During our Global Teachers programs, we ask our delegates to reflect on each day’s experiences in writing or using video. Below are those reflections.
Saturday, June 16
Paige Norris teaches kindergarten and first grade at Rocky River Elementary School in Concord, N.C., where she is also a member of the school’s Teaching and Learning Team.
Anticipation is high today. After months of planning, preparing, and learning, we are officially on our way to China! Groups met before 4 a.m. in Charlotte & in Raleigh and we all flew into Washington-Dulles International Airport to board the plane that would deliver us to Beijing. Last minute travel tips on exchange rates, managing data, and itinerary changes were discussed before we broke for breakfast/brunch. Visas were scanned, passports were verified, and we were allowed to board. In-flight, many of us slept, some watched movies, and some read, all trying to make the nearly 14-hour flight pass quickly. As I watched the flight route screen, I noticed we had just passed over Hudson Bay and the temperature below was reported as 72 BELOW zero degrees F. We were truly headed over the top of the world. We know in a few hours, we will touch down in China. We are excited about the opportunities and experiences in store for us. We are ready to collaborate, learn, and pass on our new knowledge. Most of us came to orientation in Raleigh a couple months ago as strangers. Today, as we look around, we notice friendships are forming. Day 1 was a huge success and we eagerly await our next 10 days representing Go Global NC as Global Teachers!
Sunday, June 17
Malena Robinson is the head of the family and consumer science department at Mountain Heritage High School in Burnsville, N.C. and a continuing education instructor at Mayland Community College in Spruce Pine, N.C.
Monday, June 18
Deborah Brown teaches English at Research Triangle High School in Durham, N.C., where she also serves as Director of Professional Development. Amy Parker is a fifth grade teacher of math and social studies at Herford Grammar School in Hertford, N.C., where she also mentors new teachers.
Great Wall, Peking Duck, and Silk Road Shopping
Day 2 began with everyone recovered a bit from the long travel day and arriving at breakfast with the chance to try some new foods! Breakfast included some traditional items like eggs, bacon, and fruit, but also a variety of European pastries (with Nutella) and Asian items like noodles, fried rice, and a specialty item–dates wrapped in sticky rice & steamed in banana leaves—a special treat for the Dragon Boat Festival. Even familiar items had some Chinese twists—like finding moochi fruit and an Asian fried bread called Youtou that was a little like churros. We also shared stories about how many us had already blown through our data plans—that’s what auto-upload of photos will do.We loaded the bus for the 1 ½- 2 drive from the hotel up to the Great Wall. William, our local tour guide, gave us some fascinating history along the way, including some details about contemporary Chinese life. Beijing is organized by 7 concentric rings—and property prices go up the closer you get to the center ring. Apartments in the city are unbelievably expensive and very tiny-an average apartment is about 100 sq. meters—one bedroom, one kitchen/living area, and one toilet. Apartments also cannot be owned outright—“owners” get 70 years of “use rights” and any unused years can be passed along in the family. We drove past a portion of the Beijing wall & moat and heard stories about how it was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.
We heard about a famous Chinese opera based on a folktale about The Woman Who Cries at the Wall. The story describes how her husband was pressed into labor to build the wall the day of their wedding, and then died and was buried into the construction. Instead of taking her honeymoon, the young bride came to the wall every day and cried, until the gods took pity on her, destroyed part of the wall in a storm, and she was able to retrieve his bones for a peaceful burial. William told us about why the wall was built (to keep out assorted invaders over the ages) and how the section we were visiting was from the Ming Dynasty to defend against the Mongolians. Construction was from several smaller walls that ended up combined to make the Great Wall.
Part of what was fascinating about listening to William was picking up the subtext and smaller comments that showed us some of the Chinese perspective. He mentioned that the Cultural Revolution was because Mao Zedong, referred to as the father of the People’s Republic of China, got old and wasn’t making the best decisions anymore,” and that the U.S. does so well in the Olympics because “you have so many different kinds of people and you can put them in the sports they do best.” He also said the only thing Chinese people hear on the news about America is about discrimination—he mentioned police shootings especially. He noticed Megan’s necklace and mentioned that square is a lucky shape because for the Chinese, earth is a square and heaven is round (a dome). He told us stories of some the discrimination within Chinese culture, too—especially in favor of people who who live in Beijing, who get preferred admittance with lower required scores to the best universities, for example. Passports have to identify your occupation—and people are treated differently based on it—for example, farmers get lower retirement benefits and have higher life insurance payment. Children must return to their parents’ home village for education—it’s not based on where the parents are currently living. He said, “we are communist so you think all are equal, but we are not.”Arriving at the Great Wall involved a shuttle bus, chance to stop at a public restroom (maybe a little longer because several of us were willing to wait to use one of the only 2 western style toilets vs the squat toilets) and a walk up to the snow-ski style chair lift. Arriving at the top we took a group picture and then split up, with some people venturing as far as tower 14 and even 22—about 10K steps and nearly a five mile total trip. Others explored at a more leisurely pace, stopping for lots of pictures, FaceTiming family from the Wall, and enjoying the breezes in the tower walkways. Most of us recaptured our youth by taking the toboggan slide down—little racer cars with hand brakes that took you through long metal runs to the bottom. Once everyone finally arrived back, another long bus ride through Dragon Boat Festival holiday traffic took us to the lunch restaurant.
