Teaching in China 'is unique and intense'

Teachers and pupils in China are under a lot of pressure – a better work-life balance is needed, says Naomi Sykes

Naomi Sykes

What's it like to teach in China?

I have been teaching English at Ren Da Fu Zhong High School since 2016, but I joined their international curriculum centre this academic year. The students I teach are amazing, and my colleagues and I see that they face so many challenges every day. It’s an unique, intense and remarkable life to be a Chinese student and this is the reason I chose to move here and share in the learning of it.

They take extra classes, many of which are time-consuming and extortionate in price, and these are taxing for their emotional and physical wellbeing. The likes of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) are completely overblown here and many students start studying and taking the tests in Year 8. They do robot classes, computer science classes, extra maths, extra English, the list goes on. The students are expected by their families to be number one in the class, at least. Every student must aim to attend Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale and other top universities.

If they are on the autistic apectrum, if they have struggles in their family, if they suffer severe mental health issues, they must fit into the circle, however square they feel. It is very sad and very frustrating and, as teachers, we still have to work around these difficulties and find ways to excite, to engage, to inspire, to motivate, to invigorate these learners.

Teaching in China

Both pupils and teachers don’t get much of a break. The idea of more holidays is completely laughable here but after returning from a large end-of-term, month-long break for Chinese New Year, I can see the immense difference in everybody around me. We are refreshed, we are recharged and we are ready to work hard, to learn, to thrive. I am forever inspired and enraptured by the Asian work drive and their determination to succeed but I feel regular, routine, small breaks like we have in the UK would make the world of difference. Like the feeling of my colleagues around me, these students mean the world to me.
I’ve had so many unforgettable moments here. Last term, the principal of our centre spoke to me about organising a poetry recital for our school to perform to other schools and government officials. It took a lot of consideration, and collaboration, but I got to stand with my students and colleagues and perform Farewell to Cambridge by Xu Zhimo in both Chinese and English. It was my first time performing in Mandarin and I found it exhilarating. Sharing this moment with students and colleagues was a moment to cherish and I am glad we got the chance to do that.

Naomi Sykes is an English teacher at Ren Da Fu Zhong High School, Bejing 

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