Archive for the ‘Guangdong’ Category

Hua Sha (’11 Fellow, Fudan University) is currently a second year Fellow in Shantou, Guangdong.  She was invited to share her reflections about her work and students at Teach For China’s 2nd annual Gala in Hong Kong on Saturday November 3rd, 2012.  Her class tested above average for the first time in the school’s history.  Below is a portion of what she shared with the audience that evening.

My name is Hua Sha. I graduated from Fudan University, and I am a Teach For China Fellow at Dazhai School in Shantou, Guangdong. When I first arrived at Dazhai, I saw nearly 70 students squeezed into tiny desks and benches in every classroom. I saw students sweating through their clothes because of the humid weather, I saw students running barefoot in the playground.

Most of my students’ parents are laborers and work more than 10 hours every day. They expect their kids to drop out of school and earn extra income for the family as soon as possible. Even though there are laws against child labor, over 50 percent of the girls in my class leave school every day to work in factories with appalling conditions for 2-5 hours to make extra money. The girls had never been encouraged to dream anything bigger than factory workers. Dazhai School has had the lowest scores in the county for over 10 years. But I told my students that I was confident we would reach our goal as long as we worked incredibly hard and believed in our ability to achieve.


I realized that to get my students excited about their work, we had to set strong goals. We had posters and bar graphs in the classroom of our trip towards the big goal, and every one of my students drew their own progress charts after each test. Day after day, I saw the changes in my students: they would loudly and proudly call our class motto “Never give up.” They would share stories in front of the class how they achieved a goal by believing in themselves and making efforts. My student 李泽玲 was not sure if she could continue school because she had 9 brothers and sisters in the family to support, and her grades were below the average. After several individual talks, she set a goal of 15 points progress for herself, and in fact increased her score by 20 points. I will never forget that during my home visit, 李泽玲 told her mother with a smile that because of her hard work she would definitely get into high school in the future. I was proud of her academic achievement, but more importantly, I was proud that she believed in herself.


Simply discovering their dreams was an impressive step for my students. But it was their academic progress that proved to me and to themselves that those dreams were possible. On their final exam, my class scored first in the school, and tested above-average in our county. This was the first time in school history that had ever happened. I knew my students were getting into 8th grade with a belief that they could achieve, and continue achieving. One of my students, Zheng Xinxin, wrote to her pen pal saying that, her English teacher has completely changed her view of learning in school. She now believes that even a girl, who was once at the bottom of her class, can achieve great things.

I am one Fellow at one school. This year, we have nearly 220 Fellows across Yunnan and Guangdong, reaching nearly 33,000 students. We believe in our students, and tonight, we invite you to believe with us.


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Wyatt Bruton (Fellow ’11, University of North Carolina) teaches English at Zhiying Middle School 植英中学 in Shantou 汕头, Guangdong. He knows that one of his most important tasks as a teacher is to inspire his students to believe in the importance of their educations. This week, he led a group of his students to visit the campus of Shantou University, giving them their first ever opportunity to set foot on a university campus and showing them what they have to gain by continuing in their educations. 

Every day here in rural China turns out to be surprising and fascinating in its own way, but some days stick out above all the rest.

Today, on one of those days. I had the privilege of taking 40 of the students from my class at Zhiying Middle School to

Wyatt’s students at Shantou University

Shantou University. This was a dream come true for me, and was a trip which I believe could have a huge impact on my students’ futures. One of the core challenges that we face as Fellows lies in the effort to invest our students in learning. Only if our students believe that their educations are important to them will they apply the effort and the persistence that they need in order to overcome the obstacles before them. Many of my students had never left the area surrounding their village, much less been to Shantou or to a university campus. I organized this trip so that they could see, for the first time, what they had to gain by continuing to pursue their educations.

We arrived at the gate around 9:30AM, where we met several professors and 10 current university students with diverse majors and stories. They led us around the beautiful Shantou University campus, where we went in the Art & Design Lab, Science laboratories, the Marine Ecology Department and the Literature Department. Students were able to see first-hand what daily life looks like on a college campus.

