Sinan No.3 Middle School - Sinan County, Guizhou Province
Working as an English teacher at Sinan No.3 Middle School has allowed me to experience an entirely new side to China. Being a relatively small city (by Chinese standards), Sinan, with its local culture, beautiful scenery, fresh air, and incredibly friendly and hospitable locals, is a world apart from China's big cities. I found the whole experience to be incredibly rewarding and I hope that in the future I will be able to return to Sinan to visit all the friends I made there.
Sinan is a very beautiful city. The Wujiang river flows through the middle of the city and is a popular spot for swimming and fishing in the summer. The city is surrounded by tall mountains that provide some good opportunities for hiking.
The eastern and western sides of the city are connected by three bridges that allow you to cross the river. The majority of the city's shops and restaurants sprawl along the western side of the city parallel to the river. To the north is the very lively older part of town with its winding streets, traditional houses and small shops. While to the south is the newer section of the city with a large shopping centre, a modern supermarket, pharmacies, banks and a few Western style dining options. This area, in particular, is developing quite quickly and new shops and restaurants seemed to be opening up there every other week.
My apartment and the school that I taught at are both on the eastern side of the river. This side of the river is comparatively quieter and less built up than the western side.
Guizhou's capital, Guiyang, is a four-hour bus ride away from Sinan and is a great destination for a short holiday. The city has many tourist attractions and excellent street food, as well as plenty of Western shops and restaurants.
Tongren is the closest prefecture-level city to Sinan. It is about two hours bus ride away with buses leaving Sinan frequently. The city has both a railway station and airport and, thus, serves as a good transportation hub to other places in China.
Other interesting tourist destinations in Guizhou province include Fanjing Mountain, which is only about an hours drive from Sinan, as well as the many minority villages that can be found throughout the province and provide tourists with the opportunity to experience the diversity of China's ethnic culture.
Sinan No.3 Middle School
The school is comprised of a single multi-story, modern building that houses both the classrooms and administration. My office was on level 2 and Grade 7 and 8's classrooms were on levels 1 – 4. Next to the school building is a large sports field that includes an athletic track, football field, basketball courts, ping pong tables and tiered seating. Underneath one side of the tiered seating is the building that houses the canteens and student dormitories (although very few students actually live on campus).
Each classroom has whiteboards, chalkboards and a smart-screen computer. I made full use of the whiteboards and printouts, rather than using the computers as sometimes (not often) a computer could be broken or there could be a blackout. The school also has a printing and photocopying room and the staff there are very friendly and helpful.
One of my favorite things about working at Sinan No.3 Middle School was the food at the canteen. The school provided me with a meal card that they paid for, essentially making my meals there free. The lunch provided at the staff canteen usually consisted of rice and about eight different dishes that you can choose from. Generally, more than half the dishes were meat-free, which is great for those that don't eat much meat, such as myself. Additionally, the canteen was a good place to meet and chat with staff outside the English department.
There are approximately 2500 students at Sinan No.3 Middle School. The majority of these students are incredibly sweet, friendly and curious. It was very common to be greeted with smiling faces and waving students wherever I went in the school. As with any school anywhere in the world, you may come across a very small handful of students who can be troublemakers, however, the Chinese staff will go out of their way to ensure their students respect the foreign teachers.
Living in one of China's less developed provinces, the students' overall oral English level was relatively low. Overcoming some of the students' shyness and fear of making mistakes can be a little challenging, but I believe is achievable through constant encouragement and understanding, as well as creating level-appropriate, engaging lessons that make full use of visuals and kinesthetic tasks. While the spoken English level overall is not that high, you will come across some classes and students who will continue to surprise you with their skills, creativity and determination.
It is also important to note that, generally speaking, much more is expected of Chinese school students when compared to their western counterparts. For example, exams are much more frequent and the amount of homework given is far more than I ever received in Australia. As a result, some students may view oral English class as an opportunity to complete other subjects’ work or to dose off. In order to prevent this, it is important to let the students know quite early on your expectations of them and ensure your lessons are engaging.
My favorite thing about teaching at Sinan No.3 Middle School was the school's staff. Everyone that I had the pleasure to meet there was always incredibly welcoming and supportive. I had the most interaction with the teachers from the English department, who were always on hand if I had any kind of problem. In particular, the teachers that I shared my office with, Miss Ding (Tracey), Miss Xu, and the assistant teacher Miss Huang (Eve) all made my time at Sinan No.3 Middle School extremely enjoyable. Not only were they exceedingly welcoming but they are also excellent teachers and teach the top classes in grade 7 and 8.
Outside of the English department, the teachers can be a little shy to speak with the foreign teachers because generally their English level is not as high. However, if you can speak some Chinese with them, they love to have a chat and find out how you are settling in. If not, a friendly smile and wave goes a long way.
My FAO was Miss Ding (from my office) who always made sure to inform me of any information that concerned me and was always on hand to help me with any issues I had. Principal Tian was also always there if I had any problems and went out of his way to welcome me to the school by arranging a morning hike up one of the mountains with one of the grade 7 classes - an unforgettable first morning in Sinan.
The School Day
I gave lessons Monday through Friday from 9.15am at the earliest to 4.40pm at the latest (the Chinese staff and students will start and finish earlier than the foreign teacher). On average, I had 17 lessons per week and anywhere between 2-6 lessons per day with each lesson being 45 mins long. There is a 2-hour lunch break from 12pm to 2pm, which is more than enough time to enjoy a meal and return to the apartment to rest (typical in China), before the afternoon classes start again.
Planning lessons for classes is the responsibility of the foreign teacher. I was given a textbook for the grade 7 classes, which I made use of in combination with my own tasks and activities. The grade 8 classes did not have an assigned textbook for oral English lessons and, therefore, it was up to me to select lesson topics and create learning materials. Both grades do have another English textbook that they use with their Chinese teachers and are tested on. I often used this textbook to select topics for the grade 8 classes as it would help them reinforce what they had already learnt in their other English lessons.
The apartment I was provided was very spacious for a single person and came fully furnished with a double bed, bedding, desk, computer, fridge, sofa, coffee table, water dispenser, air-conditioner/heater, and large built-in wardrobe. Wifi, utilities and purified water were all included and free of charge. The apartment also has a bathroom with a shower, sink and western style toilet.
Outside of the apartment, there is a kitchen and laundry that was shared between myself and two other couples who were also foreign teachers. The kitchen is well stocked with a fridge, electric plates, rice-cooker, toaster oven, microwave, etc. It was nice to see the other foreign teachers in the kitchen most nights and talk about our day teaching.
The apartment block is located on the grounds of Tian Qiu Primary School. As the primary school is gated with (very friendly) guards, the apartment building itself is very secure. The primary school is less than a five-minute walk away from Sinan No.3 Middle School, making getting to and from work very convenient. Additionally, the primary school students are incredibly cute and love to run up to foreign teachers to say hello.
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