Amazing things I learned while teaching English online to Chinese kids
Amazing things I learned while teaching English online to Chinese kids

I have been an in-class and online teacher for more than 20 years and for a long time I thought I had seen it all. Despite considering myself an educated and informed person, I must admit that before working with Chinese people, most Asian countries have been quite a mystery for me. Besides knowing the names of larger cities, main geographical features, and most influential historical events, the important news and interesting traditions have mainly been imposed on me by the "western" media. 

Now, I am not saying western media lie or twist the truth or are otherwise bad, but I wanted to stress that in my opinion objective news is scarce nowadays. Not to mention their lack of coverage of anything that is ‘none of our business’.

Having said that (hoping I will not be misunderstood) I want to turn your attention to all the interesting things that working with my amazing Chinese students has taught me about the far east, China, and about great people who live there.

Note that I have mostly been teaching 9-14 years old Chinese students for about three and a half years. 

1. There are still systems and children in the world with a lot of respect (for teachers and others)

I have been a teacher for more than twenty years now and I must say with a heavy heart that the more years went by, the less faith I had in the future of humankind.

I know, perhaps it is too harsh. 

And I am aware of the generation gap. 

And I know I am ‘old school’. 

But my experience has led me to believe that our fast-pacing, high-tech times and capitalist societies nurture overprotected, lazy and manipulative children. And then I started to talk (and listen carefully) to my Chinese students and I found what I thought was long lost or hidden- I found soul, hard work, love of learning (not necessarily studying), and utter respect for parents, grandparents, teachers and people in general. It is something I long ago forgot about but mutual respect is, in my opinion, the foundation of progress. And I do believe it exists in all the children in the world, and we-educators, parents, and adults- just need to awaken it.

2. Pressure on Chinese schoolchildren  to learn more, be better, run faster, etc. is unimaginable for most of us

Before all, we need to understand the amazing fact that China has over 200 million elementary and high school students and we can only imagine how much pressure and how much competition these young people face every single day of their lives. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are great students and there are not so great students, there are hardworking students and the other ones, of course. But I have yet to meet one who says “I won’t study because I don’t care”. 

In the early days of their education, they are explained that learning will give them power and make them better people as well as get them to high places professionally and financially. So it seems that as early as middle school teachers do not have to explain it anymore or waste time enforcing discipline in classes. Everybody is there to learn and it is what they want. However the bar for a lot of things is set very high and students’ days are filled with so many activities and extra classes from early in the morning to late in the evening, mostly school-related. Even weekends and holidays for most of them. I only hope they get enough mental health support as I am sure it can often be overwhelming for many.


3. The love of reading is not dead

This has been my favorite discovery so far! Being an avid reader myself, I started losing my faith when I noticed that a majority of modern children and teenagers have no interest in reading whatsoever. 

And then, magical Chinese children proved me wrong. Unlike children in a lot of countries, they not only read, but love it, and it is their activity of choice in many cases. 

As we all know (or should know) reading is important on so many levels, especially for these little humans. It not only relaxes them and improves focus and memory, but also teaches them about the world. However, my favorite reading benefit is that it gives a deeper understanding of life and a new dimension to the overall knowledge. Hats off!

4. High school students are like superhumans. 

It is not significantly different for elementary and middle school, but high school students deserve standing ovations for their effort and hard work!

It is especially true for the students who live in boarding schools as some of them start their activities (usually a morning run) as early as 6 am or even earlier and finish in the evening. They rarely have time for fun or leisure time and they are aware of how hard it is but I have never heard someone complain a lot or say “I can’t do this” or “It’s not fair”. Let’s not forget that they are normal teenagers, like others, with their raging hormones and first love problems and everything else. Still, their discipline and hard work and the acceptance of it left me speechless.


Being aware of the population number and high competition, parents seem to support this kind of life, remembering they and their parents did not have similar opportunities in the past.

Also, the word you must understand while reading this point is ‘Gaokao’. It is an exam for admission into universities. It is THE exam because if you fail, you lose the chance of getting in and you are really in trouble then. Everything in your high school life is dedicated to it, even to some strange extent (gaokao nanny). 

I know- pressure with a capital p.

5. Despite hard work, social life is not dead

One could easily conclude that, because these children work so hard, they have absolutely no time for anything else! However, they do enjoy a lot of activities, even if it is just going to a restaurant for a Sunday lunch, playing basketball with parents, or an hour or two with friends in the shopping mall at the weekend.

I understand there aren’t many house visits between classmates (often not even for birthday parties) but sometimes there are hikes in the nearby hills or zoo visits. I was delighted when I heard of many activities students can do if they find time, like volunteering in museums, etc.

I am not sure about the amount of online social interactions, though. Everybody has WeChat and is connected to various social websites. For example, I had a student who sold her drawings online and another one who wrote science fiction stories and posted them online where readers could like and comment!

6. A lot of students achieve high levels of English at a young age 

Although I didn’t learn one single Chinese word while I was teaching, I got a grasp of the difference in the structure between English and Chinese and IT IS NOT EASY for them! The writing system, the grammar, the sentence structure…everything is so different and still, most students are so good at English. I have heard criticism from some smart people that most of their studying is just memorizing words and learning by heart. While I know linguists say it is not a good method, I cannot argue it is not beneficial because I dropped my jaw every time my 10-year-old Chinese student talked to me about photosynthesis, sustainable energy, or a book review. In English.


7. Family is important

Chinese students spend a lot of time with their families. It melts my heart when I see them patiently holding their 2-year-old sibling in their lap during our class or telling me about their outing the day before. They respect their grandparents and their parents and their siblings equally. They spend holidays together, eat meals together and have very tight relationships. Most grandparents live with their children and raise grandchildren (take care of and cook for them).

Although I have heard some alarming statements like: “I never talk to my parents about my problems” I still got the impression parents are the ones students can turn to when in doubt or have problems.

If you were patient enough to read this whole list, I feel I should offer you a kind of disclaimer. All this is only my view of things and it can be completely off for somebody else. 

I have never been to China, nor I can say I’ve spent a lot of time teaching the Chinese (3 online years is not too long to be making general conclusions about a country).

 Also, I didn’t do any serious research but these are only some of my impressions during the three years.

 In addition, I am aware that most of my students come from big cities and good schools which might mean higher-income families and better conditions for studying.

So, all of this mentioned above might not be relevant or true for most but  I chose to write my feelings down as they came as a surprise to me. I wanted to leave a mark, if nothing else, to honor my dear students I didn’t even get to say goodbye to (check China's ban of online foreign teachers in 2021).

Goodbye Jenny, Hannah, Mars, Kitty, Rabbit, Yoyo, Mary, Lancy, Angela, Iva, Candy, Harry, Henry, Dora, McQueen, and all the others! Thank you for teaching me and I wish you all the luck in the world!

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