My year at Harrogate Grammar School


By Xiao Xiao Wang

In May 2013 I made the decision to come to UK as a Chinese language assistant. I was curious and nervous. Now, at the end of my year as a Foreign Languages Assistant (FLA), I feel that this was a wonderful decision which will have a deep influence on my future life.

I worked as a Chinese language assistant at Harrogate Grammar School alongside three other European language assistants. I was very excited to discover that the school specialised in language teaching and that students can learn more than two languages at the same time.

I was already a qualified teacher in China before I came to UK. But when I came here, I found things are so different from what I had experienced in China….

In China, we have bigger classes (twice as large as in Britain) and the classrooms are fixed, all the students are expected to sit in the classroom waiting for their teachers to arrive each lesson. In Britain, students have to go to a different classroom for each lesson and instead, teachers often have a fixed classroom which I think is convenient for the teachers and students can have subject specific classrooms but sometimes the students can be late for the next lesson.

Here in Britain, teachers and students are like friends whereas in China teachers are more like managers that the students have to obey. I do not believe either system is right or wrong, they each have their advantages and disadvantages. The relationship between teachers and students should be friendly but not too relaxed. Students need to show respect to their teachers and teachers should also listen to what their students have to say.

Luckily, I was able to work closely with Mr Stipetic. We worked together to deliver lessons to Year 9 and Year 10 students for Enrichment and delivered an afterschool club to sixth form students. I am very grateful to Mr Stipetic and for the support he gave me. We prepared lessons together and I learned a lot about effective classroom management from him.

All the students were beginners because Chinese is a new language in HGS. It is the first year the school has introduced Chinese into their curriculum and they hope to develop Chinese further and to help students progress towards GCSE level. Though Chinese is such a different and difficult language compared to other European languages, I was delighted to see that so many students were keen on learning Chinese and about its culture.

They are the most excellent students I have ever seen. And I have been so moved and happy to see the school making such an effort to develop Chinese lessons.

With the help of Mr Stipetic, we started from the very basic Chinese tones and Pinyin, then we moved on to greetings and gradually developed some understanding of topics linked to daily life, such as family, times and dates, food, hobbies and so on. We have also done Chinese characters at the same time. Three students can write full sentences in Chinese characters now, one is from Year 9 and the other two are from sixth form. The other students now can recognize at least 20 characters and can introduce themselves by writing more than eight sentences in Pinyin. I am so proud to see that they have done such great job and made such significant progress.

Besides the normal Chinese lessons, I also delivered some taster lessons for Year 8 on the Super Learning Day with Mr Stipetic and the teachers in HGS. I introduced traditional Chinese calligraphy and showed the tools we use in writing calligraphy to the younger students in the first half of the lesson. They were very interested in the amazing work the artists had made. And later we tried real calligraphy. All the students were enjoying the art.

When the local primary schools came to visit HGS on the school’s Primary Celebration Day I delivered a few Chinese taster lessons about body parts with the help of my colleagues. I also gave a Chinese taster lesson to the Spanish exchange students and helped students who were semi-native speakers prepare their GCSE, AS and A2 exams.

Mr Stipetic and I also built up a lunchtime session for the students learning Chinese to practice their speaking with the help of two students who are Chinese native speakers, Yingying and Qian.

I have been so lucky to work with such nice people and nice students. I will treasure these experiences my whole life. I am so grateful for all the people I have met and all the people that gave me help. As I said at the beginning, this year has been a wonderful year and I am happy that I made the decision to come to Harrogate Grammar School.