Visiting another country is an experience in itself, but teaching abroad adds another dimension.
Local teachers at School District of Marshfield had the chance to teach in China this summer with assistance from the district’s international exchange program. One was middle school science teacher Rachel Krentz, who left for Nanjing in June for a three-week trip. “I wanted to get into the regular classrooms and see what school on a day to day basis is like in China,” she said.
Krentz arrived at the end of the regular Chinese school year, spending the first week and a half at Nanjing Foreign Language School, teaching hands-on lessons in English to middle and high schoolers, to give students a chance to experience an American-style classroom. After that, she visited three schools in Marshfield’s sister city, Zhangjiagang.
Most of her time was spent at Bailu Primary School, which had an enrollment of several thousand students, teaching lessons and touring the school’s garden, which students and teachers co-plant and harvest.
There were a few differences and similarities she noted between Chinese and American schools. Class sizes varied but were similar to home, and students are sorted into classes based on ability and performance. Teachers rotated from classroom to classroom rather than students, with a ten-minute recess between classes in which the students were allowed to blow off steam. Krentz teaches thirty lessons a week, while in China teachers typically do only 10-12 and are certified to teach in one subject rather than multiple.
Krentz’s favorite part of the trip was meeting “amazing” people, staying with those who welcomed her into their homes for dinners and participating in a family get-together for the Dragon Boat Festival. “I hope that someday I can go back to China, and I also hope that I can host Chinese teachers when they come visit Marshfield,” she said.
Marshfield High School English teacher Kathleen Mahoney, and Annie Fisher, who teaches French at the middle and high school level, spent ten days in July teaching a summer camp program in Zhangjiagang for 8-10 year-olds to expose them to American-style learning and the English language.
Mahoney taught oral training, reading, writing, singing, drama, arts classes, and an American culture class. “As a high school teacher, I like having some moments to revisit younger kids. The energy is fun, but I couldn’t do that year round,” she said. “The kids were just like our kids. They were rambunctious and curious, sometimes a little naughty, but ultimately they were fun.”
One of the bigger differences from an American classroom that Mahoney noticed was that students weren’t embarrassed about getting an answer wrong, and that classmates would help each other get the answer right. Although expecting the Chinese teachers to be strict, she noticed that they were compassionate. “The teachers were just like ours – they want what’s best for our kids,” she said.
During the trip, they were able to explore the city’s parks and a Buddhist temple. “I thought it was a wonderful experience. I keep encouraging colleagues to apply,” said Mahoney. She plans to share the experience with her students to keep them thinking about exploring the world.