Dr. Lomino in China: February 13
February 13: My First Day of School
Now I see what the school looks like full of laughing, excited children. It is 8:30 when I arrive and children get there as early as 8:00. This is their first day back after the two-week long Chinese New Year holiday, and except for a little boy who doesn’t want to say good-by to his parents, most of the children appear to be very happy to be back to school. The first order of business is breakfast. Two areas are set up with tables and chairs and a serving table manned by two or three children, wearing masks to cover their nose and mouth, and one teacher who assists in the process. I’m getting used to seeing people wearing these masks on the streets, but it is strange to see little children wearing them in the school. Breakfast consists of noodles with an egg and tomato mixture, and “congee,” a pumpkin porridge. The food is prepared in a company kitchen then transported to the kindergarten for each meal. Everything is orderly and the young children do very well staying seated until they are finished eating.
The children next meet in the music performance room for an assembly. The official Chinese anthem is sung and then Allen, the school Vice-Manager (in charge of teaching,) enthusiastically welcomes everyone back and also introduces two new teachers and the new “director” from America. I have a chance to talk to the children and tell them that in America “I am called Miss Jean.” They try to repeat my name. (Jecky of course is interpreting, although with three English teachers on staff, they already know some basic phrases.)
The children spend the rest of the morning, in two groups, watching a slide show of photos from each child’s holiday. As their photo comes up on the big screen, they go to the front and answer the teacher’s questions about where they went and what they did. Several of the children have snow photos—from visits to northern China or Finland. Many are in photos with grandparents and other relatives, as the custom for Chinese
New Year is that families gather in their hometowns for the holiday. Since the slide show lasts almost an hour, towards the end it is obvious the children are ready to get up and move around (and some of them do anyway.)
The day continues with a lunch of rice, meat, whole shrimp and vegetables and then nap time. During nap time those who don’t nap, spend the time playing with blocks, puzzles and reading storybooks with the teachers. The day ends with art activities and afternoon “tea,” or snack time as we know it in America. The snack was fruit and a kind of egg custard served in egg shell halves.
My observations today: 1) The teachers are masters at keeping their bodies always at a child’s level when they are interacting one on one. 2) When misbehavior occurs the child is separated from the group and the teacher stays with them to talk until the child is ready to join the group. I observed one little boy hitting the other; the teacher took them aside, talked awhile, and then the boys hugged each other. I saw very few instances of aggressive behavior. There was a lot of play fighting—kung fu or karate. 3) The English teachers have told me that they have 45 minutes a day and it is during the “PE” period. They wish English could be more integrated throughout the day. 4) The student teacher ratio is about 1:5 at all times. Some of the teachers are designated “care teachers” for a small group of children. They are responsible for any special needs—comforting, helping the children nap, etc. 5) Teachers were expected to stay after the children leave at 4:00 to have summary meetings where they debriefed the planned lessons, but I was told that practice has now been discontinued. This is a good thing because it is a long day already.
Today’s Insight: The level of professionalism and caring among the teachers here is impressive. I have already learned a great deal from observing them, and look forward to learning more.