Teachers carry lessons to China and back

August 30, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

Some students in China can sing "Yellow Submarine" and say "Hi, y'all" and "What's up?" after being taught conversational English by a group of Tri-State area educators this summer.

Through the international organization Reach-To-Teach, 17 teachers from the Tri-State area taught in the Chinese cities of Jiaxing, Zhuji, Shanghai and Hangzhou.

Six days a week for about 28 days, the teachers from Hagerstown, Martinsburg, W.Va., Hedgesville, W.Va., Greencastle, Pa. and Mechanicsburg, Pa., spent the first half of the day teaching one group of students and the second half teaching other students.


On Sunday, eight of the instructors gathered at the house of teachers Linda and Brian Heinrich to talk about the experience.

The group arrived in China on July 6 and spent five days sightseeing, visiting the Great Wall of China and other attractions, Linda Heinrich, 56, said. All expected to be teaching in the same city, but after three days of training they were sent to three different cities, she said.

While they were there to teach the students English, the instructors also learned a few things, including how meals in China compare to those in America and how much healthier the lifestyle of the average Chinese resident is compared to that of Americans, Brian Heinrich, 50, said.

They also noticed the differences in teaching styles between the cultures. Chinese teachers tend to stand in one place and lecture, while the local teachers are accustomed to moving around the classroom and having discussions with the students, said Adam Robinson, 28, of Martinsburg, who taught at Jiaxing.

When one of the area teachers would lean on a student's desk or pat a student on the back for doing something right, the students would be shocked, Robinson said.

The local instructors teaching at Jiaxing also realized that some of their actions, which included acting out the story "The Three Little Pigs," would never be done by the Chinese teachers, Candee Stark, 39, of Martinsburg, said.

While many of the students could read and write in English, they had more trouble conversing in English. It was while teaching them how to speak English that Robinson taught them to say "Hi, y'all" and "What's up?"

Brian Heinrich said he noticed that when a student would speak the others in the class would not pay attention to what the student was saying. That was not an act of rudeness but a result of the Chinese education system's focus on students learning from the teacher, not from other students, he said.

While his attempts to get the students to learn from each other were awkward, he had more success when he taught them to sing "Yellow Submarine" by the Beatles and "Take Me Home, Country Roads" by John Denver, among other songs. They seemed to enjoy the vocabulary lessons that entailed them singing and learning what the words in the songs mean, Heinrich said.

The teachers flew home on Aug. 10 and, after a few weeks break, returned to work at their regular jobs this month.

Several teachers said that after working with the Chinese students and learning how to get around in a foreign country, they find they are more flexible at work.

While they are back on more familiar ground, many of the teachers said they have received e-mails from students in China.

All eight teachers said they would work again in China, if given the chance.

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