William explained in a “Chinese tongue twister” that there are three things every visitor to Beijing must do: visit the Great Wall, eat Peking duck, and see one of the three shows (opera, acrobats, and kung fu.) This day gave us all a chance to check off at least 2—leaving the third as an excuse for another visit. Arriving at the restaurant we were greeted with white tablecloths and dining set up to impress—beverages, plate after plate of food to try from the lazy susans on every table—we lost track of how many dishes were brought in total, but really appreciated the hands-on lesson in how to carve the duck and how to build these little sandwiches for traditional Peking duck: you take a small rice pancake, add some hoisin sauce, a few sticks of crisp vegetables (cucumber, bamboo shoots and radish) and fold it up like a baby burrito. Delicious!
A short bus ride and some tips from William and Tom on how to bargain took us to Silk Road—kind of big shopping mall with 6 floors of goods ranging from high-end items (lots of knockoffs) to little souvenir treasures. Salespeople waited at every door to grab your attention, if not your actual arm, to entice you into their shop. The group split up to shop for everything from pearls to small gifts for family—and a stop at the “Lucky Draw” on the way out earned some small items like tissues and bracelets—no one hit it big with the larger prizes of iPhones and iPads. People had different reactions to bargaining, ranging from real discomfort and confusion in asking for a lower price to glee in playing the game. Rain, exhaustion, and a delayed schedule had us canceling the plan to visit the lake today and swapping it to later this week.
Arriving back at the hotel, some folks decided to call it a day and prepare for the Beijing Royal School visit tomorrow, but a small group was still feeling adventurous and headed out by taxi to Nan Luogo Xiang for shopping, food, drinks and the chance to see a hutong (a type of narrow street or alley)—a great end to an ambitious second day.
Anthony Johnson is a fourth and fifth grade language arts and social studies teacher at H.D. Isenburg Elementary School in Salisbury, N.C. This is his second program experience with Go Global NC; he participated in Global Teachers – Germany 2017. Sam Sirous teaches eighth grade general science teacher at Harris Middle School in Spruce Pine, N.C., where she also runs an after-school program called STAR (Students Taking Active Roles).
Tuesday, June 19
Julie Pittman has been an English teacher at R-S Central High School in Rutherfordton, N.C since 2003.When we arrived at Beijing Royal School (BRS) today, we were all electrified with the anticipation that educators have on the first day of school. It is a feeling that no other profession can identify with. It was present for us all, a force that beckons those with a calling like nothing else. As we stepped off the bus, our group was welcomed with a sincere admiration from the beginning, one that was continuously met as we were greeted by the administration, the teachers, and the students of BRS. There was an excitement similar to the feelings that we all experienced as we began our climb up the Great Wall of China, but it was different. It was unique in the sense that today was a day that we had all dreamed of in our individual paths as educators. While we checked the “bucket list” box for the Great Wall, teaching in a foreign county, in China, at a school like BRS, brought about a very different feeling of accomplishment. How many people had the opportunity to climb the Great Wall of China? Probably more human beings than we could count, and while it was humbling, it was minimized by our collective passion for our profession and the opportunity in which we were all about to engage.
We began a process of introductions and photo shoots which matched the excitement we were all feeling and as we glanced upwards in celebration and appreciation, we noticed the LED sign lighting up the ancient styled courtyard, “A Warm Welcome to the Teachers Delegation with Go Global NC.” After several minutes of strategic photography, we began our exploration of the BRS. As we approached the Confucius statue, standing proudly in the far end of the center courtyard, young elementary children began filing in, wearing red t-shirts and blue polo shirts sporting the BRS emblem. They formed directed lines and looked attentively at a small girl – the “captain” of the morning and the leader of the soon to be practiced calisthenics – standing afoot of the “ancient one”. And then it began, as a stalwart voice echoed the repeated numbers of “y, er, san si, wu”, children began their exercise program. The scene was a fantastic beginning to the day, one that was expected, and dreamed about, as well as mysterious in its difference from the way our schools begin.
