2011 China Experience: The Dynasty of Look Forward

From June 22 to July 1, 26 of the 2011 NEA Foundation Awards for Teaching Excellence recipients are spending 10 days on an educational and cultural tour of China.

Our partners from the Pearson Foundation are helping us document the trip by sharing photos, videos, and daily excerpts about educators’ experiences and observations about education in China.  The tour is designed and led by EF Educational Tours, and is sponsored by the NEA Foundation and the Pearson Foundation. Please follow us on the journey!

By Sarah Davis, Pearson Foundation

On the bus heading to our first school visit of the trip, Mr. Kai, our tour guide for the day, briefly told us about China’s history, from the Xia Dynasty through the Qing Dynasty. Though China is not currently in a dynastic period, it is in a period of constant change, one that many call “The Dynasty of Look Forward.” For example, Mr. Kai mentioned that, if we were to ask students what they wanted most for themselves, it would be an education so they can achieve a decent salary (and therefore “look forward” to a prosperous future). He noted that China’s educational system is growing and allowing more students to advance to college.

School Visit

Initially, we were scheduled to visit one of the top-performing secondary schools in China. But as it turns out, our visit coincides with examinations, so we were instead introduced to a more nontraditional institution, a vocational school focused on the hospitality industry. The students were extremely excited to see us and immediately gathered at the gate to say “hello.” Many of our ATE teachers were able to respond with the Mandarin equivalent, “Ni hao.” Everyone was excited to visit a school and interact with students, and a fun cultural exchange commenced.


During our visit, some of the ATE teachers taught the teenage students how to sing a few American songs, including “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” In response, some students taught the teachers how to sing “两只老虎” (“Two Tigers”). We exchanged gifts and, eventually, we sang songs from our countries in front of the entire group.


After the students left, the vocational school teachers arrived and the school administrator provided more background on the school, including school resources. The school is entirely reliant on corporate donations and tuition. With a student body of less than 200, tuition revenue is meager, and school maintenance is a difficult challenge. After the school administrator’s presentation, ATE teachers had an opportunity to ask the vocational school teachers specific questions about the school schedule and how some subjects were taught, as well as other teaching experiences.

ATE Teachers’ Immediate Insights

After we returned from the school visit, our ATE teachers had the opportunity to comment on their experience. Below are some of their insights.

“Visiting a Chinese school on our first full day in Beijing set the tone for our first few days in China. In a school that had not previously hosted visitors from the U.S., we were very warmly greeted by both students and staff. They were very outgoing and eager to share their books with us, wanting to share with us even though their English was very limited. I found myself wondering if my own students and staff would have been as warm and accepting of visitors from another continent.”
Jeline Harclerode, integrated technology teacher, Emporia, Kansas

“I was struck by how serious they were about teaching and learning, and how insistent they were that I take it seriously, too. They weren’t satisfied with a token effort – only perfection would be enough.”
Terri Vest, 9–12 English, social studies, and psychology teacher, Plainfield, Vermont, describing her experience with the students, teaching them how to sing American songs and learning how to sing Chinese songs

“One fun thing we did was compare pictures on our phones – technology is often a great way to make a connection! I was able to show [a Chinese student] pictures of Maine, my parents, my dog, my brother and nephew, as well as some landscape shots of the Maine coast. He shared images of his family, friends, and some school events.”
Sarah Sutter, high school arts and technology teacher, Lisbon Falls, Maine

“Before coming to China I had a preconceived idea that Chinese people are very stoic, guarded, and unwelcoming. I have found that they are very welcoming, warm, and have received us with open arms. I am so grateful that I have been given the opportunity to break down that barrier. This world is becoming flatter every day for me, and I will definitely take that back to my classroom and teach the students what an amazing place China is."
Karen Gorringe, 6th grade teacher, Bluffdale, Utah

“This trip is a wonderful opportunity and I greatly appreciate the chance to see China firsthand. Our school visit to the vocational school was awesome! It was great to experience the kindness of the young students – the songs, stories, and laughter were universal connectors.”
Drue Haarsager, social studies teacher, West Fargo, North Dakota

“What an incredible opportunity to learn that high school students are, in many ways, the same all over the world! Some are shy, some giggle, and some rely on their friends for their courage. Many of the students we met were warm, and all were engaged in our visit. On the other hand, a one-size-fits-all education was not evident as we visited this vocational school whose students placed in this program based on a placement abilities test.”
Debra Calvino, high school math teacher, Montgomery, New York

“[This] experience in China is invaluable in helping me to become a better educator. Learning about other cultures, other countries, and other colleagues firsthand cannot be equaled in any other professional development environment. I will not only use this cross-cultural experience to help my students prepare for success, but I will also use what I have learned from this elite group of [ATE] teachers.”
Joe Underwood, T.V. production and filmmaking teacher, Miami, Florida

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