Archive for the ‘Teach For China Fellows’ Category

Shawn Martin (’12 Fellow, University of California-San Diego) is currently a 1st year Fellow in Dali, Yunnan.  She reflects on what impact she hopes to have on her students outside of academics in this upcoming semester.

After traveling throughout Southeast Asia for 4.5 weeks and being away from my village and China for more than a few days span, I feel refreshed and somewhat ready to begin the next semester.

Prior to finals last semester I had a rather pessimistic view of my impact on my students’ lives and my role as a teacher in my village. My students actually ended up performing higher than I expected on their finals which gave me hope that I am actually being an effective English teacher. In addition, it renewed my faith in their abilities and dedication as students.

Thanks to some comments I received on my blog post about my impact, as well as some extended reflecting I have done while traveling, I had altered my perception. My success should not be measured just academically. Just having a presence at my school I am exposing my students to the outside world. I am probably the first person outside of their village or county they have ever met. They are the first village children I have met. This new relationship is mutually beneficial and exposing both parties to ideas, customs, habits, etc. that neither party has ever had close contact with. Looking back on my semester, I realize how I have peaked my students curiosity for learning about the outside world through stories about America and pictures of my time traveling in China. Indeed, my students have gasped in excitement when I show them pictures of the Great Wall and pandas. Conversely  my students have made me more curious about village life and their individual families and customs.

I have also realized that my goals should not be the same for every student. Not every student is destined to go to high school and college. That was the path that fit me, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily the best suited path for all of my students. Some will find success in their own ways whether it be in agriculture, continuing their parents’ business or opening up a successful restaurant in the village. The goal I should have for all students is the instill in them a sense of hard-work, responsibility and desire to set goals and achieve. No matter if this hard-work and responsibility applies more to their studies or taking care of their siblings, these are essential traits in life.

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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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“Through ordinary hard work, day in and day out, we produced extraordinary results.”

Zhang Qiang (Fellow ’10, Tsinghua University) recently completed his two-year term as a Fellow. As a math teacher at Dazhai Middle School in Yunnan, he led his class to improve from the bottom ranking at his school to the second-best in their grade. This fall, he will join Teach For China’s Chinese Recruiting team to work as full-time staff. Read his story to find out more about what he learned from his time as a Fellow and how he decided to stay involved with Teach For China. 

I remember the first day I walked into my classroom at Dazhai. The

Zhang Qiang (Fellow 10, Tsinghua University) with some of his students

desks and tables were falling apart, and my 53 students were crammed into too few seats. Dahzai is a poor community in a mountain valley, over 160 kilometers away from the prefectural capital.  My students rarely met anyone from outside the small town, and I remember their expressions as they stared up at me with meek curiosity.

We faced a lot of obstacles, which became only more apparent with each day. I struggled to understand the local dialect, and half of my students could barely speak Mandarin. I walked into class preparing to teach a standard math curriculum, while many of my students struggled with basic concepts they should have learned years before. A girl named Susan, who was very nice but always silent, did not even know what a triangle was in our first class.  I was naïve enough to think that these students would understand the role that hard work plays in learning, as I had at their age. My students were naïve enough to think that I, as a teacher from a big city, could magically make their grades improve without assigning any homework.

We all had a lot to learn. Most importantly, though, I believed from the

Zhang Qiang and his American teammate Gareth Collins (Fellow ’10, University of Michigan) with some of their students at Dazhai Middle School

beginning that my students could overcome the challenges they faced; and my students believed in me and my vision for our class. We trusted one another, and we worked hard, every day. I painstakingly planned out each lesson, and they tried their hardest on each homework assignment. I told them about my life and about how I got into Tsinghua University, and they told me about their lives and their aspirations. I spent hours outside of class tutoring the struggling students, and they gathered outside my dorm during their free time to raise questions and ask for extra help. Through ordinary hard work, day in and day out, we produced extraordinary results. Having started as the sixth-ranked math class in our grade, we rose one ranking in each successive semester. Two years later, as we approach the end of the semester, my class is now the second-highest ranked in our grade.

Susan , the silent girl, is now in the top 10 in our class. More importantly, in the letter she wrote to me when I left, she said she is now very convinced and confident of going to high school and college. She wrote that this change all came from our sincere conversations about growing up and from our relentless efforts in the past two years. When I read many letters like this from my students on my last trip out of Dazhai , I just could not help crying, for my kids, myself, and all we had accomplished together in two years.

I am so proud of my students’ hard work and of all they have accomplished. Nevertheless, there are so many reminders of how far we have left to go. Today, my classroom is slightly less crowded with only 45 students. Over the course of two years, eight students dropped out, closing the door on a whole range of opportunities. Many of my students like to joke with me, “Teacher, when I’m a student at Tsinghua, I bet I’ll be more handsome than you!” They like to joke about the future, but I can tell from their expressions that they want the joke to come true. They truly want to go to Tsinghua someday, or at least to attend university and to have the choices that a college degree would afford them. However, with so much uncertainty and so many obstacles still in front of them, they only dare to voice this dream as a joke. All I could do was take every opportunity to remind them of how much we had accomplished, and of how much more they can accomplish in the next two years, and the two years after that, as long as they remain brave and don’t lose sight of their goals.

