Lo­cal teach­ers re­turn from China

Record Observer - - Front Page - By HAN­NAH COMBS hcombs@kibay­times.com

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.

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