Posted by: thelocaldialect | February 28, 2009

“Class” Warfare

I should really do a proper update, but I’ve been quite busy recently with the start of the new semester.

The new semester is shaping up well. A lot of my less than stellar students from last semester seem to be kicking themselves into gear somewhat. A whole slew of students from the lower-ability class. At our high school classes are divided by grades — kids with higher grades are in the “A” class and kids with lower grades are in the “B” class. This is a fairly typically Chinese way to do things. On the one hand, it seems a bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy, sticking all of the poorer students into one poor student class, kind of like an academic ghetto. On the other hand, as a teacher, I have to admit that teaching class A is very nice. The students are all, to the last, bright, curious, motivated, and respectful. There are no behavior problems, no issues with missing assignments, and last semester every last student passed the class. In short, its a dream class, the kind of class every teacher wishes they could have, and it is this way by design.

So this past week there has been some minor drama involving the fact that 9 particularly bright students from Class B, through hard work and determination, worked their way out of the ghetto and started in Class A this week. This was met with some resistance from the students in Class A, who resented the fact that their positions as the school stars were being challenged by a bunch of upstarts. The students left in Class B were themselves not to happy with the “traitors” who had forsaken their buddies and moved on to greener pastures.

It wasn’t just the students who felt this way either. I heard many a teacher grumbling about how Class A had been “ruined,” how the class was so much harder to manage now, how the new students were distracting to the others, their academics not up to par. As for me, I’m incredibly proud of my students who were able to move up to Class A. There are several who I’ve been lobbying for since last semester, so it made me very happy to see them finally escape Class B. Their futures will be much brighter in the new class and these kids work hard and have always stood out. I feel like they should be given a chance, rather than left to squander away their potential in Class B. If they can’t hack it, fine, send them back, but give them a chance, at least, to prove that they can handle the work in Class A.

I feel like there is probably some social commentary to be gotten from this tale, somehow. I’ll just leave it at that, however.


  1. Interesting issue and reactions from the other teachers. Are your students divided this way at all times, or just for certain subjects? It seems as though if it were for all subjects it might be more of a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the other hand, when I was in high school I was in a mid-level math class and was happy to be there – it was much more at my speed than the upper level class, and it would have been disheartening to be around students who understood all of the concepts so quickly.

  2. The way it works here in China usually is that the students stay in the same class all day long, and the teachers come to them. Students are divided into classes at the start of high school and stay in the class all three years (10th, 11th, and 12th grade) unless they manage to improve their grades or their grades slip, in which case they might be moved up or down. I definitely agree with you about having advanced classes for certain subjects, its just the across the board segregating of the “good” and the “bad” students that seems to create a sort of divisive atmosphere, and, I think, keeps the poorer students unmotivated sometimes. It seems to work very well for the better students, who thrive in an atmosphere where they can work at a faster pace and be challenged by classmates who keep them on their toes. So it is sort of a catch-22.

  3. Wow- I didn`t realize that it meant they were in class A or class B for all there classes. What if the excel at math but are not good at English- this means that they would be put in either A class and struggle with English or B class and not get the stimulation they need for Math.

    I wonder if they do this in Japan also? I only ever taught in Japanese kindys so it was a bit different but most of my teaching was done in international schools, still with young kids.

    It is good that the students could move up to class A- if they worked hard an improved their grades then they deserve to be there.

    Nice to hear your semester is underway even if it is a little rocky- I hope the students adjust nicely (and you too!)

  4. Lulu, I imagine Japan is probably the same, although I couldn’t say with certainty (I’m sure someone around here can though!). Generally China models its school system after Japan’s, right down to the hellacious exams that pretty much determine your whole life …

    The example you talked about is actually pretty much what happened with one of my students last semester. He was really good at English, way better than the rest of the class, and I tried to get him moved up a long time ago, but the other teachers said his science grades weren’t good enough. So the result was that he was bored out of his skull in English class because his level was much higher than the rest of Class B. This semester he’s moved up and I’ve got my fingers crossed that he’ll be able to hack it. Its rare that students are either talented or not completely across the board in all subjects. I myself sucked the big one at math when I was a student, but my humanities-based subjects were very good. If I had been placed into an all around slower class based on my math grades alone I would have been quite annoyed. Its just the way its done here, and although there are advantages, I think there are some ways in which the system is quite unfair.

  5. Hmmm – what are your plans for Dylan’s education? I would be extremely hesitant to put a kid of mine into such a school system! My husband and I have already agreed that if we’re in India when we have kids then they’ll either be in an international school or a private school run on more of a British or American system.

  6. First blog I read after wakeup from sleep today!

    Mind Blowing!

  7. Wow. That post made me feel sad. How much would it suck to do your best, against the odds move up to a better class and then have everyone give you shit for it? It sounds like some kind of Brave New World.

  8. Wait, isn’t his the norm? In the US, back when i was in elementary and middle school, the classes were grouped based on achievement. The alternative is to mix everyone up, which would be an injustice for the high achievers.

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