As the children slowly trickled off to their respective classrooms, a group of students began a game of elimination jump rope. Filled with the excitement of a 1st grader, we joined in and for a moment lost all sense of professionalism as we relinquished our selves and souls to the unknown. It was triumphant, and for a moment, all of humanity smiled. The journey then took us from a sense of comfort and camaraderie to one that reminded us of some of the imitations of public education that we work with on a daily basis back home – lack of adequate facilities for all students. Our tour was shocking, to say the least, a far cry from the lines of desks and technological neglect that many N.C. public schools face due to limitations of funding. There were “mobile desks”, satellite classrooms with motion sensor cameras, an NBA regulation gymnasium, a state of the art theater, a library complete with dozens of Mac desktops, a 1-to-1 iPad to student ratio-overall, and a huge financial commitment to excellence.
Mia Cruise teaches high-school math at Durham School of the Arts in Durham, N.C., where she sponsors the school’s philosophy club and prom committee.
Wednesday, June 20
Betsy Graves is the director of dance at Broughton High School in Raleigh, N.C.; she also serves as coach to the school’s dance team and NHS dance advisor. Caroline Olson teaches ID-Mod at Broughton High School in Raleigh, N.C.; currently she has 12 students between ages 15-21 who have intellectual disabilities in the moderate range.
Amy Singer is a school counselor and works with kindergarten through sixth grade students at Carrboro Elementary School in Carrboro, N.C. Kate White teaches fourth grade science at Isaac Dickson Elementary School in Asheville, N.C. and co-chairs her school’s Green Team while also serving on the student support team.We started out our third day with breakfast at the hotel which is a mix of Chinese and Western food- an opportunity to be adventurous, and have a taste of home too. Many GoGlobal educators are feeling more at home in Beijing with some time to adjust to the new surroundings and time difference.
We departed our for typical hour drive (to account for Beijing traffic) which gave us time to see the contrast of modern buildings, older architecture (concrete apartment buildings and “hutong”- alleyway dwellings), as well as the remains of the Beijing city wall and Temples from the 1500s. We also appreciated some normal street life- older Chinese practicing Tai Chi in parks and people hurrying by foot, in cars, or on bike. Despite the interweaving movement of 22 million people, there is a sense of calm and order.
Our first stop was at Lenovo which has headquarters in both Beijing and Raleigh, NC. We toured their modern building and learned about Lenovo’s history and current innovations. It was fun to interact with some of their more recent creations including Star Wars Virtual Reality googles and a lightsaber. Many of our teachers’ schools use Lenovo products and we are grateful for Lenovo’s partnerships with NC schools enabling our students’ access to technology.
After a group lunch and quick change at our hotel, we headed out with our tour guide William to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. The magnitude of these two places surprised us and was incredibly interesting. The square was blocked off as Kim Jung Un was visiting. As we viewed this enormous political center, we learned about the buildings contained in the complex- Chairman Mao’s mausoleum, the building where the National People’s Congress meets, as well as the largest square in the world which can hold 1 million people.
From the mausoleum there is a direct path known as the dragon vein to the Forbidden City. Hanging above the south gate where visitors enter, is the iconic painting of Chairman Mao. From the main entrance, the complex spreads back to contain multiple gates, large courtyards, temples, and individual buildings for offices, sleeping areas, reception halls, and exams. Chinese symbolism was evident in every detail including the decoration, architecture, and building placement. William explained the significance of the roof colors, the animals portrayed in statues and architectural details. The architecture was designed to reinforce the social hierarchy. For example, only the emperor entered through the center gate, while royal family members used flanking entrances and high ranking officials entered from smaller, side gates. Deviations resulted in beheadings. In the back was a refreshing and beautiful garden.
There was so much to look at that we could have spent many hours pouring over all the intricate details. China’s cultural values of beauty and order were evident in this experience. We left with an even keener interest in learning about China’s history, and future.
Thursday, June 21
Freebird McKinney teaches at Walter M. Williams High School in Burlington, N.C. and at Elon University’s School of Education. He is the 2018 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year.
Beijing has always been in my top 5 of “bucket list” cities for international travel (1. Tokyo 2. Paris 3. Beijing 4. Mecca – but I cannot go unless I convert to Islam and 5. Varanasi). As we pulled away from the high-speed train station headed to Nanjing, I reflected on my experiences in the third largest city in China. To be honest, I was not prepared for the vastness of the city. When I think of 22 million people, it represents nothing more than a number. It has no relative comparison that my finite understanding of numbers can use- money, grains of sand in an ocean of time, automobiles in the United States, etc.
