Teaching English at high school in Shanghai

Cealia Wang


High school students in Cealia Wang’s English class in Shanghai showered her with presents and thank you cards on Teacher’s Day. When she was tired,students offered her achair so she could rest and brought her waterto drink. When she was ill, students visited her home to wish her a speedy recovery and offer medicine and carnations. Wang enjoys teaching, yet she left her post to come to Japan in hopes of becoming an even better EFL teacher.

Teaching English at high school in Shanghai

Before coming to Japan, I was an EFL teacher at a high school in China foreighteen months. It was aterrific opportunity for me.Just asin many other non-English speaking countries, English is considered a very important foreign language in China. State education authorities require EFL to be taught fromthe third year in elementary schools. English is tested in college entrance examinations and influences acceptance as much as Chinese and mathematics do.

The school where I worked is a top-ranking high school with a long history. It has three grades for over 2,000 students. 100 teachersare on staff. I taughtEFL at two levels, and had a total of 130 students. I gave them 14 classes per week. Each classroom was filled with about 65 students. We did not teach on Saturdays, but we sometimes assigned tests on Sundays.

As teenagers, high school studentsin China know what they should do and what they wantto do in future. Teachers do not need to pay much attention toclassroom management because of unruly student behavior in class or keepan eye on classroom discipline. For the most part I treated my students as adults. All I really needed to focus on as a language teacher was how to teach my students better.

In China, the preferred method for teaching EFL isthe instruction of vocabulary acquisition and grammar. In the morning, my students had to get to the classroom and start my reading course by half past six.A Chinese proverb that I inspired my sometimes sleepy students with is “The whole year’s work depends on a good start in spring and a day begins with a good start in the morning.” My colleagues also arrived at that time to assign reading tasks and to check homework. For that first class of the day, the main goalsof the students are to memorize words and to recite the lesson they learnedthe day before.

Acquiring grammarthrough memorization was a difficult challenge for my students. They had to work hard to usegrammar skillfully. Time and time again, I tried to explain grammar tenses and teach my students how to properly construct the syntax of the English language.Inaddition to the memorization of vocabulary and grammar structures, I asked students to do some reading, speaking, listening, and writing exercises. These four skills arethe ultimate goals for English learners. Students would be tested every second Sunday.

My friends in Shanghai who were not teachers said they envied me. Many people seemed to have an image of teachers having only a few classesto take care of and nothingelse to do after class. To my friends, teachersappeared to have aone-month winter holiday and two months off in summer, the same as students. Actually I was always very busy outside of class.

Before class, I prepared for my lessons in the staffroom. There were 6 teachers in our small staffroom. We each had our own desk, equipped witha personal computer for finding teaching resources on the Internet. We also had our own closet to pileup reference books and dictionaries. Preparing lessons was always an important part ofmy work. Teaching plans helped me to carry out teaching procedures in class. Our schooladministrators asked teachers of the same grade to prepare lessons together. When we had questions, we would resolve them together.

After class, I often spoke with peers about the classes I had just taught. Through this evaluation process, we could adjust our teaching techniques and strategies. The administrator assigned an older teacher to assist new teachers for 3 years. This mentoring program is calledthe Youth Project. Every Thursday afternoon, teachers from the entire English department observed a lesson and simulated aperfect lesson. Participants could voice their opinions without inhibition. Every month, teachers from other schools in the city had opportunities to get together to learn and viewexamples of good teachingmethods. These projects contribute to the development of new teachers.

During my first yearas an EFL teacher, I encountered many problems in my classroom. I had trouble accepting thatthe best way to learn EFL wasby memorizing new words and phrases and doing drills. I wondered why there were great gaps between the capabilities of my students. Why did some students seem to be born with the gift ofthe gab? Why were others afraid to speak up? These were hard questions for my peers and senior teachers to answer. To become acertified language teacherin China isa competitive process and hardwork,but to become a good English teacher iseven more challenging.

Language teaching is a dynamiccareer. Teaching plans cannot follow the same pattern and be unchanging. You have to try to change your teaching ways and use new ways endlessly. Maybe the next way will be more suitable foryour students.I have come to understand that different students have different learning methods. We can choose a better way to teach each student.Another proverb that I believe in is“There is nothing that is best but better.” Though you may bean experienced teacher, in today’s rapidly changing society, we are never too old to learn.

I decided that to become a good teacher, I shouldconduct classroom research in different classrooms.So I chose to temporarily leave my dear teacher’s desk in China.Wanting to learn more about how to coach, direct, and motivate the EFL students in my class, I chose Japan as acomparable EFL environment. High school classroomsin Japan are not diversified: All the students are Japanese. Japan thereforeseems to be a good research environment for me to observe and test my ideas. I am currently applying to attend graduate school and study English education. Ialways wanted to be an English teacher. My dream came true and I enjoyteaching, but I want to be the best English teacher that I can be. I will work at making this second wish come true.