All that glitters is not gold



“Miss B, I’m sad…”

“Why’s that?”

“I didn’t score very well. I don’t understand why. I think I have been paying attention in class. I do the homework. I ask questions.  I stay after to self-study. Why didn’t I improve?


It is easy to write about all the strange, humorous, and beautiful moments that occur during a TFC fellowship. However, if my ‘mission’ is to eradicate education inequality and help more students test into high school, and eventually to college. I’m failing. 

This week marks the halfway point of my last semester at Laoying Middle School. Mid-terms are created by the county and measure student, class, and school ranks. The numbers mean everything.  Classes are ranked by the number of students who score above a 60%. To give you an idea of the challenges teachers face at my school, of the 300 7th graders only 27 students scored above a 60% on last semesters final. Only 5 students in my class scored above the “excellence” rate. 5 out of 61.

One of my constant battles as a primary English instructor is how to raise this number. It’s a daily struggle of self-doubt and the fear of failing these kids. How can I get through to them? How do I make this grammar structure memorable? How do I instill a sense of ‘drive’ in my students? I observe my local teacher’s classes about once every two weeks, and there aren’t large systemic differences between the “Chinese” and the “Foreigner” classroom. We read vocabularly. We do dictations. We go over translations. We write notes on the major grammar points. We assign homework.  Their classes are more tame and quiet. In comparison, my class (on good days) tend to be filled with laughter, different activities, energy, and plenty of student-teacher interactions. A personal goal of mine is to prove to my students that learning English can be enjoyable. I usually try to depict this through my personality with hopes that this will raise their interest level to apply themselves in English class.

Around testing time, I am less optimistic.  So when my students come up to asking, why didn’t I improve. I echo the same question to myself.

I largely appreciate all the support and encouragement offered by my local teachers, co-fellows, and TFC friends. Who have probably seen me cry more times than any of my friends back home. I feel defeated. I feel frustrated. I feel like I’m not doing what I am suppose to be doing to help my students. Typically, I receive a carousel of positive comments or explanations.

“You are only here for two years, and now only a few months. There is only so much you can do.”

“Rachael, don’t worry. The test is difficult and your students just started learning English this year.”

“I see you doing everything you can. That’s what matters.”

“It’s not you, its your students. They don’t care to do well. So they won’t.”

The last one kills me.

Two weeks ago our school was paid a visit by a teacher from the Number 2 Middle School in Baoshan. She was observing 9th grade classes and help an open class for us to observe. A self proclaimed lover of all things teaching and english related,” Miss Susan said that if you asked 100 teachers if they enjoyed teaching, 99 would say no, but she is the 1 who would say yes. I asked her the age-old question that all teachers struggle with.

“How do you differentiate your classroom so you can continue to teach lower-level students, while challenging upper-level students?

Her response?

“You can’t. They are 没办法. In other words, they are hopeless. Your duty is to the students who can make it. I know its hard to hear, but its the truth.”

I’ve been told this so many times it starts to sound cliche. My students are constantly told their worth. It is reflected in their grades. It is reflected in how their parents view them.  It is reflected in the standards students set for themselves.

My war is upholding them to standards and expectations that they can believe in. My war is to be unwavering in this objective.

In some ways I view it as irresponsible for a teacher to let your students decide who is worthless and who isn’t.  Is it not our jobs as teachers to elevate this worth?

If our students are 没办法…shouldn’t we be finding a 办法??

I write this splurge of thoughts because I understand my constraints and the boundaries of my ‘impact’.

At the end of the day, I just want to make clear that I am working hard and maybe 50% of my class is working hard. Yet only 6 students scored above a 60% on their mid-term.

My target goal: 12 students have the ability to score above a 60%

This is my reality.

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One Response to All that glitters is not gold

  1. Robert Burton says:

    Rachael – I have witnessed and participated in your classroom experience – albeit for only a few days. I can confidently state that the positive impact you are making on your students is clearly evident and not necessarily measured by a test score. You demonstrate love, provide hope and inspiration and show them that you care. Love,Hope, Inspiration and Care are commonly missing in these children’s life. You give all to them in abundance.

    Love Dad

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