Thursday, November 1, 2012

Teacher Samantha Goes to School

Having taught in public schools in America for four years, I wanted to see how the public schools in Taiwan compared.  I had heard about many of the differences from my students at the private “cram school” where I’ve been teaching for past year.  And of course, every teacher in America knows that students in many Asian countries are outperforming their American counterparts on standardized tests.  So when I got the opportunity to visit a local elementary school for a day, I sharpened my pencils and headed back to school.

I arrived at the front gate of De-Yin Elementary School and was escorted to Grade 3 Class 8 (or 308) by Huang Laoshi (Teacher Huang).  

Main entrance, De-Yin Elementary School

Class was already in session, and while the students were excited and distracted by the waiguo ren (foreigner) at the door, the teacher kept the lesson going.  The class was studying magnets, and the science teacher, Lee Laoshi, was leading while Teacher Huang had time to correct workbooks and plan lessons.  Immediately I was impressed.  A specialized science teacher in the elementary school?  Planning time for the classroom teacher?  Ahhhh, mere pipe dreams back in Milwaukee Public Schools.  

Teacher Lee explains magnets

After the 40-minute lesson, there was a 10-minute break before the next lesson began.  Apparently, here in Taiwan, there is no mandatory daily 90-minute reading block followed by a 75-minute math block for these young 8-year-old minds.  According to the weekly classroom schedule, EVERY lesson is followed by a 10-minute break.  All day.  Huh.  

Weekly Schedule for Class 308

The regularly-scheduled Social Studies lesson was postponed because the whole school had an earthquake drill.  I’ve participated in fire drills, tornado drills, and emergency lock-down drills, but never an earthquake drill.  At first, I wasn’t exactly clear on what we were practicing for.  The teachers put on hard hats and the students climbed under the desks while the principal or some other authority spoke over the loud speakers.  I thought maybe we were preparing for a missile attack from China.  I always think the worst.  

Duck and Cover

Earthquake!  (P.S. Only my head fit under my desk)

After a couple minutes huddled on the floor, some sort of signal told everyone to stand up, calmly line up at the door holding a book over their heads, and file outside in an orderly fashion.  Since I didn’t know what was really happening, I forgot to grab my camera in the confusion.  But once we got outside, the entire school sat quietly on the outdoor track and listened to the principal explain what would happen in the event of a real earthquake.  Then the fire department came over and sprayed the hose at a pretend fire while EMTs simulated first aid on a couple lucky student volunteers.  Overall, the drill was very thorough.  Nothing like the fire drills I’m used to.  And the students were so ORDERLY.  No kids were yelling or running around.  They just sat in their neat rows, girls in one group, boys in another, class by class, lined up from first grade all the way to sixth.  Truly impressive.

After all that excitement, you would think the rest of the morning would be shot, but no: the students came back in to the class, settled into their seats, and took out their books for the next lesson.  

Teacher Huang led a math lesson about using a scale to measure weight in grams and kilograms.  

Hard at work

Check out that whole-class engagement!!

At lunchtime, the students stayed in the classroom, and lunch was delivered directly to the class.  Each student bought his or her own bowls and utensils, and it was self-serve from the trays of food.  The school lunch consisted of rice, an egg dish, cooked spinach, pork and pea pods, french fries, soup, and an orange.  That’s GOT to be healthier than pizza, chicken nuggets, brownies, and chocolate milk, right?!?  


Again, so orderly

No food fights

Pretty tasty school lunch.  Beats the heck outta "mock
chicken leg".... Why is it "mock"? So gross.

Lunch lasted 45 minutes, and the students took their time eating.  No wolfing down the food to get outside to recess 5 minutes sooner.  I got to spend some time talking with the students.  Some of them spoke English well enough to ask some questions and tell me about their family and friends.  More than anything, they were curious and eager to be friendly with me.  

Being kids

After lunch, it was nap time.  Yes, you read that correctly: nap time.  And this wasn’t some half-hearted attempted at rest.  The kids had pillows stored in the cabinets and put jackets over their heads to block out the light.  Rest time was 45 minutes, and even the teacher got to partake!  She passed the task of watching the class on to a student monitor, who dutifully took note of any classmates who were not resting.  

Ahhhh, peace and quiet

I took this opportunity to wander around the school.  I found that all the classes were napping, even the older kids.  Probably pretty good for digestion.  The halls were empty and quiet, giving no indication that far more than 1,000 young children were present. 


A few nap-time resisters

De-Yin Elementary School.  And yes, this is an average-sized school.


De-Yin Elementary School courtyard

Break-time ended and Mandarin class began.  The day’s lesson was Chinese calligraphy, so the students took out their special tools: paper, brushes, and ink.  Teacher Huang instructed the class on proper brush grip and showed a video demonstrating the strokes.  The students seemed to really enjoy this lesson, working with great concentration and precision.  

Preparing materials

"Direct instruction"

Calligraphy class

I had to leave before the school day ended, but on my bus ride back to work, I tried to reflect on what I had seen at De-Yin Elementary School and determine the major difference between the public schools in Taiwan and America.  I only had one day to observe, and I am sure there are many many layers of things I did not see.   But what is it?  What is it that makes the public school systems so different?

One thing is certain: the kids are just as sweet in Wugu as they are in Milwaukee!  

Thanks, Class 308!

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