Volume:5, Issue: 1/2

May. 1, 2013

The differences of teacher roles between Chinese teachers and American teachers from the perspective of Chinese students studying in U.S.A.
Chen, Daihong [about]

DESCRIPTORS:  Teacher roles, cultural differences, Chinese teachers, American teachers, student-centered learning, curriculum reform.
SYNOPSIS: This study is designed to explore the differences of teacher roles regarding implementation of student-centered learning between Chinese teachers and American teachers from the perspective of Chinese students who are now studying in U.S.A. Findings reveal that the differences of teacher roles regarding student-centered learning between Chinese teachers and American teachers are obvious. Chinese teachers are perceived as dominant, authoritative, content-centered, and exam-oriented, while American teachers are considered more friendly, suggestive, focusing on individual understanding and personality development. In order to successfully promote student-centered learning models, the findings suggest that the teacher education program and teacher professional development programs in China need to put more effort in helping to transform Chinese teachers’ roles.


Introduction

Teacher roles in the way they treat students and ‘construct” their interaction models directly impact students’ achievements and development (Davis & Sumara, 2007). Teacher roles are built upon as well as reflect teacher’s values, perceptions and behavior which are shaped and differentiated by their culture (Berry et al. 2002). Globalization and international education have been promoting comparative and cross-cultural studies regarding teacher education and teacher roles. The number of Chinese students who study in U.S.A. is growing rapidly. Having a personal educational experience in both China and U.S.A. would be a unique and valuable perspective to compare teacher roles of Chinese and American teachers. The goal of this study is to explore the differences of teacher roles regarding student-centered learning between Chinese teachers and American teachers from the perspective of Chinese students who are studying in U.S.A now.  Continuous educational reforms have been launched for promoting student-centered learning in China. These Chinese students’ educational experience in both China and U.S.A. might provide insightful comparison about teacher roles regarding student-centered learning.

Research design

A survey questionnaire has been designed based on the study of Lee (2011) to investigate students’ perceptions of roles of Chinese teachers and American teachers in terms of pedagogical, managerial, technical, affective, and differentiating roles. This survey includes 20 questions and four questions for each category. Three questions about technical roles are revised so as to be more relevant to the physical classroom environment in China and U.S.A. Five-Likert scale is used with answers from 1 strongly disagree, to 5 strongly agree.

Four questions about teacher’s pedagogical roles are:

  1. Have fluent knowledge on the related subject,
  2. Culturally neutral regarding content,
  3. Give clear directions,
  4. Lecture effectively.

Four questions about teacher’s managerial roles are:

  1. Patient,
  2. Manage time properly,
  3. Clear about the requirement in classroom management,
  4. Don’t overload.

Four questions about teacher’s technical roles are:

  1. Use video and audio materials effectively,
  2. Use online resources effectively,
  3. Use instant communication tools effectively,
  4. Use advanced educational technology effectively.

Four questions about teacher’s affective roles are:

  1. Social or provide off-task activities,
  2. Develop and support learning communities,
  3. Provide affective support,
  4. Establish rapport.

The four questions about teacher’s differentiating roles are:

  1. a) Accommodate individual needs,
  2. b) Encourage self-directed learning,
  3. c) Undertake a review of the teaching and learning process,
  4. d) Offer multiple perspectives.

At the end there is an open question asked, based on your personal experience, what is the biggest difference of teacher roles between Chinese teachers and American teachers.

Convenient sampling is used in this study. 38 Chinese students who are currently studying in U.S.A. volunteered to participate. Among them: 26 female and 12 male students. There are 24 graduate students, 12 undergraduate students, 1 educational professional student and 1high school student. The average years studying in U.S.A is 2.84 years.

Findings and discussion

Table1: The overview of the differences in terms of teacher’s pedagogical, managerial, technical, affective, and differentiating roles.