It was hard to fathom how this many people could live together harmoniously and with an agreed upon social contract of progress. But they do. Even the traffic was marginally carefree. While we experienced their world famous historical landmarks, the old huotongs, the bustling markets and restaurants, and busy thoroughfares, Beijing spoke to me as few other cities in my international travels have. We witnessed an unreal synthesis of the old and the new. We experienced friendly and inquisitive individuals who practiced a unique form of commonality seen in the tai chi exercises at the Temple of Heaven in the mornings and nightly impromptu dances in the neighborhood parks. We looked at modern marvels in architecture and the “forbidden city” now opened to tourists and citizens alike. We lived the marriage of western infusion with eastern ideals and their offspring. In essence, my colleagues and I shared our expectations of China and its capital with the reality of our global partnership’s “truth”.Two reflections stand out as learning lessons for our students as their teachers experienced a brief cultural immersion in Beijing. The first was the meaning of “truth”. What did this mean in the context of our journey? As we visited the Beijing Royal School, one of the students I met in the AP World History class described his frustration with “brown paper covered sections of the textbook”. He told me that he was curious about the sections he could not read about the Cultural Revolution and its historical interpretation. I could tell that he was at the entrance of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” and was searching for more. This experience combined with the inability to tour Tiananmen Square because of the date’s relative closeness to the June 4th “incident” made me realize that “truth” was an example of cultural relativity and the power hierarchy of ruling governments. “Truth” has become something that is a privilege and that is particular to a culture. My experiences in Beijing has really caused me pause and has required several sleepless nights in my attempts to process. As a philosophy teacher, we deal with issues of ethical relativism and it has become very clear that my consternation is highly reflective of this process.
I also felt an unbelievable pride in China’s accomplishments. As a “Sinophile” and a student of Chinese history, I have been so honored to experience and explore so many of the places, people, and cultural highlights that have left lasting impressions on my life. The “Forbidden City”, the Temple of Heaven, the Wangfujing Market, The Great Wall of China, and Hohai lake all reveal the soul of China. These understandings dominated how I interact with other human beings and how I have self-actualized and self-realized. To be present to see this culture in its reality and as its authentic “self” has led be to be even more appreciative of what I have come to love and respect. The people, the pride, the history, the modernization, and the growth of China is humbling and I kowtow to many of the lessons I have learned through this trip. Beijing, in all of its majesty, treated a common citizen of the world like a member of a royal enclave and I will always be thankful.
About our experiences in the Confucian Market and Temple: Once we arrived in Nanjing, there was a stark contrast to Beijing. I would liken Nanjing to a hybridization of many different elements of major American urban landscapes. There is a bustling middle class which allows for a very western feel in the downtown area, particularly at the Confucian Market. When we arrived, we stepped into a wonderland of neon bright lights and majestic replications of old-style Chinese shops and restaurants. Thousands of people walking the streets filled the market and created a highly electrified atmosphere that reminded me of a festival. As we approached the main square of the market, we witnessed a waterway which lit up by a huge dragon backdrop. On a platform, in the middle of the waterway, traditional Chinese dancers mesmerized the group with an elegant display of artistic interpretation while directly behind us was a stage with a “K-Pop” style rock band. The two musical expressions simultaneously reflected the changes of China and the marriage of the “old and new” traditions which we were all learning in our global immersion classroom.
From this, a smaller group broke off from the main group to visit the Confucian Temple. This had been on my own personal “top ten” list for hopeful experiences in Nanjing. From a personal place of interest, Confucianism has been a vital part of my existence since my first understanding of its principles. In my 12th grade Humanities class, we read parts of the Confucian Analects. At this point of my life, I was not ready for its lessons. It felt as if an “old guy” was simply setting up rules of hierarchy and blind compliance based on age and position. As a teenager, about to leave for UNC-Chapel Hill I was blinded by my own arrogance and sense of false independence. I was self-centered and egotistical, and unfortunately had very little experience with positive familial relationships, particularly the father-son relationship, the basis of “filial piety”.
