Wrapping Up

After finally wrapping up the analysis of the US and China teachers’ interviews, I now have a much better understanding of what I know and what I still don’t know. The interviews yielded some very interesting similarities and dissimilarities between the two countries’ teachers. I’ve tried to explain some of this in the context of the cultural framework that I did a little research on earlier in the summer, as well as in the overall situational context that these teachers operated within, as pulled from the interviews and from some data I collected from official websites on the basic statistics of education. In my analysis of the eight US elementary teacher interviews and the eight China elementary teacher interviews, I discovered both similarities and differences between the two countries. The teachers from both countries were most similar in the teacher as a person category; even in the other categories where more major similarities appeared, the significance of these similarities seemed to point back to qualities of the teacher as a person. The major differences lay in the instruction, planning, assessment, and other categories relating to the teaching or the external factors outside of the teacher’s control instead of the teacher themselves. Below, I’ve summarized some basic results under the categories that I created to code the interviews.

 Prerequisites/Preservice: US teachers’ preservice preparation tended to be more varied, while China teachers’ seemed more uniform (all China teachers who responded to this question reference “师范” (pedagogical) programs or schools. This probably is the result of a more centralized Chinese system, whereas each US state sets its own standards for teacher preparation (Ingersoll).

 Teacher as a Person: Teachers from both countries used familial and friendship vocabulary to describe their relationships with students, emphasizing understanding and trust between teachers and students. In addition, the Chinese interviews generally showed higher use of and satisfaction with actions-based manifestations of the student-teacher relationship, a possible result of actions traditionally being valued over words in Chinese culture (Li). Both Chinese and American teachers demonstrated or expressed the importance of the following traits: desire for student engagement, personal effort and discipline in behavior, enthusiasm for subject and students, and passion and dedication towards teaching itself. Traits where they differed were confidence/assurance in US teachers (a trait valued in US culture as a whole more than in China (Li)), and a love for the specific subject they teach in China teachers (as opposed to US teachers who do not specialize in elementary school). A high percentage of teachers from both countries talked about reflective practices and personal reflection on instruction and on themselves.

Classroom Management and Organization: The majority of US teachers talked about the physical layout and décor of the classroom, with an emphasis on fun, interactive quality, and a means of eliciting student interest and desire to be in classroom. The few China teachers who talked about physical space either discussed student groupings or decorations such as student merit certificates or famous sayings and slogans. Both teachers listed instructional strategies, classroom and behavioral management, and student groupings as ways to create a positive learning environment. They were relatively similar on this point except for a Chinese trend of teachers referencing student community or class culture and spirit, which makes sense given the larger class sizes and more collective nature of Chinese society in general. In regards to behavior management, both US and China teachers had an established system for classroom management and behavioral expectations, but agreed that organized classroom routines and engaging instruction eliminates much of the need for discipline. Chinese teachers referred slightly more often to strict rules, criticism, and correction, while US teachers used simple cause and effect consequences rather than merely punitive measures (which fits in well to the ongoing discussion of self regulation and intrinsic motivation in the American education system).

Planning and Organizing for Instruction: US teachers tended to discuss the structure and order of their lessons more than China teachers. As for the lesson planning process, both countries’ teachers plan with goals and outcomes in mind, and consider student interest in planning content. Chinese teachers often anticipated student responses, potential student misunderstandings, and questions from students when planning their lessons. US teachers’ responses emphasized knowledge of students and student needs when planning.

Implementing Instruction: Teachers in the US and China emphasized student engagement, active learning, and use of a variety of instructional methods and activities. Both teachers give priority to student ownership of learning and relevance of content to students, though they accomplished the former in different ways. In China, it seemed that teachers achieved student ownership of learning through creating opportunities for the students to take personal responsibility for the content they are expected to learn; in the US teachers practiced giving students more freedom and choice in content or mode of learning. US teachers also often picked a variety of activities for the purpose of catering to different learning styles, strengths, and interests.

