A Word on Education

Good morning and happy first day of school to all my educator friends and colleagues.  Today you’ll meet your students briefly to count heads, check registrations, greet returning kids and welcome newcomers.  Here in Jiaxing, today will be our fourth day of school, having started on Saturday, so we already know most of their names, a bit of their personalities, how they write and speak.  I know you’re not impressed but just so those of you who might consider working in Asia, this early start seems to be a bit of a Jiaxing anomaly; in Shanghai, our sister schools started Monday.

So what’s different?  No bells, only soft Chinese or classical music plays into the classrooms and hallways when it is time to begin and end classes, head to morning exercise on the paved play area or start eye exercises.  To date, we haven’t actually had the daily exercises but we have, school-wide, gone to the location and assumed the position, which is to say, formed straight lines of students from one end of the tarmac to the other.  2000 kids in this school and they are nothing if not organized to keep them literally in line and disciplined.  Every Monday, instead of exercise, a formal flag raising ceremony takes place on the tarmac.  A selected group of students lines up away from the group, then once everyone turns, at a single command, to face the flag pole, the flag raisers march in and launch the flag.  The national anthem—quite a nice tune—plays.  Today a student speaker gave a rousing speech that made all the kids laugh.  I asked our guide and fellow teacher David what it was about:  how to be a citizen in civilization.  Well yes, that’s always struck me as hilarious, too.

A universal truth is that kids are kids everywhere.  Like their peers in Canada, they value friends, music and movies; the girls, sadly, are overly concerned about their weight while the boys are more into hair and sports.  (There is some good hair here– Dude, I love the bullet head!)  Our classes have the usual assortment of  students: class clowns, passive-aggressive you-can’t-make-me’s, serious studious types, shy ones and those who love to speak up.  We have a class monitor, assigned by David.  Tom is bright, well-spoken and out-going, with a great sense of humour.  His job is to help keep the kids in line, to remind them to cooperate with the teacher and help organize kids for any small jobs that have to be done.  One morning we came in to find a group of them swabbing the hallway.  All students do work like this at some point in the school year.  They seem happy to do so, always working in groups.

This afternoon we had the opening day ceremony.  It began at 3:30 and ran for an hour and a half, the principal’s address alone was 30 minutes.  Imagine 2000 kids in a school gym in 30 degree temperature listening for 90 minutes.  They did a good job; the kids seemed reasonably attentive given that they laughed together at various points.  I got a bit of a translation from the vice-principal:  the first part of the ceremony was acknowledging the successes of students from the previous year.  The award-winning grade 11’s, now grade 12’s, were given their certificates of honour.  I was at the head table and handed the paper to four students.  The gist of all the speeches was that Jiaxing Senior Secondary School is one of the best in the city, that 98% of the graduates go on to college and university, and that they must all work very hard to achieve good results.  Our BC Off-Shore School was acknowledged as an example of how “Jia-co” is an institution open to the world of new ideas and welcoming to their new colleagues and connections to Canada.  I have no doubt that our program will grow.  It is now our teachers’ job to ensure our students are successful.

It’s time for me to get ready for school.  I haven’t brought an umbrella and it is pouring rain for the first time since we’ve arrived.  Looks like I might be riding the bus this morning—1 yuen, about 16 cents.

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