Survey Questions

Mean

Median

Standard Deviation

Chinese Teachers

American Teachers

Chinese teachers

American teachers

Chinese teachers

American Teachers

Have fluent knowledge on the related subjects

3.94

4.03

4.00

4.00

0.76

0.66

Culturally neutral regarding content

2.83

3.34

3.00

4.00

1.07

0.97

Give clear directions

4.00

3.69

4.00

4.00

1.06

0.93

Lecture effectively

3.66

3.66

4.00

4.00

0.97

0.84

Patient

3.14

4.00

3.00

4.00

1.06

0.73

Manage time properly

3.74

3.89

4.00

4.00

1.24

0.90

Clear about the requirement in classroom management

4.03

3.71

4.00

4.00

1.10

0.99

Don't overload

2.60

3.54

3.00

4.00

1.19

0.98

Use video and audio materials effectively

2.94

4.03

3.00

4.00

1.19

0.79

Use online resources effectively

2.71

4.23

3.00

4.00

1.07

0.77

Use instant communication tools effectively

2.20

3.91

2.00

4.00

0.93

0.89

Use advanced educational technology effectively

2.91

4.06

3.00

4.00

1.15

0.73

Social or provide off-task activities

2.34

4.06

2.00

4.00

1.00

0.76

Develop and support learning communities

2.66

4.20

2.00

4.00

1.00

0.76

Give affective support

3.14

3.60

3.00

4.00

1.00

1.01

Establish rapport

3.46

3.71

4.00

4.00

0.98

0.83

Accommodate individual needs

2.89

4.03

3.00

4.00

1.18

0.71

Encourage self-directed learning

2.69

4.20

3.00

4.00

0.96

0.76

Undertake review of the teaching and learning process

2.83

4.00

2.00

4.00

1.01

0.64

Offer multiple perspectives

2.66

3.83

3.00

4.00

1.00

0.71

The data is analyzed using descriptive statistics and the results are presented in Table 1. Since the frequency shows it is nearly normal distribution, and ‘mean’ is used in this study for comparison. Clearly, the overall average score of American teachers is 3.89, while the overall average score of Chinese teachers is 3.07. American teachers gained a higher assessment than Chinese teachers. Pertaining to these five categories, the results of the data analysis show that differences in pedagogical and managerial roles between Chinese teachers and American teachers are not striking except the item “Don’t overload,” which is 2.63 for Chinese teachers and 3.53 for American teachers. The differences of teacher roles between Chinese teachers and American teachers are obvious in terms of technical affective and differentiating roles. Our research shows that American teachers are considered to use online resources and instant communication tools more frequently, being more efficient with technology use than Chinese teachers. American teachers are more willing to develop and support learning community and create social events for students. Regarding the differentiating roles that include accommodating individual needs, encouraging self-directed learning, undertaking reviews of teaching and learning process, and offering multiple perspectives, American teachers are apparently doing a better job than Chinese teachers. The average score in terms of these four items are respectively 2.89, 2.69. 2.83. 2.66 for Chinese teachers, in contrast to 4.03, 4.20, 4.00, and 3.83 for American teachers.

The information collected from the open question, “what do you think is the biggest difference of teacher roles between Chinese teachers and American teachers” is roughly categorized into three dimensions: teachers’ image, the relationship between teachers and students, and the teaching style.

The first is the difference of images of Chinese teachers and American teachers. Chinese teachers are considered dominant and authoritative, while American teachers are viewed as more friendly and suggestive. The participants describe this as: 

  • “In America, teachers are more like our friends or parents, but in China, teachers are like the boss and king!!!!”
  • “Chinese teacher is more dominant.”
  • “Chinese teachers are more authoritative, while American teachers tend to be more suggestive.”
  • “I think Chinese teachers are more serious about their orders; American teachers are more laid-back (in their) teachers' expectations.”
  • “Chinese teachers demand answers that meet their measurements. American teachers encourage answers with personal characteristics.”

The second one is with regard to the relationship between teachers and students. The answers from participants indicated that American teaches are more friendly and willing to help students, and are more likely to build personal relationships with students. In contrast, Chinese teachers are viewed as not being willing to help students or respect them.

  • “American teachers tend to be more willing to help, they put themselves in an equal position with the student, and they enjoy the process of serving and helping students to be better; while Chinese teachers are not so eager to help.”
  • “American teachers are more humble, nicer to student(s). Chinese teachers don't care/respect so much about students.”
  • “American teachers value and (are) aware of being autonomy-supportive teacher whereas most of Chinese teachers tend to control the class.”
  • “American teachers, in general, know the importance of building up the students' self-esteem; emphasize the interaction of prof (essors -DC) and students.”

