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News Education Western Region teachers explore education in China

A group of forty North Carolina teachers, including seven from Macon County, visited China this summer with the Western Region Education Service Alliance. Their first stop was Beijing, where the teachers visited first-graders at an elementary school, shown above. Melissa Cabe, a first grade teacher at South Macon Elementary School who joined the excursion, was surprised to find many similarities to her own experience. “Kids are kids no matter where they are,” she said.Local teachers take educational trip to China

Even teachers take part in continuing education.

The Western Region Education Service Alliance (WRESA) sponsors tours for teachers to go to China. China is the only destination offered thus far, however, WRESA wants to expand the program to include more places.

Forty educators in all went on the trip; four teachers from Franklin and three from Highlands.

The group left June 20 and arrived back at midnight June 29. While they were in China they visited two schools as well as took a quick tour of some of the more famous sights of China.

Melissa Cabe, a first grade teacher at South Macon Elementary School, was part of the continuing ed trip. She explained that the WRESA program counts as credit points towards renewing teacher’s certificates. She said that the trip to China “was a great trip and, overall, a great educational experience.”

Cecilia Teem, a second grade teacher at South Macon Elementary School, agreed with her colleague. “It was an awesome trip and a real cultural experience,” Teem said. “When I first heard about it I was a little unsure about it, but when I got there I just wanted to soak it all in.”

The first stop was Beijing, where the group visited an elementary school. Cabe said that she spent most of her time with the first graders since that is the group she teaches. “One of the first things I noticed was that I didn’t see anything that was starkly different about their class,” Cabe reflected. “Most of everything that they did was the same as it is over here; the curriculum is exactly the same and kids are kids no matter where they are.”

Franklin teachers at the Great Wall, Darlene Fromknecht, Mary Price-Egger, Melissa Cabe and Cecelia Teem.Teem said that she was surprised that the Chinese schools were like America’s and that the classrooms were very similarly structured. Cabe described the classroom as being “wall-to-wall kids —about 30 in all. They were very quiet, working in their workbooks, until we started talking to them and then they were just very curious about us.”

Teem pointed out that all of the students, even at the elementary level, have at least two and a half hours of homework on average. “The parents are really involved with the education of their kids ... the one thing I wish is that we would have more home support, that is the whole key.”

Hutong village boy in the market (Beijing).While in Beijing, the teachers made a quick trip to visit the Great Wall of China and another to see a Hutong village where the people still follow the old ways rather than the more modern culture. The teachers were even fortunate enough to take a rickshaw ride.

The next stop was Xi’an where the group spent two days. Xi’an is actually one of the oldest cities in China and is famous for its terracotta army. Cabe mentioned that the most interesting site there was where there was an excavation of terracotta warriors. They spoke with some of the workers on the excavation and they said that the warriors were first discovered in Xi’an in the 1970s and that they believed there are about 6,000 warriors that haven’t been discovered yet. Cabe said that the teachers also visited a Chinese museum and saw a lot of their art and practiced some simple Chinese writing.

Hutong rickshaw rideFinally the teachers spent three days in Shanghai. There they visited a middleschool. Cabe said that the most interesting thing that happened at the middle school was that some of the boys were playing basketball outside. Some of the men from the teachers group went to join them. Cabe said that the teachers were African-Americans and the Chinese boys were fascinated by them because they had not seen many African-American people. “The people were so warm and open,” Cabe said. “They would always want to take pictures with you like you were Mickey Mouse or something.” While they were in Shanghai, the teachers visited a tea house and saw Chinese acrobats for which Shanghai is famous.

“Shanghai reminded me of Disney World, everything was futuristic like the Jetsons or something,” said Cabe. “To my surprise there weren’t any computers in the classrooms.”

Teem mentioned that when they spoke with the Chinese teachers and principals, they would say that they wished that the Chinese school system should be more lenient. “The school systems there are very structured and strict. In some ways I agree with that and in some ways I don’t,” Teem said. “But in my own classroom I will probably try to be more structured, for several different reasons, not just China, but with the budget cuts and all, I have to be more structured.”

Upon reflection of the entire trip, Cabe said that “my favorite thing was to visit the first graders and come to the realization that the kids there are the same as our kids.”

Education is a very competitive thing in China and education begins in the home. Cabe compared the educational society between the two nations and said, “There is no cultural diversity there.

Xi’an’s terracotta warriors were discovered in the 1970s. It is believed that more than 6,000 have yet to be discovered.And society is free here, so families can choose if education is a priority or not.” The One Child Policy is still in effect in China, which translates to a higher expectation and a greater push on the children.


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