What I Learned about Teaching at the Great Wall of China: You Wouldn't Think a Veteran Teacher with More Than Three Decades of Experience Would Need to Reinvent Himself and His Methods. but Half a World Away, Mr. Squire Did Just That

By Squire, Gary | Phi Delta Kappan, March 2007 | Go to article overview

What I Learned about Teaching at the Great Wall of China: You Wouldn't Think a Veteran Teacher with More Than Three Decades of Experience Would Need to Reinvent Himself and His Methods. but Half a World Away, Mr. Squire Did Just That


Squire, Gary, Phi Delta Kappan


AS I PAUSED to gaze across the magnificent panorama spread before me, it struck me: I was in another world--China. I had no idea that what I imagined as a leisurely stroll on the Great Wall of China would turn out to be such a strenuous workout, much less a metaphor for my teaching experience in China. The wall, which snakes over the rugged mountain terrain at Badaling (60 kilometers north of Beijing), presented a mostly uphill climb. After two hours of climbing, I felt the familiar endorphin rush and clear-headedness that I experience after a good run. What an extraordinary time and place to reflect on my first week of teaching in China.

THE FIRST DAY

There I was, severely jet-lagged on my first full day in China, standing in front of my class of 28 eager Chinese teachers. My students, all teachers of English in their own elementary schools and selected to participate in this four-week English-immersion program, had two expectations of the course. First, they wanted to improve their English skills, particularly the ability to speak and understand spoken English. Second, they expected to learn new and innovative teaching methods.

Of course, my first challenge that day was staying awake. Day and night seemed completely reversed, and my body fought hard against the absurd times for sleeping, waking, and eating. Nevertheless, I felt confident, armed with my opening activities: a partner exercise, in which everyone would be interviewed and then introduced by a classmate, and what I thought would be a delightful game with idioms. What a shock to realize with increasing clarity as the morning wore on that all of my carefully planned lessons completely missed the mark.

The students were gracious and genuinely friendly, all the while utterly unable to make any sense whatsoever of my rapid-fire chatter and ever-changing arrangements with partners and small groups. As for the idiom activity, they obligingly went through the motions of finding the person with the matching idiom or explanation and then tried with excruciating futility to explain the literal as well as colloquial meanings of the phrases. I practically stood on my head to help my students understand such idioms as "making a mountain out of a molehill" while they frantically checked their electronic English translators for the meanings of molehill and every other word in my well-intended definition ("It means to blow an issue or event out of proportion, such as: 'You have only a small blister on your heel, but you complain as though you broke your leg. Why are you making a mountain out of a molehill?'"). I used exaggerated sign language to clarify every word. Even then, I was faced with mostly blank looks and rapidly fading smiles. I could almost see the smoke rising from their nifty translating machines. Okay, I had to admit to myself, this lesson was a tad too complicated and the vocabulary far too extensive for novice English learners.

In the afternoon, I introduced the children's story called "The Hockey Sweater," by Roch Carrier, which I had so cleverly chosen for its humorous Canadian content. As planned, I read the first few pages aloud, mustering superb expression to illustrate the plot, careful to pause long enough to define what I knew would be unfamiliar words. My students smiled and laughed continually. What a relief! They must have understood and thoroughly enjoyed the story, I thought. I instructed them to discuss with a partner their predictions of what would happen next and then write their ideas in their notebooks. My illusion that the students had at least a rudimentary grasp of the story was shattered that evening as I read their journals. Student after student, with the best spelling and grammar they could manage, thanked me for being their teacher, declared how much they appreciated my easygoing manner, and then, as politely as possible, proceeded to inform me that they understood nothing of the entire first day. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

What I Learned about Teaching at the Great Wall of China: You Wouldn't Think a Veteran Teacher with More Than Three Decades of Experience Would Need to Reinvent Himself and His Methods. but Half a World Away, Mr. Squire Did Just That
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.