As someone who always wanted to be a teacher, I had a lot of expectations going into my first teaching job. I thought teaching would be easy. I had good professors and bad professors at my university; I figured I learned enough from watching their examples to know what to do and what not to do. I knew nothing about the curriculum, the textbook, the grading system, or the classroom management styles Sias had. It didn’t occur to me that teaching Chinese students in China would be completely different than teaching American students in the USA. Even after going through the rigorous training Sias provided in August, I still thought I had teaching all figured out. Once my classes actually started, an overwhelming amount of stress and chaos hit me along with the realization that I had no idea what I was doing. My confidence wavered as my Teacher Shock sank in.
Teacher Shock is what first-time teachers often experience after their time in the classroom is not what they expected. My training equipped me well with the right tools I needed for teaching, but the actual experience of teaching is not something you can understand until you are in a real classroom on your own. I thought about what teaching would be like for fourteen years. While I waited for my class to start that very first day, I felt like I was having a heart attack because of all the adrenaline, fear, and excitement that was rushing through me. What first shocked me was how respectful my students were! When I told them to turn to a page in their textbook and do an activity, they did it instantly. There was no questioning my authority. Since I just graduated, I didn’t feel like a teacher yet. I didn’t feel like I had authority over an entire classroom but watching my students obey me was the boost I needed. My students always hand me items with both hands – a sign of respect in the Chinese culture. Teachers are highly respected in China, which makes my job much easier. Occasionally, students will try to test the limits on what they can get away with, such as sleeping or texting in class. Once I walk over to speak to them about their behavior, they are apologetic immediately, and their attitude changes.
Something else that shocked me was grading. It felt beyond strange to be handing out grades to students. It was only a few months ago when I was eagerly waiting for my paper to be given back so I could read my professor’s comments. Now I was that teacher, writing notes on papers and cringing when giving a student a low grade. I quickly learned that if I assigned a bunch of homework for my students, I’d have to grade a bunch of homework as I had over three-hundred students.
Teaching prep work also was a shock. It took me about four hours to make my first PowerPoint for class. Then I discovered I still didn’t plan enough because there was extra time at the end of my lesson. It was frustrating at first to try to plan a two-hour lesson, and just as I figured out the best way to teach it, I’d have to come up with another two-hour lesson plan for the next week. Being a teacher is a huge responsibility. It’s not something to be taken lightly. Every student deserves a teacher who is willing to invest time to get to know the students and figure out how they learn best.
Experienced teachers can get Teacher Shock as well if they move to a different school, especially if it’s across the world. The website that Sias teachers use to submit the grades is entirely in Chinese. There is also a “class monitor” for every class. The class monitor works with the teacher to remind students of homework, exams, and other important information. If there is an issue with one of the students, the teacher first should talk to the class monitor so the class monitor can talk to the student privately. Plus, making sure the students “keep their face,” is another whole way that teaching Chinese students is much different than Western students. “Keeping face” means making sure that students aren’t publicly embarrassed or belittled. There are so many differences between Chinese and Western-style classrooms, that teaching in China for the first time, no matter how many years of experience you have, is enough to give you Teacher Shock.
Teacher Shock might make you wonder why you chose that job, but it doesn’t last forever. It only took me a month to settle into teaching, and a semester to feel perfectly comfortable and confident in the classroom. I think that like Culture Shock, Teacher Shock can come and go as you get new students, teach at a new school, or even teach a different age group. Experiencing this makes us better teachers. We learn how to adapt, how to be more self-assured in our abilities as educators, and how to better connect with our students. I know now what to expect and not to expect when teaching in China. Have you ever experienced Teacher Shock? If you’re a first-time teacher, what expectations do you have? You can comment below or message me on Instagram at Rebekahisalwayslost if you have questions about teaching in China!