Kathy Powers, 2011 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, was selected as one of 35 recipients from across the nation for the 2012 Award for Teaching Excellence. This award, made possible through a collaboration of the NEA Foundation, Pearson Foundation, and Education First Tours, included a 10-day trip to China from June 18 – 28, 2012.
Please enjoy the highlights Mrs. Powers shared about her learning experiences and the Chinese education system during her recent trip:
We began our trip in Beijing visiting significant cultural centers and historical sites such as Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace, the Olympic Village, and the Forbidden City. We were trained in the art of drinking tea in a tea ceremony before moving on to visit the Jinsong Vocational High School. This award-winning vocational high school trains students for careers as cooks, musicians, hair stylist, manicurists, massage therapists, and hotel managers. We spoke with administrators, teachers, and students in their state of the art facility, and were even treated to a cooking demonstration by a famous chef and instructor at the school. The sweet and sour chicken with pineapple was both beautiful and delicious.
The next day we participated in a Tai Chi exercise lesson at the Temple of Heaven to try to prepare our bodies for the visit to the Great Wall at Matianyu. The scale and beauty of the Wall is beyond description. I definitely could have used a few dozen more Tai Chi lessons to prepare me for some of the sections of stairs. Luckily, there were 70-year-old Chinese grandmothers and their toddler grandchildren who would give me a hand and a sympathetic look before passing me.
Before leaving Beijing, we visited with an American Company, Fastenal, headquartered in Beijing. I asked about the skills they looked for when hiring employees, and was not surprised to hear that they looked for people with strong communication and reading/writing skills in English (all of their business is conducted in English,) an ability to collaborate, an understanding and appreciation for cultural differences, flexibility, and basic international business knowledge. They said that if a prospective employee has those qualities, they can train them in everything else.
We travelled at speeds of almost 200 mph on the bullet train to Shanghai where we visited the World Financial Centre, a silk factory, a fishing village, and a middle school. The middle school is famous for the art of paper cutting, and I was able to visit with some bilingual students working on paper cutting projects. I found it fascinating that the paper cutting was taught to increase the students’ patience as a part of Morality classes.
These morality classes were a required part of the middle school curriculum, and covered school spirit in sixth grade, family respect and values in seventh, national laws in eighth, and national patriotism in ninth grade. During our discussion through interpreters with the Chinese teachers at the school, we were all surprised by the similarities of our day to day duties. One Chinese teacher summed it up when she said, “we are from different cultures, but our goal is the same: to teach our students.”
Throughout the tour, our guide Simon gave us handouts with information on Chinese history, geography, education, and culture as well as stories of his own personal experiences growing up and living in China. Before, during, and after the trip, we were encouraged to reflect on the relevance of our experiences for our own teaching through individually constructed professional projects designed to integrate global learning into our own classrooms. I cannot wait to share my new world perspective with my students in the fall and sign them up to join me on a return trip in 2014.