The Role of the NET
What will a typical day be like?
A school day in Hong Kong typically starts at some time between 8 a.m. and 8.30 a.m. You will probably be expected to sign in on a staff list when you arrive at work. As a NET it is unlikely that you will be assigned a form or homeroom, although you may be asked to assist a homeroom teacher with his duties which will usually only entail substituting for him when he is unable to take the class register.
At most schools, assemblies only take place once per week or once per teaching cycle, but some schools hold them every day. A large proportion of these assemblies may be taken up by announcements. As some schools do not have a sufficiently large hall for all the students they either arrange assemblies in shifts or hold their assemblies out of doors.
Your school may use a six-day or seven-day cycle in order to accommodate minor subjects into the timetable and may change the sequence of cycle days from time to time in order to accommodate special events and activities, so it is wise to double-check which day of the cycle it is when you arrive at work.
Classes will usually last between thirty and forty-five minutes. You will probably find that if you teach senior forms these are allocated some double or even triple periods of English on their timetables in order to allow teachers sufficient time to conduct exam practice.
At some schools there are two short recesses before lunch, but you will find that much of your recess and lunch times are taken up with dealing with disciplinary matters, with giving help to individual students or organizing extra-curricular activities.
The school day usually ends between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. but you will probably run extra-curricular activities, teach supplementary classes or attend meetings after school.
With a bit of luck you will have had enough time during your free periods to mark at least some of your students' work, but there will always be times when you may have to take books home with you.
How does the role of a Primary NET differ from that of a Secondary NET?
Primary NETs are provided to primary schools operating 6 classes or more on an individual basis, i.e. 1 NET serves 1 school. A NET may be shared between 2 schools, but this arrangement is being phased out. The Primary NETs are required to -
(a) undertake teaching duties and try out good teaching models/practices related to the learning, teaching and assessment of English;
(b) organize and conduct extra-curricular activities related to English learning and teaching such as plays/skit performances, school-based English camps, English language games (day), story-telling activities, songs and dances, verse speaking, and extensive reading; and, if applicable, to contribute to other extra-curricular activities such as IT, art and craft activities and sports;
(c) provide support for the English panel, including contributing to school-based curriculum development and professional development of fellow teachers as well as developing and preparing learning/teaching materials; and
(d) act as an advisor on language teaching and learning for the principal and teachers in the school.
What are the objectives of the Primary NET Scheme?
It aims to support and strengthen English language teaching and learning in one form or another by -
(a) providing an authentic environment for children to learn English and developing their confidence in using English for communication;
(b) developing innovative teaching and learning methods, materials, curricula and activities suited to the needs of local children;
(c) promoting the professional development of local teachers; and
(d) disseminating good practices in language teaching and learning developed within the scheme through regional teacher development programmes such as experience-sharing seminars/workshops and networking activities.
What support is available to NET Teachers?
Support Mechanism in Primary Schools
Each school is required to assign an experienced school English teacher (SET) to work in partnership with the NET. The SET acts as a bridge between the NET and the school management and other English teachers so as to facilitate institutionalization of innovative/effective teaching methods and curriculum resources developed collaboratively with the NET in the school.
The Government provides support for the Scheme by way of an Advisory Teaching Team (ATT), which comprises 20 NETs and 20 local English teachers (LETs) seconded from primary schools. The ATT designs and operates regular staff development programmes for the NETs and the SETs and conducts school development visits to monitor the deployment of NETs in individual schools. It provides support for the development of innovative/effective teaching methods and related curriculum resources and disseminates good teaching practices in primary schools. The ATT also provides peripatetic support for schools with fewer than six classes.
In addition to setting up the ATT, professional support teams (PSTs) are formed to provide pastoral care for the NETs and monitor and evaluate the Scheme.
Support Mechanism in Secondary Schools
A Secondary Advisory Teaching Team is currently under discussion and information will be added here when it becomes available.
Of course, there is also the support offered by NESTA. In particular, the NESTA liaison officer holds regular meetings with government officials and when necessary is able to pass individuals’ concerns on to the relevant authorities.
What will a typical year be like?
Although the term starts in early September, the school year really starts during the last week of August when you will probably be expected to attend whole school and departmental meetings. The first term of the year is by far the longest and most demanding as it lasts seventeen weeks and there are no half term holidays, although several public holidays fall during this part of the year.
