Top ten ways students can make a Chinese teacher mad

Chinese traditional teaching style is to put high pressures on students. Teachers, parents, grandparents, competing students, society, all work together for a common goal — students’ good academic results. 

When going abroad, some Chinese teachers brought this teaching style with them and used it to teach in a culturally different country. And they suffered. 

In 2015, BBC produced a three-episode documentary, Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School, which showed us five Chinese teachers teaching 50 British teenagers in a way common in China. The result was mixed. Many teenagers found it difficult to adapt to the Chinese methodologies, while Chinese teachers complained that the classroom was always chaotic.

The documentary explains that, in China, Chinese teenagers grow up in an education system infiltrated with traditional Chinese values, for example, respect your teachers, behave in the classroom, do your homework, and get ahead. 

Once in Europe, these Chinese teachers brought the same expectation to their classes. When facing students who did not behave as they were expected to, because they did not hold the same values, these Chinese teachers got really upset. 

Because of cultural differences and different upbringing environments, Chinese teachers are very vulnerable to becoming their own victims. 

Below is my top ten list on how students can drive Chinese teachers mad.

#10 Skipping classes.

#9 Always being late to class.

#8 Forgetting their Chinese textbooks.

#7 Either talking to other students or daydreaming.

#6 Not participating in class activities.

#5 Getting all the Chinese characters wrong at dictations. 

#4 Using Google translate when writing an essay.

#3 Making the same mistake a thousand times.

#2 Not doing homework.

#1 Saying that it is useless to learn Mandarin.

It is not easy to be a Chinese teacher, especially in an environment that students don’t care about learning Chinese at all.

Fortunately, Chinese teachers are rarely defeatists.

Below are some turn around strategies for Chinese teachers:

  • #1 Chinese teacher’s skill set

    To be a native Chinese speaker does not guarantee anyone to become an effective teacher. 

    To equip yourself with all the necessary skills is the first step. We provide a check list for all Chinese teachers. If you find you’re lacking one or two skills in the list, do something to fix it.

    Read the check list here: The necessary Chinese teacher’s skill set.

  • #2 A full understanding of Chinese teacher’s roles in the classroom

    Chinese teachers have more jobs to do than just teaching. Indeed, teaching the Chinese language is only a small part of the job. 

    There are many jobs for Chinese teachers to do and many roles for them to fill. All these roles are important to facilitate students to learn Chinese and learn it well.

    Read more about the teacher’s roles here: How teachers manage themselves in Chinese classes.

  • #3 Use cultural activities

    Cultural activities are not meant to teach Chinese language. The purpose of introducing Chinese cultural activities into the classroom is to bring teachers and students closer.

    Once students feel close to their Chinese teacher, they may be more willing to do the hard work, i.e. learning Chinese, and to have better academic results.

    Making dumplings (and eating them) is a very popular activity. It is often called “a taste of Chinese culture”. Other popular activities include making traditional Chinese lanterns, making traditional Chinese paper cuttings, painting traditional porcelain patterns, and so on.

    There are so many traditional Chinese cultural activities that teachers can draw inspirations from. Students may learn a couple of new words along the way. That will be a happy byproduct. 

    The downside is that cultural activities are time consuming. It takes 40 to 60 minutes to make a small Chinese lantern, at least half of a day to make some dumplings. No teacher can afford to do cultural activities all the time. 

    The best way is to sprinkle some occasionally to mitigate the hard work they require from the students. 

  • #4 Give emotional incentive

    Be nice to students, even when they don’t care or don’t do homework.

    Don’t get mad, don’t shout, don’t threaten students with words like this, “You are not going to get a good job if you don’t study Chinese!” 

    These tactics seldom work on students, only make teachers really angry.

    Be nice to students, show them you care about them. This may gradually change students’ altitudes towards you and towards learning Chinese.

  • #5 Invent new activities

    Think of new and creative activities that are building relationships and also contributing to students’ Chinese language proficiency. 

    In the film Dead Poets Society (1989), there is an idealised teacher, John Keating, who knows how to touch students’ hearts. What he does in the class was very simple and inventive, standing on the desks. It’s so easy to do! His after class activity is to read English poetry in a cave, so related to the subject he teaches. 

    Chinese teachers can learn from Keating, thinking from a different angle, and find a different way to connect with students and engage them in learning Chinese.


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April Zhang
Chinese Teacher
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