Teaching in Shanghai: A day in the life of Lily Yu

Teaching in Shanghai for this primary teacher means rising early to get to her school for children of migrant workers, which has space for over 1,700 pupils

Lily Yu

Teaching in Shanghai

I was born in a village in Henan province in the middle of China. My parents are farmers. They worked very hard to raise and educate their three children. As a little girl, I dreamed of becoming a scientist or a lawyer, but when I was in high school, my parents told me that I should go to teacher-training college, as becoming a teacher was thought to be a good choice for girls at that time.

After graduation, most of my classmates became teachers at local schools in Henan, but I wanted to see more of the outside world, so I left my hometown and came to Shanghai. In 2010, I was offered a position at Huabo Lixinghang Primary School and have worked here ever since.

The school is located at the farthest end of Minhang District, a rapidly growing area in the west of Shanghai. A decade ago, it was just a small village school, but it has since been renovated into a primary school for more than 1,700 students, all of whose parents are migrant workers. There are a lot of factories around our school, so there are many migrant workers in the area. The school is government funded and children are allowed to attend if their parents have a job and hold a long-term Shanghai residence permit.


Early weekday start

From Monday to Friday I get up at 6am, leaving early so that I get to school before the students arrive at 7am. When all the students have arrived, I conduct a health check to ensure they don’t have infectious diseases such as flu or chickenpox. After the check, I take the class through their morning reading.

At 8am, the children go out to the playground for their morning exercises. After that, there are four classroom lessons, including Chinese, English and maths. Between the second and third lessons, all students do eye exercises.

The students and teachers eat lunch together at 11.30am. The school canteen serves different food every day to make sure students get a nutritious and balanced diet, but I find that fried chicken is generally their favourite.

There are three lessons in the afternoon, on subjects such as PE, nature, art and music. On Tuesday afternoons, volunteers from the NGO Stepping Stones come to our school to give students oral English lessons. The children always interact enthusiastically with the foreign volunteers.

Most students are picked up by their parents or grandparents at around 4pm, though if their parents work late, they must stay in school and wait to be picked up.

Our school teaches grades 1 to 5. After graduating, only a few students go on to public junior high school in Shanghai. Most leave the city and continue their education in their hometowns, while their parents stay in Shanghai and work. 

This piece first appeared in Tes magazine on 10 February 2017.

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