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Discovering China: Bedford County educators visit, await incoming Chinese teacher

Sunday, July 8, 2012

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Tim Harwell teaches the "fist bump" to sixth grade students at a Hangzhou middle school.
(Submitted photo)
Local educators have returned from their trip to China to interview a teacher for the upcoming school year, and gained a valuable learning experience of their own.

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Local educators visited with college students who are interested in teaching in the United States.
(Submitted photo)
On the week-long trip were Cheryl Harris, assistant superintendent, Janice Womble, supervisor of secondary instruction, Robert Frazier, assistant principal at Cascade Middle School, and Tim Harwell, principal at Thomas Magnet School. They were part of a delegation of educators that included representatives from Middle Tennessee State University, Vol State Community College, and Knox and Rutherford County Schools.

Leader

In education today principals are increasingly called upon to be instructional leaders in their school. Harwell says he takes the title of "instructional leader" seriously.

"When I'm looking to implement a new program, such as the Chinese Culture program, I want to be assured the program will enrich and prepare our students for the world they will enter as adults ... My experience in China provided an assurance that is immeasurable," said Harwell.

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The delegation of educators from across the state are joined by first grade students at Wenyl Jie.
(Submitted photo)
While there, the educators visited with schools and interacted with students, as well as their peer teachers and administrators, gaining insight into how our educational systems compare.

Similarities

"Interestingly, we found that we had many of the same problems and challenges," said Harwell.

The team observed second-grade classrooms with 43 or more students; a sixth grade English immersion class where all 45 students spoke only in English for 45 minutes; and an advanced placement physics class taught by "a teacher from New Orleans who doesn't speak any Chinese at all."

"The college students we met with were so eager to come to the United States," said Harwell, who had received emails from several of them within hours of meeting. "Every student we encountered throughout our visits was excited that we were visiting their school and there was a genuine sense of warmth for their American visitors."

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(Submitted photo)
Jiayi Feng, a junior at the College of Humanities of Hangzhou Normal University, majoring in teaching Chinese as a second language, wrote, "I'm still grateful that you and your delegations came to our college. Your short stay leave us a deep impression [sic]. And I hope we will leave you a good impression, too."

Exchange

The trip was sponsored by the Confucius Institute Headquarters, part of the Chinese Ministry of Education. Their mission is "... to promote the culture and education exchange between China and other countries, and strengthen the work of teaching Chinese as a foreign language and aid foreign in education." Since its launch in 2006, over 3,000 principals and educational officials have been invited through the program to visit China.

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Local educators had a chance to discuss educational topics with the principal and teachers of Hangzhou schools.
(Submitted photo)
The Office of Chinese Language Council International (Hanban), sponsors 357 posts around the world, and will fully fund the salary and living expenses of a teacher for the next school year. Bedford County will additionally sponsor a small stipend, which Dr. Ray Butrum, superintendent estimates will be between $4,000 and $6,000, to be paid from federal grant funds.

The position will be based at Thomas Magnet School, but through video conferencing and on-site school visits, the resources the Chinese teacher brings may be used in several ways.

Different world

"The moral of the story" in many famous Chinese fables mirror those of their Western counterparts, and older students may get a chance to compare those stories in literature classes. As age-appropriate, Bedford students may learn basic Chinese words and phrases, and how to write Chinese characters. The teacher will also offer instruction in music and art, as well as physical education.

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Janice Womble greets a fellow administrator at Hangzhou Normal University.
(Submitted photo)
Local parents are looking forward to the upcoming school year, "We couldn't be more excited," said Leandra Habel. She and husband John adopted Emma, age 8, in 2004 when she was 12 months old. "Our daughter will get the opportunity to learn more about the Chinese culture and language while at school."

Culture

According to Habel, typically Chinese culture and language classes considered are extra tutoring and usually paid for by parents after school or in a private school setting. The couple has been waiting five years to complete a second adoption.

The family, like other adoptive parents locally, participate in cultural events in Nashville held by the Chinese Arts Alliance of Nashville and Families of Children from China. "Those are great and fun to participate in, however, to have these taught locally in our Bedford County schools is something to appreciate."

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Harwell greets Wenyl Jie Elementary teachers with a copy of the Thomas Middle School annual and a school T-shirt.
(Submitted photo)
Harwell says that visiting China gave him a deeper appreciation for that country, "The people there were so open and friendly to us."

At the same time, Harwell returned home with a deeper appreciation for his own country and its cultures. "It is very clear we are living in a global economy and programs such as this will help prepare students to understand the global view and be competitive in the job market."

Grants

According to original estimates provided to the Times-Gazette by school officials, the trip would not expend any Bedford County funds.

While most of the expenses for the trip were paid by Hanban, according to expense requests provided to the T-G by county commissioner J.D. "Bo" Wilson, $7,240 (representing the cost of airfare for the four educators, at $1,810 per round-trip ticket) are earmarked to be paid by federal and state grant monies.

According to school officials (and indicated by the submitted expense reports), half the amount was paid by Tennessee's First to the Top Grant, and half from the Federal Jobs Fund grant.



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