What Teachers in China Should Expect When Returning to School after Coronavirus

What Teachers in China Should Expect When Returning to School after Coronavirus
Mar 31, 2020 By Randall Cox , eChinacities.com

The past two months have made for uncertain and frightening times. Now that the coronavirus outbreak has largely subsided, administrators, students and teachers in China are set to return to the classroom in the coming weeks. What will schools look like in the wake of the epidemic? What will teachers be expected to do? And what will the transition be like for millions of students who have been taking online lessons for weeks? While it’s still early days in the resumption of “normal” life in China, it seems like a good time to try to answer some of these questions*.

Back to school blackboard

*Ill be using my school, a private international school in Jiangsu province, as an example throughout this article. While there are many types of schools in China where foreign teachers work, all of them are subject to regulations handed down by the Ministry of Education. How my school is responding to the resumption of classes, therefore, is likely to be very similar to most other schools. As Jiangsu is one of the first provinces to open its schools again, its my hope this article provides some insight into what lies ahead for teachers in China returning to school after the coronavirus outbreak.

Staff shortages

The outbreak, as far as we know, flared up in China during Chinese New Year when locals traveled across the country to visit family and foreigners took the opportunity to go abroad. In my school there are several foreign teachers, at least six that I know of, who have yet to return to China. Some were hesitant to come back while the outbreak was still in full swing, while others found flights scarce and expensive since COVID-19 started spreading across Europe and the US. And just this week (on March 26th) , the decision was made for them. China closed its borders to all non-citizens, regardless of their documentation. It’s unclear at this point just when we will have a full staff at our school again.

The solution to this is unfortunately quite obvious; an expanded workload likely awaits any teacher in China returning to the classroom this semester. This will mean additional classes during the working week as well as weekend classes. One way that my school has tried to mitigate the strain on staff is to have teachers still stranded abroad create lesson plans, syllabi and course overviews and email them to the teachers in China covering their classes. Overseas teachers are also still responsible for conducting some online classes. It still means a greatly expanded workload for those actually at the school, but every little helps.

However, even with an expanded workload and overseas teachers chipping in as much as possible, there is still the possibility that some classes may need to be canceled altogether or indefinitely postponed. In my school we are looking into the possibility of hiring some additional foreign teachers currently in China, but the pool of potential candidates is obviously smaller than usual.

Campus health and wellness procedures

As our campus gears up for the start of the semester, there has been a school-wide effort to ensure the safety and sanitation of the grounds and buildings. All staff and students have their temperature checked when entering the school via an infrared body temperature scanner similar to those seen at airports and train stations, there are medical tents throughout the campus where staff or students with a fever will go for further testing, and today we had a “fever drill”, where students were instructed on how to quickly exit the building should one of their classmates become ill.

Additionally, there are hand sanitizer stations at the entrance to each building and posters throughout the school giving instructions on proper hand washing technique, how to where a mask and what to do if you’re experiencing any symptoms. Each staff member has also been issued with a bag of fifty blue surgical masks, and while there is no rule that staff must where a mask while on campus, their issuance clearly comes with the expectation that they will be worn. All students on campus are wearing masks at all times and there would definitely be complaints if teachers didn’t.

Sensitivity when talking to students about the pandemic

I teach grades eight and nine, so my students are old enough to understand the pandemic and many of its consequences. In my grade nine classroom there’s a large display on the back wall with images and slogans related to the outbreak and the heroic effort of medical workers and disease experts. The current narrative in China surrounding the outbreak focuses on the strength and unity of the Chinese people in combating it.

While there are many other issues related to the outbreak that are not talked about as openly, I feel it may not be my place as a foreign teacher to bring them up with younger students. I have received little in the way of guidance from the administration on what is appropriate for different grade levels, but I plan to talk about it with my students only as much as they want to.

As a teacher, I feel it’s my responsibility to address the outbreak, but let the students direct the conversation. I don’t know how and to what extent the virus has touched their lives, and giving my opinion on government missteps, international relations or xenophobia may come off as disrespectful. I won’t shy away from talking about the outbreak (there’s no injunction against doing so), but I will be mindful that the way the outbreak is perceived in China may not be the way it’s perceived in the West.

Keep in mind that every school is different. Those in areas more affected by the outbreak may have guidelines in place for how and when to address the topic. And like all things in China right now, guidelines are subject to change as the semester progresses. Starting off with an open and respectful dialogue will help in the long-run if and when policies at your school are adjusted.

Doing our part as teachers

This is obviously a trying time for everyone. We’re in uncharted waters, no-one is quite sure how to restart schools nationwide in the wake of this once-in-a-lifetime event, and there remains much uncertainty about how the upcoming semester will unfold. What will happen if a student or several students arrive in the morning with a fever? What happens if the epidemic sees a second wave in China? Could the semester be cut short or canceled altogether? What about students preparing for the gaokao?

So far, the Ministry of Education has not extended the end of the school year. For now, it’s expected that online classes and additional weekend classes will make up for the prolonged shutdown. Even with the best preparations, however, there is a strong possibility that this semester will be more than a bit chaotic.

My hope is that teachers in China will rise to the challenge, and that foreign and local staff use this terrible event to work together and thereby counteract some of the ill-feelings that have been stirred up on both sides. As foreign teachers in China, our foremost obligation is to our students. All we can do is give them our best. Whether or not that will be enough to get them back on track remains to be seen.

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Keywords: teachers in China


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Besides the quarantine, it is important that foreign teacher are well behave and maintain good work ethics at all time.

Sep 21, 2020 10:08 Report Abuse



It's obvious but that's just the fact

May 21, 2020 09:00 Report Abuse



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May 01, 2020 13:30 Report Abuse



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Apr 22, 2020 16:51 Report Abuse



Do ur part as techer andmake a well teach

Apr 10, 2020 04:16 Report Abuse



Hello, For myself, I am dying to go back to work. It has been almost three months. The schools in Zhejiang have not opened their doors yet and I am now looking into Shanghai or Jiangsu as alternatives. To say I am dying to go back to work comes from someone who does not like working, and if I had the financial means to never ever enter into a workplace ever again. However my limited finances has placed me in this position. Besides, I am also very bored, and feel useless sitting here without doing anything. I am one of the foreigners who has decided to stick it out here, for the short term I am sort of happy I have since if I left, I could not return. But I am also scared that the schools are just going to say ‘screw it’ and just let this semester go and start again in September. I just had an interview with a school in Jiangsu. Hopefully I will have an interview with a school in Shanghai.

Apr 01, 2020 15:54 Report Abuse



There's no way they're going to open schools in Shanghai before the end of April. A lot of teachers are blocked from coming back in the near term. I suspect this is going to cause teacher salaries to jump.

Mar 31, 2020 21:03 Report Abuse