02/12/13 Mei Guan, Plymouth High School and Lincoln Junior High School Chinese teacher, made the long trip to the United States in time to start the school year and begin the arduous task of teaching her native language-in both verbal and written form-to some 60 students. In China, Guan would have written her name as Guan Mei since the family name to written first. Informally, she goes by “Angel”, a nickname given to her by her junior high English teacher. Guan said, “In China, every student must take English.” She said, “After high school, students must pass the CET (College English Test).”
The farthest she had previously traveled away from her home in the southern part of China was to Thailand, Indonesia and India. She uses technology to keep in touch with her family in China using SKYPE, an internet application that has voice and video compatibilities.
Guan is under contract for the next three years to teach the Chinese language in America. The opportunity to come to the United States was made possible by the Confucius Institute located at Valparaiso University and the Chinese government.
For ten years prior to coming to the Plymouth area, Guan taught English at the university level. The number of students in her university classes is restricted to 20. She said the position allows her 40 days of winter vacation and 45-60 days of summer vacation. The university is holding her position for the next several years and she will return to teaching there.
Guan said, “This is a good chance for me to be independent.” She explained that she was most surprised as she began teaching here that students were very independent and were involved in so many activities. She said, “They have lots of energy for activities both indoors and outdoors.” Guan said in the educational system in China, students must spend a great deal of time on their studies. “Parents push their children to exceed and be one of the tops students.” She then explained that they are given only one chance at the end of high school to pass a test to attend further education the university level. She said, “It is only given one time and students either succeed or fail that test.” She went on to say that students can go back to high school and try to take the test another time, but it is only given one time each year.
Guan said she finds American food “delicious”, especially fast food. However, her students are getting a taste of traditional Chinese food as part of a lesson as the Chinese New Year begins. Other parts of her lessons are designed to teach students such skills as ordering food in a restaurant and use the Chinese denominations of money. She said students and teachers in the United States are very creative and she hopes to take some of the creative teaching ideas she is learning from them back to her classroom in China. She proudly exhibits one of the more creative assignments on the bulletin board outside of her classroom. Students were challenged to write a letter to Santa that included a biography of themselves and their families, directions to their homes, along with a gift request-all in the Chinese language.
Plymouth High School Principal Jim Condon is pleased to offer the Chinese language course to students and is especially appreciative of the work of Guan. Condon said, “We are excited to introduce Guan Mei and equally excited to introduce our Chinese Level I classes this year.” He added, “ Next year, we will offer Level I and Level II classes as we prepare more and more students for the working world and the global opportunities that await them.”
Guan said her students here ask many questions. She said, “They really want to know about China.” She said she is glad they ask questions since one of the goals for her coming to America was to teach students more about China.
Carol Anders Correspondent