Any teacher who’s passionate about their profession wants the best for their students.
If there were some secret methods or techniques that we could use to engage our students, we’d be keen to know what those were. Right?
Although I’ve been teaching in China now for over five years, I wouldn’t say that I’ve made a phenomenal success of my career.
I’ve had problems, I’ve encountered stumbling blocks and I’ve never been nominated for a ‘Teacher of the Year’ award.
But I am constantly learning, improving and surviving.
Introducing the successful Teacher D
In my department at university, there’s a successful foreign teacher whom I’ll call Teacher D. His students love him to bits.
At many teachers’ meetings, Teacher D had been singled out for praise. Our boss cited him as an example for the rest of us to follow.
I was intrigued.
What was it about Teacher D that made him so great? What secret methods did he have in his teaching arsenal?
He’s a good friend of mine so when he invited me to observe his class, I immediately accepted.
I found that there were seven secret methods that Teacher D uses in his classroom in China which most other teachers don’t.
I’m happy to share them with you today.
Secret method 1: Greeting students with a fist bump
Most teachers would know that meeting and greeting students at the beginning of each class is important.
When I go into my classroom, I usually smile and say “Good morning” and “How are you all today?”
What do I get from the students? Silence.
Greeting students with a fist bump.
A couple of students might say “OK” or “fine” and that would be it.
Guess what Teacher D does when he goes into his classroom?
He walks around giving each student a fist bump or a high five.
The students absolutely love it!
Secret method 2: Wearing casual attire
As a teacher, I tend to dress fairly smart for class. I turn up in a crisply ironed collared shirt, long trousers and black leather shoes.
I’m fairly strict and I act in a professional manner at all times in class.
Teacher D, on the other hand, turns up for class in a t-shirt.
Teacher D wears casual clothes in his classroom in China.
Whilst this may not seem to be a terribly professional thing to do, it does have the effect of creating an informal and relaxed atmosphere for the students.
This makes them feel less nervous.
Secret method 3: Doing lots of teacher talking time (TTT)
Those of us who have done a CELTA or TEFL course for China will know that this goes against pretty much everything that we’ve learnt in our training.
So why does a TTT-heavy lesson work well in China? Well, there are a number of reasons.
Firstly, it’s the way Chinese teachers teach and thus the way that students are used to learning.
Secondly, having worked their butt off for the ‘gaokao’, many Chinese university students expect to have a honeymoon and to be entertained at university.
The foreign teacher is therefore expected to be entertaining.
Thirdly, if the students are nervous about speaking (and many Chinese students are), they’re going to love a class where the teacher does the bulk of the talking.
Doing lots of TTT also involves asking students lots of questions.
Instead of setting a speaking task, like a role-play or a student presentation, Teacher D is constantly asking his students questions.
This gets the students thinking, teaches them how to voice an opinion and also develops important questioning skills which many students in China lack.
Secret method 4: Doing lots of board work
The CELTA course teaches us to minimize working on the whiteboard or blackboard as much as possible.
This is because whilst we’re writing on the board, we can’t see what the students are doing.
They may also be spending too much time copying down what’s on the board instead of practicing English.
Teacher D used a really innovative method to get his students involved.
He gave each student in his class a piece of chalk and encouraged them to write their ideas on the blackboard.
Doing lots of work on the blackboard is one of Teacher D's secret methods in China.
Chinese students are sometimes reluctant to answer questions in class for fear of getting an answer ‘wrong’ and thus losing face.
However, to my amazement, Teacher D’s students were very keen to write their ideas on the blackboard.
Secret method 5: Delivering a lesson that’s a feast for the senses
Most of us would give our students a very focused lesson.
We would have a very specific lesson aim or objective that we want to achieve.
Teacher D’s lesson was nothing of the sort!
He asked his students questions. He showed them photos. He played songs for them to listen to. He gave them a video to watch.
All of this in just one lesson.
Secret method 6: Inviting other teachers to the class
Many teachers dislike being observed.
It’s nerve-wracking because if you make a big mistake, your whole department is going to know about it.
Teacher D doesn’t care.
By inviting me to observe his class, he showed me an alternative approach to teaching.
His students were also able to meet another foreign teacher, hear things from a different perspective and practice their questioning skills.
Secret method 7: Handing out small gifts as a reward
When I was a student in primary school, I remember my teacher having a huge chart on the wall. On it was the name of every student in the class.
If we did something particularly worthy of recognition, our teacher would stick a tiny star next to our name.
Teacher D does something similar - he regularly hands out small gifts to his students as a reward for their contribution.
Sometimes, he hands out sweets and at other times, it's a balloon or a small toy.
This may seem like quite a childish thing to do, particularly at university level, but his students seem to like it.
The downside to Teacher D’s secret methods
By ‘dressing down’ and not being strict, Teacher D has won the hearts of his students.
However, by doing so, he’s just perpetuating the idea that foreign teachers never teach anything important, aren’t worth taking seriously and are just good for a few laughs.
If there are any disciplinary problems in his class, such as students sleeping, playing with their phones or not doing homework, he may not be able to do anything about it.
Understanding the importance of student evaluations in China
Another criticism might be that Teacher D’s techniques aren’t conducive to learning.
His lessons are haphazard, have no clear aims and he teaches oral English by getting students to utilize receptive rather than productive skills.
So why is he deemed to be such a great success?
One simple reason is that in China, student evaluations are taken very seriously by schools.
Students can evaluate teachers in China.
The assumption is that if your students like you then you must be doing a good job.
Lessons learned from this successful teacher
I’ve learned a lot from Teacher D.
Even though I won’t be utilizing all his methods in my classroom, watching him deliver a successful class has opened up my eyes to how I can improve and be a better teacher in China.
And who could argue with that?
Have you worked with a highly successful teacher before? If so, what methods or techniques did they use? Please comment below.