Comparisons and Unanswered Questions
In the final session of the workshop, Susan Nickerson from San Diego State University and Shiqi Li from East China Normal University described several admirable aspects of each other’s education systems and several aspects about the questions that remain.
THE U.S. PERSPECTIVE
Nickerson expressed admiration for the ways in which teachers are respected in China. “In the United States, we don’t honor the teaching profession as we should,” she commented. That is partly the responsibility of teachers and partly the responsibility of society. Parents appear to be more questioning of teachers and education in the United States, and they tend to act as consumers of educational services, which changes the relationship between teachers and parents.
Nickerson also praised the openness of teaching in China. When teachers present a lesson in public, the purpose appears to be both to help that teacher improve and to help other teachers improve. “In the teaching profession [in the United States], we still have a very isolated culture and are hesitant to have public practice.”
The thoughtful and careful design of instruction in China was notable to the U.S. participants, especially the focus on lesson planning, key points, and points of difficulty. “A big part of our orientation is on designing the curriculum, whereas [Chinese teachers] focused on implementing the cur-
riculum. In part, this is because China has a national curriculum, while we spend time aligning resources, so we don’t have as much time to focus on implementation.”
Finally, she highlighted the attention given to teacher research in China. “In China we see a very efficient system of integrating and aligning teaching and the study of teaching. There does not appear to be a separation between research and practice. Our impression is that Chinese teachers talk about teaching specifically, not generally, and about the practical aspects of teaching and not about teaching in a general sense. We feel that we have something to learn about that.”
Nickerson mentioned that U.S. participants were curious to learn more about the ways in which teachers talk to each other, including how critiques are given and the level of analysis. They also wanted to learn more about the interactions of university professors with teachers. Many U.S. participants still had questions about the relative emphases on mathematical content and pedagogy in teacher preparation. And they wanted to know more about the use of both formative and summative assessments in China; for example, how do students perceive and prepare for the high-stakes tests that mark the end of middle school and end of high school?
THE CHINESE PERSPECTIVE
Li observed that Chinese participants were very impressed by the U.S. teachers who participated in the workshop, and especially by their ability to motivate students to learn through a wide variety of activities. There seems to be equality between teachers and students in the United States. In Chinese schools, many beginning teachers are very conservative and traditional.
Many Chinese participants expressed interest in the training and certification that U.S. teachers undergo. In China, commented Li, rankings are based on a teacher’s daily performance, and “this evaluation system will be enhanced if we establish some kind of training system to identify and certify master teachers more rigorously and objectively.”
Li expressed admiration for standards that have been developed in the United States in such areas as teaching effectiveness and assessment. Because these standards have been established through research, they are rigorous, he mentioned. The Chinese teachers also would like to learn more about teacher training at all levels. Case studies of teacher training would
be especially interesting, including successes and problems that individual teachers have experienced.
Finally, the Chinese delegation was interested in learning more about the mathematical content of teacher preparation in the United States. In China, many teachers put content knowledge ahead of pedagogical knowledge, even though they know that the latter is also important. More information on teacher preparation and professional development in the United States could reveal the extent to which U.S. teachers are trained to deliver mathematical content effectively.
Future exchanges of educators from the two countries could help answer many of these questions, Li commented. In addition, analyzing teaching video clips or observing each other’s classrooms in person could extend the learning process common in China today to schools in both countries. In particular, a library of videotapes of U.S. and Chinese mathematics classrooms, with translations and subtitles, would give U.S. and Chinese teachers opportunities to analyze and contrast lessons from both countries.1