Thomas F. O'Neill
I arrived back in China on August 2nd of this year and started a new teaching position at the Wuxi Foreign Language School, in Wuxi, China. Every weekend I am also teaching at a Children’s center in Suzhou. It feels great being back in the classroom with high schoolers. They are very respectful and eager to learn about our western culture. However, many of my students believe what they see in American films with all the violence and gore and what is being portrayed in American music videos is a true representation of America. I take my time to explain to them that their beliefs are farther from the truth.
American news programs with the politics of the day also portray America in a somewhat ridiculously way, especially on the world stage. The Chinese, however, still respect America’s education system even though America is now ranked 36th when comes to the global assessment scores.
I have been an American foreign teacher and taught at the Suzhou International Foreign Language School in Suzhou, China, for approximately 9 years, that was prior to returning to America. I can honestly say, I have learned a great deal from living and working in Suzhou, China, especially when it comes to China’s education system.
There has been a lot of talk about the drastic need for reforming the American education system in my home country. But, the biggest obstacle in doing so stems from the national teachers’ unions. I say this because there are plenty of teachers out there who put on the air of professionalism, but, unfortunately, they put themselves foremost, and their students are the least of their concern. These individuals seem to be the most protected under the teacher’s unions in America. The best teachers, however, are not just in it for the paycheck and benefits. What sets the great teachers apart from the mediocre teachers is their devotion to being the best teacher they can possibly be.
The Chinese go to school for long hours because they are competing not just in China, but globally. They want to study abroad because, when they come to America, most can outperform America’s students. They are not smarter than us, they are just better prepared academically.
I've gotten emails from former students of mine who have gotten accepted into American universities for graduate studies. They say their high school curriculum in China was more challenging than their university studies in America.
The majority of Chinese students have great respect for their teachers, and it's because of that reason I enjoy being in their company. That respect is vital for their overall education, and when you truly care and respect others, you will find that others will truly care and respect you. When a teacher takes the extra time to reach a struggling student, it is perceived in China as an act of kindness.
The American students, just like students from all over the world, put great emphasis on getting into the right colleges and earning the right degrees. Education, after all, does provide us with boundless opportunities, and an educated society enhances the overall well-being of its nation. If a teacher takes the time to positively impact a student's life, they are changing the world one person at a time. That kindness will be remembered long after the lesson plans are forgotten because it leaves an indelible imprint in one's heart and soul.
I have fond memories of the great teachers that revealed to me that, despite my deficiencies, I have great gifts. Our gifts and talents are further developed when we share them with others.
A teacher's kindness cannot be bought, sold or acquired academically; it can only be freely given from one heart to the other - and that can be their greatest legacy. Teachers are not only teaching; they are being taught by the lessons of life. The greatest teachers throughout history were also the greatest students when it came to those life lessons.
I have included a link describing 11 interesting facts about America’s education system.
Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill
Phone: (410) 925-9334
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