Visiting a Marine Biology Lab

We ate with local students in the cafeteria for lunch, and then headed to the library (known to be the most modern university library in all of Asia), where we took part in my favorite part of the day. The university students introduced themselves and shared their stories of how they ended up at Shantou University. They challenged my kids to work hard to defy the odds, to start planning now for their future, and to think critically. They challenged them to not just accept the status quo of what everyone in their village has done, but to dream big and set big goals. They gave my students the opportunity to ask questions about everything from daily life to different possible majors.

The Zhiying Stars on this trip today have some of the highest scores in the 7th grade out of their almost 900 classmates, yet most have not had college on their radar simply because they have just never thought it could be possible. Many of their parents didn’t study past middle school, and they may have never before met someone who took the path to college. For someone from rural China, getting into college is difficult, but it is impossible. I believe that the first

Wyatt’s students spoke with Shantou University students about the value of higher education

step to putting my students on that path is to show them what a university education looks like and what they have to gain from it.

In China, going to college is not the only path to success, but it certainly is one, and I hope that today I planted seeds of hope that will grow a passion and resolve to believe that their goals are achievable no matter what the statistics say.

The visit prompted me to look back 10 years ago to when I was in 7th grade—I had no idea at the time of the epic life adventure in front of me that would intersect my story with these amazing students. I can’t wait to see where they all are in 10+ years. I truly believe I’m teaching China’s future leaders in the fields of science, journalism, art, business, education, engineering, government, and math. 

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Zhang Yibin was a shy student at Helong Middle School in Shantou, Guangdong who rarely participated in class. Read how Jennifer Tan (Fellow ’11, Brown University) was able to change his beliefs about himself and his education.  

Ross (Zhang Yi Bin 张奕槟) is one of the 78 students in my class. On the first day of

Students from Jennifer Tan’s class at Helong Middle School

class, I noticed him right away–he was the smallest student, sitting by himself with his notebook open. I crouched down next to his desk and asked him for his name. He just looked away and pointed at his notebook with three Chinese characters written on top. I asked again and he whispered in my ear without looking at me, “Yi Bin.” I smiled and walked away. After a few days of class, I realized that Ross had a very poor foundation in the English language, but he concentrated hard in my class, copying everything down as quickly as he could. After a week, I announced that I had chosen Ross to serve as the class’s subject representative. This was abnormal, as class representatives are typically chosen based solely on grades, and Ross’s grades were far from the best in the class. I hoped that giving Ross the responsibilities of serving as class representative, which include helping me to collect homework, would help him open up. I had no idea how much my decision would affect him.

By the beginning of October, I began buke 补课( supplementary study sessions) every day after school. Almost every day, Ross and his good friend, Marshall, would come into my office with their notebooks, English workbooks, and English textbooks in hand, asking me to review the day’s materials or to learn more vocabulary. I was energized and inspired by their eagerness to learn. They spent more than an hour with me every after school session working on grammar problems and writing creative sentences with the words we just learned. In September, Ross averaged just 71 out of 150 in my class. In his last exam, he scored 102 out of 150. In class, he constantly raises his hand to answer questions, and even frequently volunteers to perform dialogues in front of the entire class! Ross inspires me to work harder for all 77 of my other students.

Recently, his Chinese Literature teacher (another Teach For China Fellow) showed

A banner hanging in Jennifer’s class

me an entry in his diary. The prompt was: “Your teacher calls you into his/her office. What happens next?” Ross wrote a creative piece about how nervous he had been to be called into the office by his English teacher, and how sweat had trickled down his forehead as he walked to the office. The story continued: “I didn’t know what to do so I just addressed her and stayed silent. She told me that she wanted me to be her class representative! I couldn’t believe it! I was scared at first! But after a few days, it didn’t seem so hard to help her! When I was younger, I did not work very hard in school, but my teacher told me that she believes I could succeed if I work hard, so this year, I am going to work very very hard! She makes us read the giant banner in our classroom every day: I will work hard, I will succeed! I think this is true!”

I was touched by what Ross wrote. I didn’t know that I could have such a big impact on another human being in such a short amount of time. Ross isn’t a high-achieving student; not yet, at least. I know that if he were in a different class, he might not have been encouraged as much. In another class, he certainly wouldn’t have received after-school sessions to reinforce difficult material. Most of all, the teacher might not have told each and every single student that he/she believes in them. I Teach For China because I truly believe in all my students, and if I could help Ross believe in himself, I only have 77 more to go.

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