My favorite time teaching in the middle school is my weekly "English Corner". It's a one hour block of time that I have set aside for small group discussions, all in English about various topics. I have deliberately made it a mostly word of mouth low key event, to limit the group to a small number of kids that want to improve their spoken English. There are a lot of things that compete for the students' time, like studying for endless exams, so only the people who really want to talk show up.
We discuss families, culture and social issues. When I asked them to talk about their families, some really opened up about home life.
Chinese culture puts a lot of emphasis on family, past, present, and future. Sometimes a lot of pressure can be put on the single child, in this one child culture, to realize the dreams of his or her parents. We are in the #1 school, and the expectations can be overwhelming.
One day a boy vented his frustration about how his parents always were pushing him to do his best and he said that he was angry with them. We all talked about family and parents. Some said they were pressured too, but we all said we loved our parents, and that they only wanted the best for us. I said that all of their parents loved them, or they wouldn't be in the #1 school.
After our group, he was on his cell phone. He stopped me on my way out and told me he had called his mother to tell her he loved her.
Last night I asked the students what they would do if they were wealthy and didn't have to work. Most of them said they would like to travel, but virtually all said they would like to help those less fortunate, and in particular they would like to build better schools in the poor parts of their country and the world.
These kids are the future of China. They are broad minded, caring people that represent much of what is good in people. When I see the kindness and decency in them, I see something that transcends borders and culture. I see the best in people.