Instructional Leadership, emphasis: K-12 School Leadership (MEd)
Student teacher writing on white board.

Teaching in China

From the moment the phone call came, “Ali, would you be interested in teaching in China?,” the journey was in full swing! From gathering the information to obtaining a Visa; ensuring my passport was valid; discussing travel arrangements; and creating a syllabus for the students I was going to teach; it all felt like a whirlwind. Then the day arrived to begin this adventure. Wow! I’m going to China to teach! It was certainly an opportunity that was not on my radar…yet, here I was.

We were all very excited as we arrived at the Phoenix airport, and it was certainly easy to spot our mighty leader in his bright red hat. Our first stop was Seattle for an evening of rest, before the longer flight into Shanghai. The flights were long, but a great opportunity to catch up on sleep, work and to watch a few movies (or Chinese soaps-if you were my esteemed colleague).

The moment we stepped off the plane in Shanghai, we were greeted by a few of our doctoral students. It was great to see their smiling faces…and to recognize someone. We quickly cleared customs and loaded all our luggage into our own private chariot (ok…it was a van…but it was just for us). As we drove through the city and to our hotel- home for the next two weeks, we found ourselves surrounded by tall buildings, bustling traffic ( a lot!) and great conversation. Our students had become our guides answering all our questions and adding to the history of the places we were traveling through Wow! I’m actually in China!

Once we were all checked into our hotel, our hosts took us directly to Tianhua College of Shanghai Normal University to see the university and to meet all the people that would be supporting us throughout our stay. We had a tour of the university, saw the rooms we would be teaching in, and were given our rosters of students. We were ready to go….the next day!

The teaching experience was amazing. The students were eager to learn the Western way of instruction. All our students were early childhood majors, and many would be coming to NAU in the fall to continue their education. First step was to rearrange the rooms (as much as possible) and the students were put into small working groups to encourage conversation and collaboration.  We also engaged in multiple Kagan-like strategies…some involved dancing around the room, capturing and sharing thoughts, and presentations. The students were eager to participate and within the 2-week period we were teaching the courses, the students certainly loosened up and embraced this way of delivering new learning and found the conversations/collaboration as very useful to their own growth. The students worked hard in class, asked questions, shared their new learning, and created a strong community of learners. The fact that they were all creating research proposals in English…was amazing!

Our hosts were never far away and had several other events planned for us outside of teaching…and most of these events included a lot of food! The fresh vegetables (Lotus root is my new favorite) variety of mushrooms, tofu….all we needed to do was mention we liked something….and it would appear at our next meal. The hospitality while in China was wonderful and we had many opportunities to explore including: Hot Pot meals- trips to the ZOO- Hot Pot meals- trips into Shanghai to shop- Hot Pot meals- long walks to the malls – Hot Pot meals- lunch with the students daily- and Hot Pot meals! What’s Hot Pot you may be asking yourself? Community is a big part of the culture. Slowing down and eating a meal with friends and family is at the center of building and honoring the community. Hot Pot is an opportunity to slow down-have conversations with friends- and eat yummy food!  In a Hot Pot restaurant, the center of the table is the “pot” filled with different types of liquids (tomato, bone broth, spicey water-think soup), then we place chosen vegetables, meats, etc. in the liquid to cook…sharing along the way.  Community at its best!

Having an opportunity to spend time with my students in class and outside of class (of course most of the outside of class involved Hot Pot!) I learned so much about their hearts…and their culture. I was impressed by their dedication to their own education and the “why” behind them wanting to work with children. Many had family members that were currently teaching, others came from households of doctors and lawyers. It was very apparent that their families- and the nation in general sees education as one of the most important parts of their culture. Teachers are held in high esteem. Their thoughts on education are based on the whole child. What that means in China, is not only the academic side of learning but also embracing the arts- dance, music, art, fan artistry, etc. Throughout the entire academic career of a child, they are exposed to and practice all these art forms to ensure they are well-rounded and have a deep understanding of their culture. Children truly are embraced and seen as the future. In the malls, there were established play areas (huge) for the children. There were slides, bouncy houses, ball pits, and so much more. The children could “rent” a miniature car and drive it around the mall while with their parents shopped (and yes, I was hit by one…but no major damage!) Outside the malls were large areas for children and adults to dance, listen to music, and enjoy the company of others. To see these collective spaces (with so many people) was encouraging to see. Everyone seemed happy and enjoying themselves, which included us! We enjoyed the moments and even participated in a few of the dances (I believe there is video evidence of this somewhere!).

Another thing that really stood out, was the respect each of my students had for their families. Many of the students lived in multi-generational homes and they spoke so highly of their parents and grandparents. They knew the sacrifices their families were making for them to have a great education and they deeply honored that space. 

Overall, this opportunity opened my eyes to the beauty and heartbeat of this country…the people. The children truly are the center of focus. There is strong respect across all generations. Culture is important. Education is important. The future is important.

Wow, I taught in China…and learned so much.

I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Shanghai, China, to teach educational psychology at Tianhua University this summer, along with two other Combined Counseling/School Psychology PhD students, Alex Dornbier and Madison Bowden. After about 24 hours of travel, we landed in Shanghai. We were greeted by some of our students and teaching assistants at the airport, who graciously assisted us in navigating the city and campus throughout our entire trip. Although we didn’t exactly know what we had gotten ourselves into, once we landed in China, we soon found our way. We introduced our students to the game of Jeopardy, ate some amazing food, and made many friends along the way. We were challenged to find creative ways to meaningfully communicate and be reflective in our culturally responsive teaching practices.

During our time in China, we toured some of downtown Shanghai’s significant attractions: We saw the Oriental Pearl Tower; We went on a Huangpu River cruise to see Shanghai’s unique architecture along The Bund, and we were introduced to traditional Shanghainese cuisine. We even found some time to take the bullet train to Beijing for a weekend to hike the Great Wall of China, participate in a traditional tea ceremony, and visit the Forbidden City, Tian’anmen Square, and The Temple of Heaven.

The trip was full of learning for all, but perhaps mostly for us, as we learned about Chinese culture and history and gained hands-on experience teaching Chinese English Language Learners. Tianhua’s hospitality was overwhelmingly gracious. I am incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity to meet so many wonderful people and visit this beautiful country.