Rock Hill educators travel to China for second year in a row

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comAugust 13, 2013 

While some teachers spent their summers vacationing, 25 Rock Hill educators spent it in classrooms. But they weren’t classrooms here in South Carolina and their students weren’t children. The local teachers were in China, helping Chinese teachers with their English skills.

For the second year in a row, a team from Rock Hill spent four and a half weeks on the other side of the world, an opportunity that was open to any teacher or administrator in the district, said Michael Waiksnis, principal at Sullivan Middle School, where five of the Rock Hill team teach. The group travelled to three cities, helping Chinese educators with their English skills as well as their teaching methods.

“The kind of great myth is that the American education system is so bad,” Waiksnis said. But, the Chinese teachers were very enthusiastic and open to learning all that their American counterparts had to share.

Rebecca Chevere will be a special education teacher at Sullivan this year. The hardest part of teaching the teachers, she said, was breaking their rigid concept of what a classroom is like.

“It was very hard just to get them to open up,” she said.

In China, class sizes are very large, teachers stand at the front of the room and lecture, and students are expected to sit silently and listen to the information.

“I had to treat it as a school teacher does when (the students) doesn’t want to participate,” Chevere said.

Both Chevere and Waiksnis said they tried to get the teachers to work in small groups, have conversations with each other, participate in activities and discussion, and utilize technology.

“I think they’re realizing that there’s more to education than just reciting facts,” Waiksnis said.

In one video from their time in China, Waiksnis hooked his iPad up to a projection screen at the front of the classroom. He showed the teachers how they could use an app of a frog dissection to educate students in their classroom without actually using real frog bodies. The Chinese teachers, who had never used that kind of technology in their classes, recoiled and made faces at the realistic frog parts.

When they weren’t in the classrooms, Waiksnis, Chevere and the rest of the group got to sightsee and take in the Chinese culture.

“I think China is amazing,” said Chevere. “I fell in love with the people.”

While abroad, Waiksnis said he established a partnership between Sullivan and two Chinese schools. He hopes Sullivan classes can video chat with Chinese classes to create a cultural exchange. He also said he’d like to be able to establish an exchange program for students, where Rock Hill students would spend a few weeks in China and Chinese students would come to Rock Hill.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for our students to learn about other cultures,” he said.

As for Chevre, she said the next time she goes back, she’ll bring more pictures and pieces of American culture to share, because the Chinese teachers were very interested in life in the United States. She also said the experience overall was life-changing.

“I wouldn’t mind teaching abroad,” she said. “I’m seriously looking into it.”

Both this summer’s trip to China and last year’s were facilitated by the Chinese Culture Center, a non-profit organization based in Columbia.

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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