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A Letter from China
November 28, 2000

Letter from China:

Following is an interview with a new teacher about Chinaís education system.

Zhe Shi Wo De Sheng Huo (This is my life).

First, would you introduce yourself to our city and its readers?

Hello, my name is Nie Jing, and I got an English name, Julie (I got that from my foreign teacher), and "Julie" means "youthful". I am 23 years old. If Iím getting older, please donít ask my age (Iím kidding). I know for Western people itís not polite to ask a ladyís age; you know, more and more Chinese gentlemen accept this custom. Of course, I like it!

You are a teacher in middle school: explain what that is, and how long you have taught.

Iím a fresh-new teacher (like a freshman in college) working in one of the key Middle Schools in Nanjing. I teach seventh grade students English. I started my work in August this year. I not only teach English class for 112 students, but also Iím a "home-room teacher" (as you call it) for 56 students.

Do you like teaching?

Emm, now, itís hard for me to give you a definite answer. Frankly, when I was in primary school, I dreamed of being a teacher, I even taught by myself in front of a mirror, or when several kids were playing a game, we would do "teaching a class." At that time, I had a simple reason, that is, a teacher is respected by scores of students. I hope one day I can get many cards and gifts on Teacherís Day. However, when I was in Junior Middle School, unfortunately, I met a "home-room" teacher who was so vain that she gave special care to those who could do her a favor. All of my admiration for teachers was gone. "How can a teacher treat students unequally?" "Why does a teacher have so many shortcomings?" As time passed by, I learned more about this world; I learned how to think about a problem objectively; I begin to know there are no perfect human beings, even teachers; but at that time, I told myself, "Iíll never be a teacher." So a childhood dream was broken.

By the way, in China, the social position of teachers is getting higher and higher. We used to call them "Poor Teachers," but now although teachers are not rich, they are respected by people. And we have many beautiful words to praise teachers like "Teachers are engineers of the soul of human beings" and "the job of teaching is the greatest career under the sun (in the world)." Many people consider that teaching is a good job, especially for females, because itís stable, itís respectable and safe.

Life is unpredictable; Iím a teacher now. I know I havenít tasted all the tastes of being a teacher; I know all jobs have their negative part. As far as I am concerned, I donít like to be a "home-room" teacher. Our "home-room" teachers are different from yours. Our students will stay in class all three years. And in most cases, one "home-room" teacher will go with them until their graduation. "Home-room" teacher is a baby-sitter, a policeman, a nurse, a preacher, and a housekeeper! She/he has to take care of everything in class.

From my first day until now, I worked from 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. almost every day. I took four students to see a doctor. Even I have never gone to a hospital alone! I dealt with two fights; I had to find evidence to prove their lies. I should tell them you should study for yourself everyday. You may ask, can you choose not to be a "home-room" teacher? Yes, I can. But if I want to be promoted, I must get several years experience as a "home-room" teacher. You may say, you should relax yourself, and the longer you work, the easier you will feel about the job. Yes, thatís true, so Iím still trying to figure out whether I am fit for this job or not. Itís hard to be a good "home-room" teacher because itís better to love every student, no matter who is the "white swan," or "ugly duck."

Where did you grow up?

I was born in a small city named Huai-an, which is the hometown of our Prime Minister Zhou Enlai. When I was about eight, our family was moved to Nanjing, simply because my parents thought itís better to bring up my brother and I in a big city.

What do your parents do?

They are working in a factory specialized in making road machinery.

Why are you from a Two-child family instead of One-child only?

Because I was born in 1978. I think about 1981, the policy of "One Child, One Family" was carried out. However, until now, some people in rural areas still have more than one child. These people will have to pay money to the government for having the second child.

Describe your neighborhood?

Neighborhood? Believe it or not, I even donít know their faces and their family names. Weíre living in an apartment and there are two families on each floor. People donít talk much, so many older people donít like this kind of living. They still prefer the living ways in the past, that is several houses are on one yard.

What was your most terrible experience?

The most terrible experience? Let me see. Probably, thatís the year when I was in eleventh grade. At that year, we lived in my grandmotherís home because my house was rebuilt from the flood. One night my fatherís left knee was hurt in a traffic accident. He had to stay in the hospital and at the same time my mom got a serious illness, and my brother was studying in a northern university. During that time, itís the first and only time that I saw my fatherís tears. Really, itís a hard time for us. Anyway, it has finished!

What was your happiest experience?

The happiest experience, emm...I think the real beginning of my own life is from my college life. I canít remember much before 7 years old. From 7 years old to 19 years old, the prime tone of my life is studying. So I have no special memories. My happiest experience is to have a trip to Beijing. That trip is really a chance for me to enrich my life, enrich my knowledge and learn more about the Chinese world.

What do you see as the differences in American and Chinese teaching?

Oh, itís a pretty hard question. My knowing about Chinese teaching is from 16 years of being a student and 3 months of being a Junior Middle School teacher, and my knowing about American teaching is from my four foreign teachers and books or movies. So my comparison is limited within my scope.

First, variety. I have never seen one Chinese teacher teach sitting on the desk or acting out the whole story or dressing up as a character in the story, but I have seen American teachers do it.

Second, we have to teach longer hours from 7:30 to 12:00; lunch 2 hours; then from 2-5:00 or 6:00.

Third, China has a national controlled educational system and the government requires exams in grades 6, 9, and 12 which determine placement of students in different schools based on exam scores.

Fourth, we used to fail students in our classes, but that has almost entirely stopped. I know that when some students fail grades or are very weak in America, they can go to summer school. But in China we donít have that. However, now more and more parents are hiring private tutors for children who are slow.

Last, we have the same students in each class throughout their high schools career from grades 6-9 and 10-12. I know this is different in America where different students go into classes each semester. They get to choose some classes and mix up the students.

ē ē ē ē ē ē ē ē ē ē ē ē

(More about China next time. Ming Nian Zai Jian (See you next year)


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