The third category is about the teaching style. The answers from participants showed that, Chinese teachers still possess a more “teacher-centered” teaching style that emphasizes the subject content and is exam-oriented. However, American teachers are considered to exhibit a more “student-centered” teaching style. American teachers encourage students to think critically and creatively and care about the practical use of the knowledge and students’ personality development.

  • “China: Teacher oriented; USA: Student oriented.”
  • “Chinese teachers tend to teach to what a certain exam would be on and inform the student what content to study for and what not to study for. The disadvantage is that students often fail to develop their own critical think(ing - DC) skills, passion for learning for the sake of learning, as well as independent judgments.”
  • “Chinese teachers are more like teaching but American teachers are leading and enlightening students.”
  • “Chinese teachers care mostly about scores and ranks, while US teachers care more about privacy and personality development.”
  • “American teachers have (a) global perspective.”
  • “American teachers stress sharing and collaboration.”

The results of this study fit the findings of a previous study conducted by Chang, Valcke, and Schellens (2010) that the teacher’s authoritative role is clearly emphasized by Chinese teachers comparing to Flemish teachers. One of the explanations is that it might be a result of the Chinese cultural context. First, Chinese culture has been deeply rooted in Confucianism that is traditionally considered a collectivist culture (Baron 1998; Hofstede 1986), emphasizing the respect and authority of teachers. Secondly, influenced by and inherited from the Soviet Union, communism has gradually placed collective values in China and nationally unified and content-centered curriculum as prevalent (Hayhoe, 2008). Thirdly, the college entrance exam as the dominant assessment of education results in teaching and learning for test. While United States as a whole was in several ways a concrete realization of Enlightenment ideals, which emphasizes self-determination based on individual reasoning, so that American culture is more individualistic in nature (Chang, Valcke, & Schellens). American teachers have more freedom in curriculum and content design.

Our finding fit the previous study conducted ten years ago by Stevenson and Stigler.  “Asian countries consider a national curriculum extremely important for standard setting,  Americans emphasize the importance of individual differences and see the goal of education as maximizing children’s differential potential” (Hayhoe, 2008, p.44). Chinese teachers work in accordance with a national curriculum, using national textbooks, and because of that they are more explicit and coherent in their content. American teachers have considerable freedom to modify subject content and instructional approaches. Additionally, larger classgroups in Asian countries caused teachers typically have fewer classroom hours and spend more time for collaborative class preparation work. Consequently, children are trained to learn from one another, not only from the teacher (Stevenson & Stigler, 1992). This explains another finding from this study that Chinese teachers are considered not willing to provide help comparing with American teachers.

This study found Chinese teachers are adept at lecturing clearly and fluent about the knowledge, but are considered at a low level of differentiating roles toward students’ individual needs. American teachers, however, are perceived adaptable to students’ individual needs and offering multiple perspectives. Chinese teachers consider the transmission of knowledge to be very important so that it is teachers’ responsibility to provide and transmit theories and basic knowledge to students (Chang, Valcke, & Schellens, 2010).  According to Stevenson and Stigler (1992) in Asia, the ideal teacher is a skilled performer who is striving to perfect the presentation of each class. In America, teachers are expected to be innovative, inventive and original. One’s skilled presentation of a standard class is not sufficient to be considered successful and more so, could be an indicator of the lack of innovative talent.

Conclusion

The findings of this study reveal that there are obvious differences of teacher roles in terms of student-centered learning between Chinese and American teachers. Chinese teachers are considered dominant, authoritative, focusing on content and exam-oriented, while American teachers are seen as friendly, suggestive, focusing on individual understanding and personality development. These differences can be explained from the perspective of cultural differences.

Though cultural and social context results in these differences, teacher roles in China are undergoing changes and reconsideration as the emergency of student-centered learning models, such as project /problem/product-based learning, as well as the potential educational reform brought by technology. Teachers are expected to contribute to competence building, problem solving, the use of technology, and cross-curricular activities (Beck, 2008; Somech & Drach-Zahavy, 2000). In order to successfully innovate school education and fulfill individualized learning, as well as to meet student’ developmental requirements and personal needs, teacher education programs in China and teacher professional development programs should help teachers to transform their perceptions of teaching and learning in terms of using technology, building democratic learning environment, emphasizing students’ individual needs and offering assistance and support to students.

References

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