Posts Tagged ‘Guangdong’

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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BEIJING, China–October was a month of frenzied activity in the Teach For China Beijing office to prepare for a visit last week from Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of Teach For America and Teach For All. This trip, Ms. Kopp’s second to China, was planned as part of an effort to raise Teach For China’s public profile here. The trip included meetings with a range of prominent figures, including American Ambassador Gary Locke, CEO of the SOHO real estate empire Zhang Xin, and Yang Lan, a prominent television producer and host of her own interview show who is sometimes referred to as “the Oprah of China.”

Ms. Kopp also served as the keynote speaker at Teach For China’s first ever two benefit dinners. The two events, held last week Beijing and in Hong Kong, brought together a range of prominent figures from the Chinese corporate, nonprofit, and government spheres. Ms. Kopp spoke about Teach For

Wendy Kopp speaks at the Teach For China Benefit Dinner in Beijing

America’s successes and about the lessons learned from the first four years of running Teach For All, which now includes 23 education nonprofits working in different countries throughout the world. “One of the major unknowns we faced in the first years of starting Teach For All was the question of whether this model would work anywhere else,” she said, after all, there was no way to know if a model which has proved so effective in America would generate results against the particular challenges of education inequality in other countries. What we’ve found, though, is that there is a universal power in channeling a nation’s young people to tackling its most fundamental problem.” The benefit dinner in Hong Kong, through a combination of donations, ticket sales, and a charity auction, raised over 2 million Hong Kong dollars (over 250 thousand USD).

Ms. Kopp’s time in Beijing also included a lunch with the staff in the Beijing office, who shared with her the challenges and successes currently being faced by their different teams. “It’s amazing to see the progress you’ve made since I last visited almost a year ago,” she said. “You are light-years ahead of where you were last time I visited. There are a lot of challenges ahead of you at this stage, but you guys are asking the right questions.”

Wendy Kopp eats lunch with the Teach For China Beijing staff

Leaving Beijing, Ms. Kopp stopped over briefly in Shantou, and had the chance to sit in on several Fellows’ classes. She spent over an hour in the class of Wyatt Bruton (Fellow ’11, UNC Chapel Hill). “She re-centered us on an ever-important question: given the challenges and all the circumstances outside of our control, what can we do to make a lasting impact in the lives of our kids?” said Wyatt of the visit.

Wendy Kopp with Wyatt Bruton (Fellow '11)

In retrospect, the visit was a success on several fronts. Ms. Kopp’s support proved of tremendous value to Teach For China’s efforts to both build strong relationships with influential leaders in China and to meet its fundraising goals. Ms. Kopp’s over two decades of experience working in education reform provided lessons for staff and Fellows alike to apply both in and out of the classroom. Perhaps most importantly, though, in the words of Wyatt Bruton, the visit served as a powerful reminder “that our daily work here is part of a global story bigger than ourselves.”

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