The most surprising difference between elementary schools in China and those in Murfreesboro is the level of formality, said a delegation of four educators visiting from Beijing, China.
Visiting Chinese educator Tian Jingjing asks Jessica Bullock, fourth grade, about the solar system web page she’s creating.
In China, students must sit straight in chairs and act very proper.
In the U.S. they sit at tables, or at learning centers or in a circle on the carpet noted vice-principal Lai Lijuan, who spoke through interpreters Wenyan Zhou and Xiqiao Wang.
Lijuan, along with technology director Li Wei, language teacher Tian Jingjing and social science teacher Xiao Donghui, are in Murfreesboro this week as part of a teacher exchange program being developed at Discovery School at Reeves Rogers.
The exchange program is the brainchild of Discovery School principal Linda Clark, teachers Cindy Jones and Kristy Mall, the school’s Chinese teacher Hui Li and assistant professor of education at Beijing Normal University, Liang Du.
The U.S. does a tremendous amount of trade with China, said Jones. And since Tennessee has now opened a trade office in Beijing, Discovery School personnel thought it would serve the student body well if they understood the Chinese culture and language, she said.
“We felt they would have to know this up and coming superpower,” Jones said. “Teachers are the first step to expanding that vision.”
The Chinese educators, who all teach at Peixing, a first- through sixth-grade elementary school with a student body of 800, said the visit was very enlightening.
They paid particular attention to the visuals on walls in rooms and hallways.
In China, elementary teachers teach only one subject and therefore float from room to room bringing subject materials with them.
“I am jealous that teachers can have their own classroom,” said Lijuan, who teaches math in addition to her duties as a vice principal. “The classrooms here feel like home and each teacher brings their own personality into the classroom.”
As he watched second-grade teacher Charlotte Young use a smartboard during a Math lesson, Wei said he was impressed by the way teachers integrate technology to achieve a pedagogy goal.
Chinese schools do use smartboards and other similar technology, but it tends to be reserved for special interest classrooms, Wei said.
Having it throughout the school would allow students to have a more hands-on approach to classroom instruction but would certainly require extensive training of teachers, Wei said.
“They would have to re-imagine a new kind of classroom,” she said.
In addition to the formality, integrated technology and teacher placement, the two educational systems differ in class size. Chinese classes consist of 30 to 40 students, while Murfreesboro limits its classroom sizes to about 20 students.
The visiting teachers said their short stay did not provide enough experience to comment on what the U.S. might learn from the Chinese education system. However, Li, who’s been teaching in Murfreesboro for a year, said American students do not show respect to their teachers as do Chinese students.
Li came to Murfreesboro after Discovery School was awarded a grant from the Teachers of Critical Language Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. She’ll return to China in June.
In addition to observing at Discovery School, the Chinese educators visited the Homer Pittard Campus School and Hobgood Elementary.
After they return to Beijing, Discovery School will continue expanding its cultural vision via videoconferencing with the Peixing faculty.
And Clark and Jones are seeking additional grants, or other funding, so Discovery School teachers can visit Chinese schools.