I had the 3 strand approach of : teach the weans, report to parents and develop the curriculum.
In China, teach the teachers, develop the curriculum ,make it sustainable and make it count.
Having well-trained teachers who understand how important Teaching and learning is, ( and not motivated by duty or a desire for perceived social standing – but a genuine love of children/young people and their capacity to change our society) is the key to the development of our education systems,not just locally but globally.
But you knew that.
My year as a VSO volunteer taught me as much about myself as a teacher as it did enhance my skills and development.
Would I do it again?
Absolutely but I would need to take a wee lady and a better supply of tonic water.