I also know that my work is far from finished, and that there is so much more that I can do to close the gap for my students and for thousands like them in other schools. Now that my two years as a teacher are over, I will join Teach For China’s staff working to recruit new Chinese college graduates to join in our efforts. With each new Fellow, we come one step closer to realizing our common vision and helping every child in China enjoy the education they deserve.

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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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In this post, Caitlin Moss (Fellow ’10, Georgetown University) describes some of the invaluable lessons that she has learned from local teachers at her school and from her Teach For China teammates. This process of ongoing feedback and improvement is crucial to Fellows’ efforts to become even more effective teachers.

Here at Manghuai Middle School, we have an open door policy about observing classes. Pretty much any teacher can go observe any other teacher’s class at any time. At first, I was somewhat intimidated by this policy. As a first time teacher, it seemed pretty scary that I would have other, more experienced teachers scrutinizing my every move. Never mind that I had been formally observed by my (American) Program Manager during Summer Institute–I was pretty freaked out by the idea of local teachers watching me. “What if my Chinese doesn’t make sense? What if they hate my teaching style? What if they wonder why the heck I’m here and would rather that I just go back to America?” These doubts all ran through my head like a broken record. And thankfully, none of them turned out to be true.

Caitlin Moss ("Fellow '11, Georgetown University)

When Lu Laoshi 老师, my mentor teacher, started observing me during the first week of school, I got earfuls and earfuls of advice. A lot of it was actually really helpful, but sometimes the packaging it came in was not always my favorite. I didn’t particularly enjoy being told what I could be doing differently immediately after class, in front of all of my students. Thankfully, things have changed for the better. When Lu Laoshi  comes to observe my classes now, we usually have a quick debrief afterwards in the teacher’s lounge, which is a much better way of interacting (at least in my opinion!). She is still extremely direct with her advice, but most days, I’m glad that she is giving me her honest opinion.

During the first few weeks of school, I was still trying to get used to my class, and wasn’t able to make the time to observe other teachers’ classes. But I soon realized that it is a two-way street with Lu laoshi, and that observation should be a priority of mine. Given that during our school’s opening ceremony, she was one of a handful of teachers to receive a hongbao 红包, or a bonus, for getting some of the highest test scores in the school, it was very obvious that she could be a great resource for me. So, I have started popping in to the back of Lu laoshi’s classes whenever I can find time. By watching Lu Laoshi, I have learned her methods for giving her students quality opportunities to practice new material and then to demonstrate mastery to her. She has a great way of having students practice writing new vocabulary individually, and then assigning a word to each student to write on the blackboard.  Occasionally, I’ve also picked up good explanations of some really tough grammar points from her class. After class, she always asks me if I have any advice for her, and sometimes I help her with the pronunciation of tricky words like “dictionary.” As far as collaboration goes, I think we’re on the right track now.

Caitlin Moss in her classroom

I have also listened to a number of my co-fellow Karman’s classes. From Karman, I have learned so much about how to take a lot of the tools given to us during training and modify them to better suit the rural Chinese context. For example, we have a 5 – step lesson plan framework that is designed to fit within a 45-minute class. It goes something like this:

1. Opening

2. Introduction to New Material

3. Guided Practice

4. Independent Practice

5. Closing

At first, I was sticking rather closely to this structure and tried to use it in almost every lesson. However, 45 minutes is often not enough time for students to master a tough grammar concept or completely memorize 15 new vocabulary words. Karman’s method of stretching out the 5 – step lesson plan over the course of a day (over two or three class periods) has worked much better in my classroom. If students have more chances to practice new content, they do MUCH better on their dictations, exit tickets, and other mini-assessments. Now, I grade fewer, but usually better quality assessments that inform me about students’ level of mastery for our material each day.

Observing both Karman and Lu laoshi has been immensely helpful to me. One of the most difficult things about being a brand new teacher is that the learning cycle keeps going and going and going. It’s a LOT of hard work.  I plan classes, execute them, and in doing so, experiment with new ideas, ALL the time. I get feedback on all of this on a class-by-class basis. Even if no one observes my class, I can tell, based on how my students are doing, what worked and what didn’t. Observation definitely helps to speed up that learning process. Sometimes it can be hard to watch yourself fail. But the thing is, I know that I fail in at least one minor way (and often a more major one…) every single day. Since I already have that awareness, having someone else point out my weaknesses to me is that much less painful. And sometimes it helps me focus my energy on the more pressing problems that I must resolve sooner rather than later. It gives me priorities and a direction for my growth as a teacher.

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