By Valérie Charbonneau
“When you help a student, you help a whole family not just one person.” This is one of the reasons Duan Daqiang (who goes by “Jack”) finds his job so rewarding.
From Baoshan, a city in Yunnan province in southwest China, Jack has been a teacher for 10 years. For the past decade, he has been helping the children of local farmers, shopkeepers and factory workers get the education they need to be able to go on to university.
Jack, like all his fellow teachers, is very committed to his students and works very hard to ensure their success. Every year he goes to the home of each student when they begin senior high to meet their parents—even those who live in the mountains more than 150 km away. “This helps build the relationship between students and teachers. I think this is an important part of how teachers can control the class because students see that teachers do a lot for them.”
Jack is one of 34 English teachers from Yunnan province who were sponsored by the China Scholarship Council to attend a professional development program at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Education. This is the second year in Canada for this program, offered by the Faculty of Education with assistance from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China’s minister-counsellor for education, Yang Xinyu. The program, which ran this year from May 24 to August 21, provides an opportunity for educators to improve their English-language skills and fine-tune their ESL teaching practices.
Another participant from Yunnan province, Guan Dingcai (who goes by “Julia”), took advantage of her first visit here to discover Canada.
“This is a very good opportunity for us,” she says. “The Chinese government pays the airfare, board and the tuition. To be chosen, you should be an excellent teacher with more than five years’ experience.”
Julia, also one of Yunnan’s top-ranked teachers, has been teaching in the city of Lijiang for 18 years. During a visit to a school of the Ottawa Catholic School Board in June, she was able to observe some of the teaching methods used here in Canada, which she finds quite different from those used in China.
“The average class size in my school is 50. I have 66 students now, but in the past I taught a class with 87. Sometimes I couldn’t even hear my own voice!”
At her school, 90% of the 3,000 students, aged 12 to 19, board at the school. The school has 200 staff members and 180 teachers, including 26 English teachers. On a typical day, students spend more than 10 hours in class and doing homework.
“Teaching is hard work,” Julia says. “But I realize that I can improve myself while also helping students to become good people who can help their families by going on to university.”
Over the three months they were at uOttawa, Jack and Julia attended English and teaching methodology classes given by members of OLBI and the Faculty of Education. They also took part in other activities to help them acquire new teaching methods and learn about Canadian culture. Their experience here will help them add to the box of tools they’ll use when they get back to their classrooms and begin teaching the new crop of young Chinese students hoping to go on to university and the job market.