Monitoring Student Progress and Potential: American and Chinese teachers both used a variety of methods to assess progress and understanding, student retention of material, and efficacy of instruction. Methods in common included observing student work and monitoring student engagement.  The major difference in informal evaluation was that US teachers placed more emphasis on gauging student enjoyment and fun, and soliciting student feedback, answers, or self evaluation. Formal assessments saw much more difference between the two countries’ teachers. Both used school, district, or teacher imposed assessments and examinations, but the US teachers relied much less on these. China teachers relied heavily on standardized examinations, evaluation through comparison with set standards or other students’ results, and regular teacher-imposed tests or understanding checks. China’s education system has often been criticized for its examination focus, so this result, though these eight teachers cannot be used to represent all teachers in China, is not surprising.

Professional Development: China teachers often benefited from provincial, district, or Ministry of Education-organized training and other teaching or learning activities; US teachers seldom had professional development opportunities organized for them. However, teachers from both countries actively pursued their own professional development, officially or unofficially, including participation in workshops, courses, and conferences. Because US teachers do not specialize in subjects but China teachers do, the US teachers’ discussed professional development was of course only general pedagogical development, whereas the China teachers pursued development in both general pedagogy and in their specific subject area.

 Collaboration with Other Professionals: Teachers from both countries often relied on colleagues and other teachers for feedback, resources, help, or critique. An often-mentioned aspect of this in the China teacher interviews was observation of colleagues and famous teachers, as well as frequent open classes and critique between colleagues. This did not appear much in US teacher responses. Several of the US teachers, on the other hand, often relied on special or gifted education teachers and counselors. This resource was either not common or not available to the China teachers (one China teacher did say she did not have access to these kinds of specialists but I do not have enough information to assess the special and gifted education situation in China).

Parent-Teacher and Teacher-Community Relationships: Both US and China teachers expressed belief in the importance of being in contact with parents, and discussed several ways of doing this including phone calls, home visits, or parent visits to school. Overall, this seemed more of an emphasis in the eight US teachers’ interviews than in the eight China teachers’. The US teachers very much emphasized regular, even daily, contact with parents and desired a high amount of parent participation in all aspects of their child’s learning process. Just a couple teachers from both countries mentioned relationships with the community and utilization of community resources, but all mentioned instances played important roles in their teaching.

Perceived Role and Responsibilities of the Teacher: This was an area of great similarity between the two countries’ teachers. Both felt a responsibility to develop student passion for learning, and saw their role as facilitators of learning. For US teachers, the majority of in-classroom responsibilities that they ascribed to teachers involved student self-esteem and encouragement of student exploration and passion for learning. They placed a heavy weight of responsibility on the teacher for the student’s mind. In the China interviews, there was a heavy emphasis on the development of virtue and character as part of a teacher’s responsibilities. Interestingly, this little contrast fits in nicely with Jin Li’s description of Western vs. Eastern education as mind-oriented vs. virtue- oriented. In addition, both US and China teachers felt responsibility for not just academic, but also social, emotional, and physical needs of students, and worked to alleviate these however they could.

Overall, this study yielded many interesting similarities and differences between US and China teachers that possibly point to the situational or cultural differences in the two countries.  I’m aware, though, that my knowledge of cultural and situational context is based on very limited research, and that interviews from sixteen teachers is not a solid basis for general conclusions about all effective teachers in these two countries. Therefore, these conclusions merely reflect some of my thoughts on possible causes for the similarities and differences between specifically these two sets of eight teachers. I would love to be able to continue and expand my research on this in the future, as there is so much more to find out that cannot be accomplished in the span of seven weeks of research.



Ingersoll, R. M. (2007). A Comparative Study of Teacher Preparation and Qualifications in Six Nations. Consortium for Policy Research in Education.

Li, J. (2012). Cultural foundations of learning: East and West. New York: Cambridge University Press.