Teaching in High School in Nanjing

As you may know, recently I have started working in a high school. It’s a completely new experience for me and I wanted to share some of it with you.

First of all, the school I started teaching at is not considered a ‘good’ school here in Nanjing – my supervisor told me as much in a lowered voice before I went there. Not that I mind it. From what I managed to gather, it’s not a general education high school, but a vocational school, a type of school where you’re learning a trade and after graduation students have a title proving they received secondary education and have qualifications of a corresponding level in their line of work.

Here I must also mention that in China, similarly as in many other countries, students graduating from high school have to participate in college entrance examination in order to study at universities. Students from vocational schools can also take the exam, however, it might be too difficult for them – the competition in China is fierce and getting good scores in gaokao is challenging even for students from top high schools. Thus, students who don’t hope for scoring high in the exam, have a better chance trying to get into a university abroad than to try getting into a university in China (paradoxically). Many of the students I met this week have admitted themselves that their school is not a good school. One of them, asked why he was learning English, said: “I’m learning English because I wasn’t a good student before and my grades in middle school were bad. So I didn’t get into a good high school and now it’s impossible for me to get into a university in China and I can only go abroad”. I think it’s quite saddening. Fortunately, they still have the opportunity to go to other countries.

Apart from these situations, there are also funny times or times when it’s difficult to keep a straight face. When I have the first class with student’s I haven’t met before, I ask them what they like to do in their free time. And one of my students said that he liked to think about whether or not he was a clone… I tried to salvage the so I summarized his answer by saying “Ah ha! So this student likes to think about philosophical problems in his free time!” and I moved to someone else. Unfortunately, that was not the end and he kept giving rather disturbing answers for other questions as well. For instance, when asked what his favorite Chinese holiday was, he said: National Day (which is the first of October and commemorates establishing the People’s Republic of China). I asked, alright, but why? He said: “Because on that day all the peasants will be wiped out”. I decided to pursue this matter and I asked him what he meant. He said that it was what Chairman Xi had promised during one of his speeches. I told him that I didn’t think it was what he had said and I told him that ‘wiped out’ sounded rather ominous, like killing the aforementioned peasants, and by the way, peasants is not a nice way of describing people in the first place. He insisted that he was telling the truth and in the end, we reached an agreement that he may have meant that poverty and crime would be wiped out by October 1st, 2020. The other time I asked him what music he liked to listen to and he said “forbidden music”. Now that was really awkward but I braced myself and asked for an explanation. He said that it was the kind of music forbidden by the previously mentioned chairman. This time, I stopped at that. Each time, his answer was followed by laughter from his classmates and my expression probably was like the one of the polite cat. On a side note, it seems that this student is a heavy gamer and to be honest, it is not the first time I encountered a student who had trouble distinguishing between reality and a made-up word world (meaning the whole thinking if he’s a clone of someone else).

I also want to mention how the school looks like; often times in China (at least around here) and from what I noticed in movies, also in other Asian countries, schools are built so that the corridors are outside, not inside the buildings and you enter classrooms straight from them. The classrooms have windows looking out on the corridor and so teachers and other school staff can look inside as they go by. Also, that means that the temperature in the classroom is almost identical to the temperature outside, and these days Nanjing has been rather cold – around 5-9 degrees. The classrooms are equipped with AC but they are switched off and are only turned on during lunch breaks when students often take a nap in the classroom. I guess these may be the usual conditions in which students study in this part of China (in north of China, central heating is common, but in the south people usually only have AC; supposedly, Yangtze River marks the boundary between those two) – in their coats, having blankets on their legs, with hot-water bottles to warm their hands. It’s completely different than what I remember from the times when I was still in school.


primary school
For example, in this primary school, you can see that classrooms are entered from the outside.


Also, every few classes, students have a 5-minute break to do an eye massage. There are music and voice on a recording coming from the speakers, instructing students on how to massage their eyes with their fingers.

As I mentioned, you can see what’s happening inside classrooms from the outside corridor; because during the time dedicated to eye massage some students prefer to do something else, like talking with each other or looking at their phones, one of the students stands in the back and if someone is approaching the classroom, he shouts “Someone’s coming! Someone’s coming!!” That is pretty funny to watch.

Anyways, I just started so who knows how it all will pan out. But for now, I think my students seem rather nice and I hope they will stay that way.

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