Students teach English to children in China

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"You've got to be crazy if you think I'm going to China to teach English."

Those were Matt Davis' words - and he doesn't mind eating them.

Matt and seven of his classmates, plus two professors, took part in ACU's inaugural teaching program in Beijing last summer.

Matt, who came to ACU from California on a baseball scholarship, just shakes his head now when he remembers making that comment.

He had just listened to a presentation by Tim McDonald, headmaster of the International Academy of Beijing. McDonald was on campus last fall to formalize a joint venture to send ACU education majors and faculty to Beijing for five weeks each summer.

Matt was walking out of the presentation when a friend asked if he were considering signing up. That's when Matt made his "You've got to be crazy" comment.

Experience of a lifetime

Now, Matt and others who made the trip can't imagine life without the Beijing experience. The International Academy of Beijing is a fully accredited private Christian school. About 80 percent of its students are Korean, and they speak English with varying levels of proficiency.

Full-time teachers at the academy go home for the summer. Parents don't want their children to miss out on a summer of learning English from native speakers, and that's where the ACU students come in.

Besides the personal and professional growth the students experience, the Beijing program also gives education majors a head start on a state requirement that they have some training in working with English language learners.

They fill in for the vacationing teachers and live in their apartments during their five-week stay, which includes four weeks of teaching. During their stay, the students take Chinese language lessons and experience an exciting new culture.

Matt said teaching English to a group of sixth-graders with varying degrees of English language proficiency prepared him in a way that student teaching can't.

"The first thing that comes to mind is confidence," he said.

A big reason for the confidence building is that the ACU students "own" their classroom at the academy. Dr. Dana Hood, chair of the Department of Teacher Education, said students in the program are responsible for everything from lesson planning to bulletin boards to parent conferences.

What it takes

They conduct assessments before and after the four-week session, they plan the curriculum and manage the classroom by themselves. They also are the "teacher of record," which most graduates won't have on their resume when they leave school.

The inaugural group also got an eye-opening experience.

"They realized how hard teaching is and how much planning it takes," Hood said.

Because of the location, the students couldn' bail out after the first day - no matter how much they might have wanted to.

"They couldn't hop on a plane and come home, so they had to face the next day," Hood said.

Even if the students thought they failed after the first day or two, the professors who accompanied them - Stephanie Talley and Sam Stewart - saw it differently. Stewart emailed Hood in the middle of the second week and marveled at how the ACU students had progressed.

"I would hire them all," Stewart e-mailed.

The International Academy of Beijing is making it easy for ACU education majors who might want to gain a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The academy pays for the airline tickets and lodging.

ACU students pay tuition plus $1,700, which includes food and excursions to famous sites like the Great Wall of China. The offering is such a bargain that Hood predicts it will be easy to sign up students for next summer.

"We have 12 spots available for next year, and we'l fill those spots," she said.

Confidence from doing

Besides the personal and professional growth the students experience, the Beijing program also gives education majors a head start on a state requirement that they have some training in working with English language learners.

But the real reward comes from the experience itself. Geraldine Cardenas was one of several students who kept a blog during the trip. Geraldine went from experiencing extreme culture shock to hating to say goodbye to "precious Beijing."

Geraldine's blog also expressed the kind of personal growth that all the students no doubt experienced.

"In the beginning I did not think I was capable of teaching English to children who knew almost nothing of the language," she wrote. "I felt inadequate. But my faith and courage grew day by day and I found myself finding it kind of easy some days. We have made memories together as a class and they have made my first experience as a teacher great."

By the time the trip was over, Geraldine knew her students well. She wrote in her blog that she loves how "Rainbow Lee sticks her tongue out as she's writing and thinking hard" and how "Jun holds my hand when he needs to tell me something important."

She also got to know herself better. Geraldine wrote in her blog that at first she wanted to have fun and be with her own group. But as she came to realize that she was there to learn and to teach, she began to see things in a different light.

"I was appreciating the beauty around me, and I started making random relationships with people I met," she wrote.

Others on the trip had similar experiences. Matt also kept a blog and wrote about his deepening relationship with God: "I know for myself that God wanted to use this time in Beijing to teach me a little bit about myself and a lot about Him."

Hood anticipates a long-lasting partnership with the Beijing school.  The experience for ACU students would be hard to match in any other setting. And the children of the academy benefit from forming relationships with loving Christian college students from the United States, she said.

Learn more about attending ACU 


Serving Local Schools
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ACU Teacher Education majors get hands-on with students at a local elementary school.