A Glimpse of the American Public School Landscape
On September 16th, I started my internship at A.B. Combs Elementary School. The school facilities looked a little disappointing at the first sight. With a stereotype of a typical international school in mind, I began to wonder, “Where are the grand buildings, guarding fences, and playgrounds equipped with facilities?” However, as I opened the door and set my foot on this ordinary building, I instantly saw a world of
fairy tales appeared in front of me! The delicate interior decoration makes this school a wonderful place that every child must fall in love with! Let me summarize what impressed me most after reflecting on my first-day experience at A.B. Combs.
Relaxed School Atmosphere
There are fairy-tale pictures, posters and adorable ornaments with leisure music and soft lights on in the public international elementary school, which altogether render a relaxed atmosphere successfully. Besides, the entire campus is decorated based on a common theme, with a variety of subthemes featured in different classrooms. In contrast, Chinese teachers create a relatively formal atmosphere, in spite of cartoon characters presented in posters and students’ art works.
At A.B. Combs, we were warmly welcomed by both teachers and students, which I could feel from their smiles and greeting. What impressed me most is that every time we entered a classroom, there would always be a student greeter who shook hands with every guest and expressed their warmest welcome on behalf of the entire class! This is a great opportunity to cultivate student leadership and social skills! In China, on the other hand, most students are willing to welcome guests only by several words like “Hello” or “Good morning.” There is no student representative to take on this role.
At A.B. Combs, good manners come before knowledge learning. Teachers would pause in the middle of class once bad behaviors appear. Then they would ask questions to help students figure out what went wrong and how could they improve their performances with further explanation and vivid examples, which left enough space for students to be self-reflective and self-disciplined.
Chinese teachers, on the other hand, emphasize more on knowledge acquisition. This doesn’t necessarily mean that good manners are not valued in Chinese classrooms. For the sake of instruction efficiency, Chinese teachers are more inclined to have a private conversation with trouble-makers after class.
American teachers at A.B. Combs believe in growth mindset when they create assessment tools to evaluate and analyze student learning progress. I think the ongoing assessment is more scientific to evaluate students and teachers from a developmental point of view, which will be easier to build both students’ and teachers’ confidences. High-stake tests are still popular in China, which focus more on the learning outcome than the process, levying high pressures on students as well as teachers.
These are four take-aways from my observation on my first-day of internship. As I learn more about teaching and learning in American schools, I will become an effective change agent in the implementation of curriculum reforms in our school back in China to accommodate the needs of 21st century learners and future global citizens.