Witnessing the Making of Tomorrow’s Teachers in Beijing

Posted by on May 25, 2014 in Beijing, China, Languages | No Comments

23:12 (UTC±08:00), 25 MAY 2014 | CHN BEIJING

25 May 2014 English Judging

I served as a judge in the recent Beijing Vocational Teachers Final of the 5th Shanghai Foreign Languages Education Press Foreign Languages Teaching Contest, which took place on 24 & 25 May 2014. The two-day event saw 19 contestants in the first day of contest (semi-finals) and 7 in the finals on the second day.

The goals were simple:

  • For the semi-finals: Give each contestant 20 minutes to teach a mock class
  • For the finals: Allow 10 minutes for each contestant to describe a lesson plan; finish it off with a 5-minute Q&A session.

Like many contests, this one was a “mixed bag”. Some contestants did minimal interaction (although none did the feared “Boring Lecturer Position”); others were very interactive. Contestant 2 from the first day was my early favourite. He did everything I would do when teaching:

  • Allow group activities and permit plenty of interaction
  • Be encouraging; sprinkle your lessons with a healthy dose of humour
  • Use technology right: in large classrooms, pass at least one other microphone to students and allow them to speak in the same volume as you are (if the teacher uses the mic, get students to do the same)
  • Warn students of potential pitfalls

Competition was very fierce, though. In the end, Contestant 4 (who was Contestant 3 on Day 1) won my vote by mentioning role-play as part of her lesson proposal. She also shrank all lessons to 45 minutes (other contestants wanted 90 minutes). Her presentation was extremely persuasive: you could tell she was in it for the long run, and it was all helped by the right mix of body language and eye contact.

Approval was unanimous from all judges; scores from this contestant shot right up. She garnered top awards, culminating in ultimate victory. This very contestant had speaking skills that were TEDx-savvy (if they were polished further). And I speak from experience — I’ve been both a speaker and emcee at TEDx events.

The organising committee and judges also invited me to give an impromptu speech at the very end of the event. In the speech, I congratulated all, especially the winner of the finals. My points were short, snappy, and simple:

  • I’ve been a student for 22 years, and a teacher since 2000. I’ve also been part of radio as early as 2008.
  • As a result, I know a good speaker, and a good teacher, when I see one.
  • I have been bored by those who hog the mic for 90 minutes with no interaction at all.
  • Other lessons I’ve been in pushed me to excel — a very active teacher to thank for that.
  • I’ve also heard speeches that were sleep-inducing, but also those that got me excited.
  • Today all are victors, especially the contestant that came out with top honours with the First Prize.
  • Relish in your victory, but then, to take your performance to the next step — to make a good thing better, forget today’s gains and push yourself to the next level. Only then can you truly excel.

I had less than five minutes to prepare for the impromptu speech but I felt as happy as the winners in delivering it. This was an event to see some of China’s best professors-to-be, who will take this nation’s classroom into the next generation. I was happy to have been witness and to have been part of the whole event.

Yes, at times, afternoons were super long — there were the occasional toilet rushes (because contest staff refilled my cup of tea all the time!) and I did get bored by a few who could have performed better. But the event was worth it. The winner of the contest also know she has a new fanboy willing to mentor her into perfection.

I’ve used the Mac for the best part of two decades. I know a good user experience when I bump into one. I’ve also been in the classroom for the same period of time. I’m happy for the winner today to be the teacher of a classroom I was to be in as prospective student. Don’t let the pessimists fool you that China is “100% about academic pirates who zip through lectures with no attention to detail”. I’ve seen the cream of the crop, and man is it amazing.