Teacher Spends Summer Breaking Language Barrier

PEOPLE OF MERIT

Elkridge's Batchelder Instructs English--in China

September 15, 1991|By Dolly Merritt

It will be a switch for students in the special education classes atElkridge Elementary School to learn about what their teacher, AndreaBatchelder, did during her summer vacation.

The 29-year-old Ellicott City resident recently returned from a two-month stint in China, where she taught middle school teachers how to instruct English as a foreign language.

Although Batchelder spent seven days a week with her class of 17 students, she is back in her classroom at Elkridge refreshed and eager to share her experiences with her first-, second- and third-grade pupils.

"I wanted to go over there and make a difference," Batchelder said.

She became interested in teaching abroad two years ago when she saw an ad placed by the English Language Institute-China, a private, non-profit organization that recruits Americans to teach English to Chinese.

Though English was introduced into Chinese schools in 1976, most Chinese students do not speak the language, said John Fischer, teacher-mobilization director for the institute.

"They know the English grammar back and forth but they don't speak it; our people go in and teach listening, speaking and cultural English," he said.

In June of 1989, Batchelder inquired about the program and learned it was seeking teachers who would work for two months -- and thatit would cost her $3,400 for airfare. Her room and board, insurance and medical benefits would be provided by the organization.

The next year, she filled out the paper work, wrote an essay about herself and sent it in. In December, she was accepted.

Batchelder flew to San Dimas, Calif., in June for a week of training with 17 other teachers from across the United States, and the group arrived in China on June 27. They were among 185 teachers the institute sent to China this summer.

Armed with information they had learned about curriculumand the culture, Batchelder's assignment was in the city of Hefei, in Anhui Province. The Anhui Institute of Education provides a teachers' compound where the Americans slept and ate. Two teachers were assigned to each dormitory-style room.

"At first, it was difficult to communicate with the students," said Batchelder, who does not speak Chinese. Her students, who had already studied English, were not used to speaking the language. "We talked very slowly, drew pictures, usedhand signals and sometimes an assistant interpreter would help us whenneeded."

Batchelder said she was surprised to learn that most ofthe students in her class -- all teachers -- had not aspired to be teachers, but were assigned their professions by the government.

"Sometimes people request a change to another type of work unit; if they are excellent in that particular area, they probably have more of achance for transferring," she said.

Although education in China is not compulsory and Batchelder's students were not teachers by choice, each considered education to be sacred and a privilege. She said her students displayed their eagerness to learn by studying long hoursand always being prepared for class. So much so, that the American teachers purposely planned exams to be taken on Fridays because their students were so compelled to spend their entire weekends studying.

"They study so hard and want to please the teacher, make their parents proud, and excel for their work units, which pay for their English classes . . . anyone who feels burned out by teaching should teach in China," Batchelder said.

She described the plight of several Chinese teachers who took their national teaching exams the week beforethe Americans arrived.

"It had been raining for a month in Anhui Province causing flooding that affected several million people. The water was waist-high, but the teachers continued with their exam, holding on to the desks in order to stabilize them from the water. In fact, a lot of them left their families in the flood and literally risked their lives in order to attend classes."

Her students, Batchelder said, "were very helpful and were always looking after us as thoughwe were their relatives or trusted friends.

"They always carried my bags for me, someone always erased the blackboard," she said. "During the hot 100- and 110-degree temperatures, I would turn an electric fan toward the students, who would turn it back toward me."

Classes started at 8 a.m., Monday through Saturday, with a break from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for shushi, a rest period. Methodology lectures -- workshops designed to show teachers how to teach English as a foreign language -- were from 3 to 5 p.m.; cultural activities were planned from 7 to 9 p.m. and would include the depiction of various American holidays and celebrations. The teachers even presented a song fest in which spirituals, pop and rock songs were sung.

"Can you imagine a group of 18 teachers singing their version of some of the American rock songs?" said Batchelder.

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