Can you imagine your third-grade teacher climbing the Great Wall of China? If your teacher is Moss Haven Elementary’s Jackie Farley, you can. Farley recently traveled halfway around the world at the invitation of the People-to-People Ambassador Program to compare Chinese teaching styles with those in America.
“My first reaction was that I would have to apply and get a ‘thanks, but no thanks,’” Farley says.
Instead, she completed a simple application and received a letter a couple of weeks later admitting her to the program.
People-to-People was founded during the Eisenhower Administration, its purpose to further communication between people of different nations culturally and professionally. Several years ago, the Eisenhower study surveyed different countries on their academic proficiency, and the United States came out on the bottom. Farley was the Dallas/Fort Worth area’s mathematics representative for the study.
After hearing the results, Farley began seriously considering the offer to visit China during spring break.
“I still stop myself and say: I cannot believe I went to China. I’ve never been overseas, except for Mexico, so this was a stretch for me.”
The program selected about 30 Americans with different biographical profiles (Ohio, New York, Texas) and different teaching levels (elementary, junior high, high school) to visit China and bring back ideas and information about bettering the American teaching system.
Fund-raising for the trip was the largest obstacle, Farley says.
“The PTA at Moss Haven got behind me and raised half the money. It’s amazing what you can come up with when you really want something. Joan Hamilton, a PTA member and part-time teacher’s aide, recruited people and sold pre-opening tickets for the new Foley’s at NorthPark.
“Carole Kilduff, my principal, organized selling CiCi’s pizzas. It was just incredible – people just donated checks. My teaching partner had a surprise birthday party, and people put money in balloons.
“I could not have gone without the parents and staff at Moss Haven. The community really bonded together to help me go.”
Farley brought back some unique observations after her trip.
“Kids have compulsory education through ninth grade, and then they take a test to go into high school. The only reason a child would go to high school is if he or she desires to advance to college. From the time kids enter school, their focus is this test they have to take in ninth grade and then again in 12th grade.”
When ninth graders fail the placement test, Farley says, they normally wind up working in factories.
Farley was impressed by Chinese advances in many areas, including foreign language and math skills: “They all speak English; that came as a big surprise. I think we are behind in that area. The Chinese start teaching their children English at age 10.
“In first grade, students start with computation in math. They don’t even introduce fractions until sixth grade. When they do flash cards, it’s not just 7×6, but maybe 7×600 or 9×15. These kids were whipping answers out. The Chinese teach fewer concepts in a year, but in greater depth. That’s why their kids have a better understanding. We’re throwing out all these concepts and just scratching the surface.
“However, the Chinese curriculum had not taught their kids to think. One of our American goals is to learn to think for yourself, problem solve and communicate. They are actually changing their educational system to be more like America’s.
“The Chinese wanted to know why we taught our children to be creative. You provide certain experiences, and then get out of their way and let them practice. I thought, from a professional standpoint, that was the most eye-opening.”
Changes are on the horizon in Chinese education, Farley says, such as “their kids are talking back, not wanting to do homework – so the indication is the more Americanized China is becoming, the more they’re teaching their kids to think. When you teach kids to think, they don’t always think the way you do.”
Between meetings and visiting schools, Farley put on her walking shoes and saw another side of China. Shanghai surprised her with some interesting morning activities.
“People exercise in parks every morning around 6 a.m. We went over and watched hundreds of people stopping by the park on their way to work. You have a lot of people doing Tai Chi, couples doing ballroom dancing and even low-impact aerobics. My friends and I joined them, and the Chinese thought that was funny.”
After a long trip, everyone enjoys being welcomed home, and Farley is no different.
“Debbie Snider baked a loaf of bread the day I came back to school. There were three children that brought me flowers.”
“I was just really glad to get back. I got very homesick for my students. The Monday I returned, I came around the corner and literally had kids running down the hall to grab me,” Farley says, smiling.
“And it was the best feeling.”