Friday, June 3, 2005
Carlisle School teachers teach in Chinese schools
This is the second in a two-part series about a study tour to China taken by four Carlisle School teachers. In the first article the teachers wrote about their home stays with Chinese families. In this article they will share their experiences teaching in two Chinese schools: a rural school in Pangliu village outside of Xian and a school for the children of migrant workers in Beijing. see part 1
Pangliu Village background
Our Chinese guide, Richard Wang, grew up in the small village of Pangliu, situated about an hour outside of Xi'an. Through hard work and the sponsorship of his fellow villagers, Richard was able to continue his education to the university level. Through his role as a guide for Primary Source Tours, Richard was able to establish a connection with his village school to help improve the education available there. It was Richard's life-long dream to make a significant contribution to improving life for the children of his farming village by building a library for the 537 students and 20 teachers of the village school from which he graduated. Over the past six years, not only has Pangliu been able to build a new library, they also were given the funds to hire a librarian and a state-qualified English teacher. A computer lab for 26 students was donated and coal stoves have been installed in all classrooms and offices. Finally, they were able to establish a board of directors that awards scholarships to students (there is no free schooling in China).
Since 1999, 525 educators have visited Richard's village. As with those teachers who have traveled there before us, we were completely awestruck by the friendly reception of the entire village. When our bus pulled in, a large group of villagers, singers and musicians were there to greet us. During the entire walk to the school, young and old lined the streets and chanted their greetings. At the school, we were treated to entertainment put on by students that consisted of singing and lively dance routines.
After teaching, we were escorted through the village and divided into various groups to be hosted for lunch in private homes. Villagers were most gracious and the food was delicious! Following lunch we reconvened to tour the brick factory, the only other industry in the village besides agriculture.
It was strangely quiet on the bus back to Xi'an. I, for one, was feeling all at once overwhelmed by the hospitality I was shown, humbled by the industriousness of the villagers, and truly touched by the kindness of the people. It was a truly life-changing experience.
Pangliu Village School
Even though the four of us are experienced teachers, some with many years under our belts, we were still excitedly nervous about teaching in Pangliu Village. It felt like the first day of school as we wondered, what will the students be like, how much will they know, how many of them will there be, and will they understand anything we are saying? We tried our best to plan our lessons ahead of time, but with all of these unknowns, it was difficult to determine what would be the most effective strategy. So, together we entered the packed classroom with a bag full of tricks, props, and ideas ready to go.
In front of us sat forty-five sixth graders, many more than we were used to seeing at one time. In orderly rows and matching jumpsuits, they sat with pencils ready, books open, and looks of eager attentiveness on their faces. Our anxiousness was alleviated, as it was obvious we were all each other's teachers and students wanting to do well in today's lesson.
There was no need for books and pencils because our first plan of action was a hands-on science lesson exploring surface tension, believe it or not. We passed out eyedroppers, pennies, and little cups of water. We then asked the question, with a little translation assistance, "How many drops of water do you think will fit on the penny?" Our audience was visibly perplexed, so we took the opportunity to demonstrate. Predictions of 4,5,6 rang out and partners groups began the experiment with surprising results. "19, 20, 21!" Any way you slice it, scientific discovery was taking place.
After our science experimentation, we switched gears to teach some popular English songs and games, starting with a song about peanut butter accompanied by a taste of the American staple food. We doled out a little taste to each student and we received mixed reviews. We sang more songs, learned names, and then ended our teaching adventure with an "interesting" version of "Simon Says" due to a misunderstood translation. Instead of stopping when we didn't preface an instruction with, "Simon says," the entire classroom rushed to sit down in their seats. Based on the smiles and giggles, we realized that they enjoyed their own unique version of the popular game.
At the end of an invigorating, enjoyable, and spontaneous class, we presented the classroom teacher with gifts for the students and passed out some stamps to each member of the class. We noticed many similarities between our Chinese students and the sixth-graders we teach at Carlisle and we even picked out some oh-so-familiar personalities.
Background on Xing Zhi School
On the outskirts of Beijing is the Xing Zhi Migrant School. The education of migrant worker's children is a current issue in China. All people are registered at birth as either rural born or urban born. When a family leaves its designated residency, they are no longer eligible for the privileges they had, public education being one of them. Many rural families move to the cities in order to find work and money to support their families. There are over 114 million migrant workers living in the urban areas of China, over three million in Beijing, and over 70 thousand of those living in Beijing are children. These children and their families have few options. Some are able to get into public schools by paying a huge fee. However, many public schools in the cities are already running over capacity and cannot accept students with rural residency citizenship. In an effort to aid in this crisis many private schools, specifically tailored to the needs of migrant children, have been created.
The Xing Zhi School educates over one thousand migrant students every year. Xing Zhi, like many migrant schools, does not receive money from the government. The schools are run through donations and foundations and a small fee paid by the parents. Many of these schools have a tough time breaking through the red tape and overcoming financial difficulties. But you would never know of these misfortunes when you walk into the central courtyard of Xing Zhi. Murals and large colorful banners spanned the walls. Students waved and smiled and laughed. I felt like I was at a school in Massachusetts as teachers rounded up students, getting them in line and ready for dismissal. As the need for migrant workers increases in the cities, government officials are becoming more aware of the educational issues. Their involvement will hopefully lead to positive changes in the Chinese public education system.
Xing Zhi School, Beijing
The moment Erin and I walked into the seventh grade at Xing Zhi School for children of migrant workers, something felt very familiar, or should I say smelled familiar. I was immediately transported to the same adolescent environment of middle school in the Carlisle School, times two: fifty plus eager, smiling students in a room smaller than Carlisle classrooms awaited our words of wisdom. The room was bare except for a chalkboard on the wall. A teacher's desk faced wooden desks and benches, each seating two students. There wasn't room for anything else. The classroom door exited outdoors, rattled incessantly and occasionally flew open due to the prevailing wind from Mongolia.
When Erin and I began to teach, the students repeated (alarmingly and perfectly) the first sentences out of our mouths. Then Erin and I "kicked into gear" trying out some of our well- polished American teaching methods. After a lesson on colors, Erin tossed an inflatable globe and whoever caught it shared his or her favorite color. My science lesson with eyedroppers, pennies and water, reviewed counting skills (# of drops that would fit on a penny) and hopefully taught them about surface tension. We were thrilled with their eagerness to learn and please us; and they were probably amazed by our attempts at experiential teaching.
Later, the 25 teachers in our study tour met with the faculty of the school. We learned that most of the teachers in the Xing Zhi School are up at 6:00 a.m., teach until 3:30, correct papers until 5, are home by 6, eat, prepare classes and go to bed by 11. It sounded familiar. Many of the students like to stay at school late because the school's facilities are better than their homes. Interestingly, the teachers asked us questions about discipline and management... "What do you do if the students leave their seats without asking?" We emphasized that our classes are small, and therefore allow us more flexibility.
Our experiences in the two schools leave us increasingly aware of the challenges of Chinese and American education: for China, the historic tradition of memorizing to pass tests, the large class sizes limiting creative thinking and higher-level problem-solving ... for the USA, doing more with fewer resources, honoring our traditions and getting students to work their hardest.
As we teach our Carlisle students about the history, culture and geography of China, it is our intention that they see the similarities and appreciate the differences between our lives and those of the Chinese. We are thankful to the Carlisle Education Foundation for making this experience possible and for bringing China into our school.
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito