Lessons learned teaching in China

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By David Donathan

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to round out my summer by teaching a summer English program at Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University (NAFU) in Yangling, China.

Although I have been a college professor for many years, I did not anticipate the challenge or sense of professional accomplishment a four-week training session would bring.

The students already had a moderate ability in English. The intent of the class was to improve spoken and written English, while providing some coaching to help them improve their scores when they take their English competency exam. While I was a bit uncertain about how effective American teaching methods would be at NAFU, my concerns were groundless when the first class session began. The students were focused, excited and eager. After a brief review to determine the English skill level of the class, I stepped right into my curriculum.

I have never been so amazed at the speed with which students can complete lessons. The entire class, working individually and in small groups, was able to complete the week’s lesson plans in two days.

Needless to say, while pleased at the class’ progress, I was dismayed to realize that the materials I had prepared would not last out the week, much less the month.

I quickly realized that, unlike dogmatic, pre-planned courses, this was going to be a flexible, ever-changing curriculum. After developing rough lesson plans for the upcoming week, I spent many evenings revising and expanding planned lessons and activities; eliminating activities and classroom exercises that did not work; and developing supplemental back-up activities and lessons. While time intensive, this constant revision of the curriculum forced me to the additional advantage of reviewing everything I know about effective teaching methodologies and dusting off forgotten teaching skills.

Although the common philosophy addresses how much students owe to their teachers, this experience reminded me that teachers take away so much more from their students. The excitement and joy my class demonstrated, and the focus they brought to every class, reminded me of why I became a teacher. This opportunity to aid them in furthering their avid interest in international studies and cultures, and their desire to master a foreign language so they could do their graduate work abroad, was a significant professionally and personally rewarding experience.

Dr. David Donathan is a professor of management and the degree coordinator for the BA in management program at St. Catharine College.