A Taste Of China — Seattle Schools New Guest Teacher Shares Language And Culture Of Her Native Home

The Seattle schools have a new “guest” teacher. Zhu Dan arrived in the Seattle schools in January and will stay for an 18-month guest teacher program. Dan, who teaches college-level English in her native Kunming, China, has the option to extend her stay for another year.

Dan is one of 34 guest teachers in 19 states that are participating in a new partnership between China’s institute Hanban and the College Board, a nonprofit organization that administers the Advanced Placement exams and SAT testing). Plans are for an additional 100 guest teachers across the United States by this summer and 250 by 2009. The partnership is part of China’s large-scale effort to promote the Mandarin language and get people in other countries to learn it.

This is the perfect program for many Pacific Coast states that do a lot of business with China. Chief Sealth High School principal John Boyd traveled to China as part of a Hanban program and was inspired to offer a course in Mandarin to his Seattle schools students. He and Noah Zeichner, who heads up the high school world language program, wanted to expand the international focus in his Seattle school. They already have a student exchange program from Chongqing, China.

Zhu Dan teaches the Mandarin language in three Seattle schools — Denny Middle, Madison Middle, and Chief Sealth High Schools. While the institute Hanban pays her a stipend, the Seattle schools provide housing, airfare and cover other fees. Dan is residing with Sealth teacher Frank Cantwell and his family.

Dan applied for the guest teacher program for three reasons — to improve her own English skills, to help Americans understand more about China and its culture, and to help get the program started within the Seattle schools. She wants to leave her students with enough knowledge of the Mandarin language to survive a trip to her country.

Before traveling to the United States and the Seattle schools, Dan had to take a two-week crash course in Beijing. It covered our culture and education system, our money system, and how to write a check (something seldom done in China).

Many of her Seattle schools students took her course because it sounded interesting. Others have friends or family members who speak Mandarin. Within her first two weeks of instruction, Dan’s Seattle schools students could count to ten in Mandarin, pronounce the Chinese names she gave them, work through the pronunciation drills and vocabulary exercises given them, and sing a song about the Chinese New Year to the song “My Darlin’ Clementine”. Additionally, Dan shares her Chinese culture with the students, making her classes even more interesting.

Besides the guest teacher program, many Seattle schools now are offering instruction in Mandarin, as well as Advanced Placement courses in Chinese and the AP testing that earns college credit for the Seattle schools students who pass. For this year, Dan’s Mandarin class at Sealth High School meets after school. It will be part of the normal, daytime curriculum in the fall. Principal Boyd is encouraging elementary schools within his area of the Seattle schools to apply together for a second guest teacher for the Mandarin language.

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