It was Pen Tsou’s classroom, but at least for a moment, another teacher took the lead.
With guests from China, the Old Orchard Elementary teacher had set up a game of hangman on the front board, hoping students could guess English words while his class watched as spectators.
But when “Mississippi” stumped the group, Wang Xingxu briefly usurped power.
The guest teacher ran to the front of the class and pointed to a map of the United States.
“I’ve been replaced,” Mr. Tsou said with a shrug.
Ms. Wang, ever energetic, pointed to a row of four Chinese students in the middle of Mr. Tsou’s Old Orchard Elementary eighth-grade classroom, and told them to show their new American friends what they knew about U.S. geography.
She wanted to impress her hosts.
“Come here, my students,” she said, “show your talents.”
Ms. Wang had her students go through the Great Lakes, saying them in Chinese while she tried pronunciations in English, with help from Mr. Tsou. Later, the Old Orchard students would practice Chinese words such as painter and dancer.
A delegation of nearly two dozen students, teachers, and administrators from the Fushun Experimental Middle School in Fushun, China, spent a week at three Toledo Public School buildings. Along with Old Orchard, the delegation spent time at Ottawa River and Oakdale elementary schools. Some of the delegation visited other TPS sites, such as the Toledo Technology Academy.
Last week’s visit came two months after TPS administrators traveled to China as part of the Chinese Bridge for American Schools program, which was organized by Hanban University in China and the Office of Chinese Language Council International.
The goal of that trip was to gain ideas for expanding Chinese education in Toledo schools and increase cultural exchange programs. Though the TPS trip and the Chinese delegation’s visit were closely timed, they were unrelated.
The Fushun group’s trip was organized by Toledoans Dong Han and his wife, Xiaobin Dai, who teaches at Knight Academy. The pair both attended Fushun Experimental Middle School, and contacted TPS administrators about creating a cultural exchange program.
Chen Baohua, principal of the Fushun school, said through an interpreter that he hoped to learn how American teachers instruct their students, what curriculum they use, what kind of technology American schools have, and how the educational system works. His school is sort of a testing lab for educational practices, thus the “experimental” in the school’s name.
Mr. Chen said he noticed American teachers tend to force students to problem solve, and shy away from leading students toward answers. Chinese, teachers, he said, tend to be more direct, feeding students facts through repetition.
“They don’t want to tell their students what to do first,” he said of American teachers. “In China, they want to guide their students to find an answer.”
He found positives and negatives to each approach. Chinese students, he said, tend to have strong grasps at basic skills, and because of frequent testing handle exams well. Classrooms in China tend to be more disciplined, less democratic. But they are also high-stress environments, he said.
Class sizes also tend to be bigger in China. Ms. Wang, an English teacher, said she has 53 students in one class this year. American teaching styles, she said, make students feel very comfortable.
The Toledo district hopes to create exchange programs with Chinese schools, and further trips with delegations going each way may be coming. The district also plans to offer more Chinese classes, making the schools a little more like Old Orchard, which already has some Chinese connections.
The school runs a Chinese program through a partnership with a Confucius Institute housed at the University of Toledo. Confucius Institutes are nonprofit public institutions affiliated with the Chinese government.
Tana Bai, the school’s Chinese instructor, is from Hohhot, capital of China’s Inner Mongolia region. Mr. Tsou is from China and he has a Chinese student in his class.
To welcome the Fushun delegation, Old Orchard posted welcome signs in English and Chinese, and had students wear name tags in both languages.
The Fushun students appeared to be a hit with their new Toledo friends. Some of them were a little shy, Christopher Terrell said, but most were very nice.
“I’d want them to stay all year,” he said. “They’re cool.”
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6086.