I have been teaching in a middle school in China now for about 2 months. I teach 15- to 18-year-olds, so I try to make my lessons as fun as possible with videos and games for me and my classes to play together. I love my job because most of my students try really hard in lessons and they are incredibly responsive and enthusiastic about learning English. However, one thing that bothers me is that I occasionally have to nudge students who have fallen asleep in the middle of a lesson!
One or two students fall asleep in my class every day. Some students even bring pillows to school so that they can rest comfortably on their desks. I solve this problem by explaining to my students that if I catch them sleeping then they have to answer a question about the day's learning in front of the class. This has worked very well in my lessons, but I still wanted to know why I had such sleepy students.
This is what I have discovered:
At my school the first lesson of the day starts at 7.30 am and the last lesson does not finish until 9.30 pm. The students get 10 minutes of free time between each lesson, plus longer break times for their lunch and dinner. During their lunch break at about 1.30 pm the school is eerily quiet and all of the hallways and playgrounds are deserted, because every classroom is full of students who are fast asleep. I also found out that a lot of the time students are expected to attend school on the weekends for extra lessons, or to sit exams. Chinese students work longer hours a week than most adults in England!
When I was a teenager in London I started school at 8.30 am and finished at 3.30 pm every day. I had weekends to myself and I got to have dinner with my family or friends, usually in my own home. Discovering how hard my students work has made me feel extremely lazy and inspired me to try to be productive every day by challenging myself to learn Chinese, explore my new city and discover more about this fascinating country. It has also made me more understanding about their accidental naps in the classroom!