The autumn term is also the most demanding for English teachers in terms of extracurricular activities as it is during this term that the speech festival and preparation for other major drama competitions take place. You will probably be expected to train students for poetry recitals, prose reading or choral speaking as well as possibly having to direct a play, coach a debating team or run top-up classes for students who are planning to retake public exams.
As Hong Kong usually gets its best weather during the autumn this is also the time of year when you are most likely to be expected to attend and help out at sports days and swimming galas. Many schools also schedule a picnic day during this term. On picnic day you and your colleagues will be expected to accompany a group of students to a country park or outlying island; the most popular activity on picnic days is barbecuing . Toward the end of the first term you will be expected to process reports for your students. At most schools report writing only involves entering a grade into a computer based on the students’ average performance in written assignments during the term. These grades are often then used to rank students against the rest of their year-group (which must be demoralizing for those unlucky souls who receive a report telling them that they have come 242nd out of a year group of 242 students). In some schools you will be asked to give comments using a code system. It is unusual for schools to expect subject teachers to write out comments. At around the same time you will also be expected to set papers for the mid-year exams which take place in January.
The short term between Christmas and Chinese New Year usually lasts between four and six weeks depending on the vagaries of the lunar calendar. Usually two weeks of this period are taken up by invigilating and marking mid-year exams and another week is taken up by going over exam papers with students to check that your marking is correct and to help them to understand what they did right and what they did wrong. At around this time you will probably find that you have to wear thick clothing to school as Hong Kong's winters are surprisingly cold and schools usually do not have any heating. Around this time, parents come into the school to meet their children's homeroom teachers and to collect report cards. You may have the chance to meet parents at this time, but it is not normal for parents to meet all their children's subject teachers and parents who have limited English are often reluctant to arrange meetings with expatriate teachers.
From February onwards life at school usually gets progressively less stressful. Extra-curricular activities usually place less of a demand on teachers' time in the second half of the year as students are too preoccupied with preparing for their final exams or for public exams to have time for extra-mural activities. If you are teaching Form Seven students you will find that your timetable becomes lighter in the middle of March when they have their last classes before their A-level exams. If you are teaching Form Five classes then life will become easier for you when they leave school in April. However, you will probably be called on to invigilate public exams during this period.
During the summer months, many schools adopt a summer timetable in order to save on the costs of air conditioning during Hong Kong’s extremely hot summer afternoons. If you are extremely lucky, you may even be able to go home by 1:30 p.m. Late May and early June see another round of report processing and of setting, invigilating and marking internal exams. After the final exams are over, most schools have post exam activities running from late June to the end of term in the middle of July.
During this period, normal classes are suspended. This allows the school some time for administrative matters, the most pressing of which are promotion meetings. At promotion meetings, homeroom and subject teachers will be called upon to discuss their students' performance and to decide on which students would benefit from being required to retake the school year.
The post-exams activities period also gives teachers the chance to run extra-curricular activities and it is common for schools to schedule dramas, competitions and fetes at this time of the year.
What should I do in order to get on with my local colleagues?
Do not be surprised if some local colleagues are suspicious of you at first or feel nervous about approaching you. It is not unusual for local teachers, however good their English may be, to feel embarrassed about their English when faced with having to speak to an expatriate. Bear in mind that many local teachers may feel that as a NET you are in a privileged position both financially and in terms of the duties that you are expected to fulfill. It is important to make sure that you are perceived as a friend rather than a threat and are welcomed rather than resented. Therefore the onus is on you to break the ice.
There are several ways that you can do this. Teachers in Hong Kong seem to greatly enjoy sharing snacks with each other, and going around your immediate neighbors in the staff room in order to offer them biscuits, chocolates and so forth is a good way of befriending them. You might also consider asking people where they recommend that you should go for lunch as this will increase your chances of getting a lunch invitation.
However much you may find the way in which your school is run frustrating, it is probably wisest to avoid voicing your criticisms on sensitive matters. The Chinese resent it intensely if anyone makes them lose face, and although people may put on a show of not being offended by your criticisms, if you have hurt their feelings you can be sure that they will bear a grudge against you for a long time. By all means make constructive suggestions for how things could be done better and by all means put forward your new ideas, but don't assume that you can make things change overnight; otherwise your colleagues will think that you are arrogant and will probably ignore you.
Try to make your local colleagues feel that you appreciate them by asking them for advice about students and about the local culture. Try to encourage them to share their teaching ideas and lesson plans with you; if you do this first there will be a much greater chance of them being open to your suggestions. Find opportunities to praise and encourage your colleagues whenever possible.