I’ve spent the past semester volunteering as a substitute teacher at an International school here in China. Doing so cements my opinion that our kids are extremely blessed to have the opportunity to learn in this environment.
The highest number of children I’ve had in the middle school and high school classrooms has been 20, and that’s a rare high number. Most classes have 17 or 18 students. It’s a good number because it keeps the exchange of ideas and information lively, but it’s not too dense for anyone to get lost in the mix. Even as a substitute, I am able to learn students’ names quickly with numbers so low.
The facilities are grand. Each student is given a school Apple Computer to use all year, both at school and at home, from grade 6-12. The younger children have either individual laptops or iPads in each classroom. The technology is utilized but not over used. The lab tables are fully equipped with state of the art equipment and the film classes are able to use professional cameras and editing applications. The teachers are often true experts in their fields.
Due to the issue of frequently high levels of air pollution, the school also has two purpose-built sports and recreation domes enclosing six tennis courts and a wide range of indoor/outdoor sports and fitness areas. Both domes are situated side-by-side over 8,500 square meters.
The most astounding and entertaining element of a diverse international school is the exchange of language. At the school where my boys attend, there is no majority country represented. The largest groups are Chinese, Korean and American, but none represent a majority. The school educates approximately 1,700 students from Pre-K aged 3 through 12th grade from more than 50 countries. In any given class, I hear at least the three primary languages: English, Chinese, and Korean, and often hear others as well. My favorite aspect of language in the classroom is the mixing of languages. Classes, with the exception of Chinese and other language classes, are taught in English, but when children work together, or converse before and after class, they do so with a combination of languages. One child will start a conversation in Chinese and the other student will answer in English, or vise verse. The conversation will continue this way to its conclusion, sometimes all the way through a class activity. Sometimes one child will use a combination of his home language, mixed with English. Class discussions are conducted in English, but other languages and accents are heard amongst the students, themselves. It’s a real symphony of conversations.