The need for English teachers in the Province

Participants attending the workshop for Amity's local partner institutions hosting SEP teachers.

In order to guarantee the best and most convenient stay for the overseas participants of Amity’s annual Summer English Program (SEP), a workshop is held every year in Nanjing. Amity invites local partner institutions, which host the SEP foreign English teachers, to this workshop. The attendees, which are responsible for the stay of Amity’s overseas teachers, discuss and get briefed about important issues and organizational affairs of the SEP.

Many long-term Amity SEP participants shared experiences, and Lynn, a long-term Amity teacher in China, gave a lecture. She gave advice about the best ways how to host the foreign volunteers, some of their likely questions and behaviors, as well as their teaching methods. Those might be strange for some Chinese at the first appearance. By running this workshop, Amity helps overseas teachers and Chinese education institutions get the most out of their SEP experience. The sharing helps to avoid cultural misunderstandings in advance, and in the course of years the gathering has proofed to be an important forum for the hosts. Moreover, the exchange of new ideas and concepts between the participants is always a fruitful dialog, which boosts educational training in mainland China. When I attended the workshop in early summer this year, I spoke with local partners of Amity and learned more about their experiences and their visions for teaching English in China.

Peer to Peer – a new approach how to train Chinese English teachers

Ms. Lynn Yarbrough, Summer English Program

Coordinator, lecturing at the workshop

Lisa is a manager of administration. She works for an English teacher's training program that is part of the city education bureau in Bengbu, Anhui Province. She is participating in Amity's Summer English Program for the second time. The SEP primarily targets the writing, speaking and listening skills of Chinese English teachers. The first year, in 2013, 75 local trainees of her English Teaching Training School who were English teachers in China, participated in the SEP. But Lisa saw the need to set up another, more intensive program that is specialized to focus on the teaching methods, teaching theory and a way to organize teaching English in a more effective way.

To reach this goal, Lisa pushed to set up a peer-to peer program and gained the support of the Friends of Church of China (FFC). The FFC is a long-term partner of Amity's education division which, since 1992, recruits and sends English teachers to China. The FFC sent three professional and experienced English teachers to China in May 2014. They taught professional teaching skills to primary, middle and high school teachers and intensified this approach by implementing and introducing established teaching methods. Those were also discussed in small groups afterwards. In Lisa’s opinion, this is a more sustainable approach to train Chinese English teachers and to equip them with new and evaluated teaching skills. For the future Lisa hopes that this peer-to peer teaching program can be extended and enlarged. But she even dreams of an entire new program, where trainees are taught new ways of English teaching - on a more regular, structured and evaluated basis.

The difference of working with either Amity volunteers or with hired professionals? Lisa mentioned one of the benefits about cooperating with Amity and participating in the SEP volunteer program is that the Chinese teachers experience a different lifestyle. She emphasized that the atmosphere is open, full of discussion and enthusiasm. ''It is unique'', Lisa said. “The work with Amity Summer English Program teachers is special, because it is not only about teaching English but also about cultural exchange. We have fresh teachers, fresh methods and the teachers have different backgrounds. The last time we had a history teacher and so we could discuss and learn more about history.''

When I asked Lisa about a funny experience with volunteers, she laughed and remembered a sightseeing trip with the volunteers. When the group entered a famous but dark cave in Fenyang, everyone had to walk on a narrow path. For some of the older participants it was a bit too much of an adventure. They didn't feel very comfortable and admitted that those sporting sightseeing tours should be done by the more adventure-seeking younger participants in the future.

“We are still in the need of good English teachers and good teaching material”

Mr. Wang Lei from Shandong Province

giving a presentation at the workshop

Wang Wei is the Director of the Foreign Affairs Office of the Shandong Normal University and a veteran among Amity’s local partners. He has been cooperating with Amity’s international exchange division and teaching programs for 16 years. This long-term collaboration led to close ties and friendship between him and Amity. His experience, knowledge and judgment of the situation about teaching English in China makes him an expert in this field.

Mr. Wang, what do you think about Amity?

For me, the main focus of Amity is Love. Amity brings people together and unconditionally helps all Chinese people who are needy. When Amity was introduced to my university 16 years ago by the Chinese government, I soon realized that their engagement and contribution was very deep and serious. I felt very deeply that Amity is so serious, patient and thorough and that they really care.

How has the SEP changed over the years?

In 1996, the first year we participated in the SEP, we had 6 teachers out of 120 SEP overseas participants who were coming to Shandong Province. They all came from the United States and all of them were women. Two years later in 1998 the numbers of participants increased dramatically. The participants arrived by night train and I was the only person being in charge to pick them up at the train station. When 62 foreign teachers get off the train it was much more than I expected and I did not have enough cars to transport them. In the early morning the Head of the foreign teacher commission gave a welcome speech for them at the train station. (Mr. Wang is laughing) Nowadays, it is much more difficult to recruit volunteers for Amity’s exchange programs.

Why is it more difficult and where do you see the biggest needs for teaching English in China?

 I think the main problem is the lack of knowledge of foreigners about China. Most of them only know the famous and big cities like Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, Qingdao or Hong Kong. They don’t know about the less developed cities and provinces like Shandong. Not so many foreigners come to these regions and local English teachers don’t have the possibility to listen to the English language of native speakers. The students learn English from teachers who rarely have listened to native speakers. Their accents and pronunciations are especially poor. As a result, students learn incorrect pronunciations. That is why we are still in the need of good English teachers and good English teaching material.

How do you see the future of language teaching programs in China?

The main focus should still be on the listening skills and the practice of oral English. But we should also think about new teaching methods and make teaching language more active and more exciting. We should also consider new opportunities of teaching, which communication technologies today are offering. I am thinking of MOOC’s, Massive Open Online Courses. I would like to set up a platform where people can exchange teaching materials and watch videos to improve their skills. The beauty of this would be that even teachers in small cities of China could take part and train themselves. For that reason we need good material and professional videos done with the support of native speakers. In Shandong we want to become more flexible in terms of duration. Now we are also recruiting people for short-term periods and besides English teachers, we are also searching for German and Japanese teachers. Last but not least, we have to emphasize that volunteering for Amity’s exchange programs is not only a multiplier for teaching English in China, but also the chance to get in touch with the people of China and to experience their culture.