Teaching in China has been the most enjoyable experience in education I've had so far. What originally began as a one-year break from my home country has turned into a multi-year and potentially lifetime career in China. I have learned so much during my time teaching in Shenzhen and I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.
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'The students' impressive academic ability'
As a former college psychology professor, I'm used to working with and designing cognitively appropriate instruction for students that are just beyond high school age. When I first began working with my class of Grade 11 students (15-16 year olds) at Vanke Meisha Academy in Shenzhen, I was surprised how little I had to change the level of challenge. After making some adjustments to provide a more supportive environment for English language learners, I was surprised to see them performing at the level of my college freshman and sophomores back home.
The strong academic ability of these students has allowed me to go beyond what I originally planned with classes; students now design and conduct their own original psychological research in my class, sometimes evolving into full independent projects that are entirely student-driven. I have been extremely impressed with the motivation, passion, and hard work demonstrated by my students.
There are challenges, however. While the majority of students I’ve worked with are excellent communicators in English, a few are still struggling. These students require some additional planning in order to overcome the language barrier but, if done properly, they can perform just as well as the other students.
'Surprisingly similar to America'
Another thing that surprised me upon my arrival to Shenzhen is how similar many Chinese high school students are to their American counterparts. When I accepted this position in China, I was expecting to find a classroom full of shy, quiet, attentive students diligently copying down every word I spoke. What I found was a group of talkative, funny, animated students that could have come from any high school in America.
The students were instrumental in reducing the stress associated with my move to this strange new land. I’m also impressed with how knowledgeable they are about Western culture. While I do find myself having to explain a number of cultural references in our course textbook, or providing some context for a current event, many of the students are actually pretty aware of what is current in other parts of the world. This has led to many interesting discussions on the differences between Chinese and American culture, conversations where I often learn more than the students.
Adam is academic research director and AP psychology teacher at Vanke Meisha Academy in Shenzhen