Local teachers return from China
CENTREVILLE — Queen Anne’s County teacher Tamara Forte visited Suzhou, China as part of an educational experience to provide English learning skills to Chinese educators. Forte, was joined by Jon Longest, EMS program director from Chesapeake College. The two were invited by the Suzhou Foreign Cooperation and Exchange Center.
Of the experience, it was “such an amazing, life-changing trip,” said Forte. “What a privilege our county has to participate in it.”
Forte said she and Longest taught 43 Chinese teachers who teach English to grades 1 to 6. The first day was the hardest, said Forte. They rearranged their desks from rows into groups and encouraged teamwork with stars for the table groups. These stars were counted each day, totaled and then guided what order the groups could select the prizes — American learning materials brought by Longest and Forte — they wanted to keep at the end of the week.
“In China, their classrooms are very strict, structured, teacher-centered, and different than ours,” Forte said. “We taught them to praise each other for their ideas and work with cheers ... the teachers had lots of questions for us. They wanted to know how we do these learning activities with our students, how we have enough materials to do these activities, and how we keep the classroom orderly while doing collaborative learning, group work, and creative hands-on learning.”
All of Forte and Longest “students” spoke English, Forte said. “There was no translator. At times, they asked us to slow down when we were talking. It helped to have written directions in our PowerPoint. At times, they used translating apps on their phones.
“Our assignment was to teach ways to teach English in the areas of phonics, reading and writing while also comparing the U.S. and China in Education. The teachers then demonstrated typical Chinese lessons in these areas. They acted it out for us to see,” she said. “The students sit in rows with their arms folded on top of each other. They raise their hand, half way, when asked and stand when called on. There is usually
only one correct answer to the questions, and there is to be no wiggling or speaking out in the classroom.”
The students would all read from the same book, as there are not many more teaching materials. “The teachers switch classes, not the students. So, the elementary students would have a teacher for math, then a different teacher for English, and so on. So, teachers specialize in an area and teach many grades,” added Forte.
Forte said she and Longest had to answer the Chinese teachers’ questions to get their approval and show that what they were teaching works. She explained that in the states, schools use small groups and rotate students for small group instruction. Demonstrating that in that way the teacher only needs enough materials for a group of 10 or less students.
Forte said other differences included teaching to make eye contact with the speaker (teachers or peers), listen to all the directions and help each other.
The Chinese English teachers were incredibly hard workers, said Forte. At the end of the week, they saw that learning could be fun, creative, and exciting.
“To them, we teach as performers,” Forte said. “They asked if we always ‘put on a show.’ Yes, we explained. We, as teachers, work hard to excite our learners, hold their attention, inspire them, encourage them to problem-solve, and guide their own learning, and teach them to love learning.”
The teachers, in China, said Forte, have to complete professional development classes — just like teachers do in Maryland.
“These teachers chose us for their professional development. James, Shuyi YIN, the director of the Suzhou Exchange program, told us that the collaborative exchange program with Chesapeake College and Queen Anne’s County is a favorite among the teachers,” Forte said.
On the last day, the Chinese teachers shared their culminating projects, handmade Dr. Seuss inspired books, she said. Seuss, being one of the ways Forte and Longest chose to incorporate their American learning styles into the instruction they provided to the Chinese teachers.
Forte said the teachers held a party in their honor and showered them both with personal and precious gifts. Forte and Longest, reciprocated with books and materials and Maryland themed gifts they brought from the many donations they received at home prior to their trip.
Forte said, for her, making the connections with the teachers will be one of the most memorable parts of the trip.
“We still keep in touch with some of the teachers. I plan to use our connections to connect our classes. For example, I now know firstgrade teachers across the world. We can video chat and write to be pen pals,” she said. “What a great way to help our students become educated, global citizens.”
Forte emphasized the work ethic of the teachers in China. “This work ethic is in every aspect of life in China from the workers at the restaurants to the street cleaners. Everyone works diligently,” she said.
She also shared how amazing the food was and how incredible was the hospitality of their hosts.
“We were treated with so much respect, gratitude, generosity and kindness,” said Forte. “Our lunch and dinner tables were always full with a feast. Every day, the exchange program made sure we had teachers, directors or government workers to drive us where we needed to go, bring us to our meals and sight see.”
Often said Forte, when they saw Chinese children during their tours of the cities, the children they met would try using their English to speak to them. The people they met, said Forte, were so proud and kind, sharing waves, pictures, and local food with us.
“Many people took pictures of us. The teachers thought we looked like a Barbie Doll and a doctor on an American TV show,” she said with a laugh.
A life-changing experience, this trip allowed her to grow professionally and personally, Forte said.
Forte and Longest were able to explore Chinese history through gardens, visiting the Great Wall of China while adding the adventure of lugging down the wall, biking the city walls, exploring the Terra Cotta Warrior Museum, learning to paint Chinese characters, rickshaw-ing through the neighborhoods, and even making homemade dumplings with a family in their home, she said.
Forte believes her classroom and teaching will be enriched due to this experience.
“I hope that this wonderful relationship and collaboration continues and is nurtured on both sides. It is a once in the life time opportunity that our county gets to provide to educators each year,” Forte said. “My wish is to see the program grow, be well-known throughout the county, and to host Chinese teachers here in our classroom for our own professional development.”
Over the last 10 years, the Suzhou Foreign Cooperation and Exchange Center has given much to our county and educators, she added.
“By expanding our relationships, connections and learning globally, we create an international learning community that respects differences and builds upon the similarities of not only our cultures but also our amazing educators and educational programs.”
The exchange program is an ongoing project that began years ago between Queen Anne’s County Public Schools and Chesapeake College, and the county’s sister city, Suzhou. Each year, county teachers travel to Suzhou and teach for one week during the summer, and teachers from Suzhou travel to Queen Anne’s County to teach.
Queen Anne’s County teacher Tamara Forte, left, and Chesapeake College EMS Program Director John Longest arrive in Suzhou, China.
Queen Anne’s County teacher Tamara Forte in China.
Local food vendors.
A beautiful pagoda.
Teachers in a Chinese classroom learn from Dr. Seuss.
Tamara Forte describes food in China as “a work of art.”
During her visit, Tamara Forte views a show performed by Chinese children.