Confucius changed everything for me. His ancient words altered the way I see the world, and most importantly, how I see my own sense of personhood and responsibility in society. Based on the “Five Relationships” (ruler/subject, father/son, spouse/spouse, elder sibling/younger sibling, and teacher/student), Confucius believed that we had the social responsibility to honor our roles in these relationships and to reflect the values of “jun-zi,” or superior human being. These values reflect “ren,” or humanness, and “li,” rites and rituals of society. The goal of Confucianism is to live an authentic life in the Tao, while adhering to the values of being a superior human being in society. From my later experiences with Confucianism, I learned what it truly means to be a “village teacher.” My role as a teacher is to build a better community by being a better human being. This process begins with the self, then my role as a father and husband, and then as a brother, son, and citizen. But it ultimately ends with my role as a teacher and my teaching, mentoring, and guiding of students to become their best possible self and thus a “jun-zi.”
We entered the Confucian Temple and immediately the atmosphere shifted from a carnival-like feeling to a pious and reflective mood. I looked out over the courtyard and imagined the feeling one would have during the time this temple would have thrived. Priests silently scurrying around as they pondered the words of their ancient teacher. In the middle of the courtyard stood an altar where participants could place incense and meditate for their loved ones. A towering statue of Confucius looked over us as we placed a set of three “incense candles” in the sand and prayed a moment for our families’ fortunes. It was much quieter than the streets of the market and you could hear the sounds of a gong and a drum coming from the next courtyard. Red ribbons of luck and prayer were tied on posts and railings throughout the temple reflecting a continued reverence and respect for Confucius and his teachings.
We continued our tour of the “museum” looking at past examination books and photographs of students who dedicated their lives to becoming a better human being. I thought about the many students who I was fortunate and blessed to have taught Confucianism to in my IB Philosophy class. There were so many lessons on reverence and piety, as well as on the concentric circles of life. Our “best self” emanates outward to society and we become “jun-zi” by acting on beneficence, wisdom, and humility. As teachers, particularly when teaching IB Philosophy, our goal is to provide guidance for our students as they begin their path to actualization and self-realization. We can do this by sharing different philosophical perspectives and then allowing our students to discover the lessons from these historical men and women that they can apply to their lives. Confucius and his lessons has led me to slowly become my most realized and actualized self and it has been an absolute honor to share this journey with my students. I hope that my life as a “village teacher” will reflect the passion I have for teaching, the respect I have for my profession, as well as the understanding I have of my roles of father, husband, son, and citizen. Thank-you Mater K’ung for your inspiration, felt and lived 2, 000 years later, and thank-you Go Global NC for providing this “laoshi” the amazing opportunity of bringing my passion for philosophy and Confucius back to “The Shire” for my community, my school, and my students, to enjoy.
Robin Sechrist is a K-5 AIG (Academically or Intellectually Gifted) specialist at Efland-Cheeks Global Elementary School, where she also hosts the Lego Blitz to raise money for Habitat for Humanity.
As I sit on the high-speed train from Beijing to Nanjing, I am thinking of the past days and the lasting experiences I have had. It is astonishing to me that as I look out on the countryside in reflection, that it looks so much like the geographical landscape of the United States. It is only when you come to view a home, farm, or town that you remember this train, and you, are in China. The farm equipment and homes are not what I see when I drive through rural North Carolina. They are farming using, what appears at high speed, to be antiquated tractors and/or hand tools to farm fairly large parcels of land. The homes are not that of the Beijing high rise but are more reminiscent of rural Mexico or Dominican Republic. This fact is driving home to me that wealth is wealth and poverty is poverty no matter your location.
Reflecting upon the experiences of the last few days I am humbled. Humbled by the vast history of China; humbled by the ambition of China; humbled by the people of China. The history of China is long and not necessarily beautiful and yet the people of China are proud. I know that some of them have not received the information about their history that the outside world has and even that knowledge that they don’t necessarily know is there, they are still proud of their history. You see this pride in their maintaining this vast rock wall that is 600 years old. There are few places in the world where you can view and touch a part of history that old. The ambition of China even then to unite themselves into one and protect themselves by connecting the walls of each province is awe inspiring for the unity of a people.
The people of China have been amazing. As I have no Chinese and some of them no English, we sometimes had a difficult time communicating but the Chinese people did not get frustrated. They simply looked for a way to explain or answer so that I would understand. The contrast to this as I think of being in the U.S. is shameful. I think of the times I have heard people fuss about others not knowing English but coming to America and here I am in China with no way to speak their language and they have been nothing but accommodating when they could. It is a mindset I am striving to get to.
When we entered the “Forbidden City” I initially was not impressed. It was beautiful yes, but looked like all the pictures I have seen of the courtyard and the Hall of Supreme Harmony. However this was a premature reaction. After passing the Hall of Supreme Harmony I have no words to describe the feeling or the view. It was unimaginable and awe-inspiring. The colors and architecture of this place are breathtaking. The feeling of pride, ambition, culture, and protocol is overwhelming. I have never been more inspired and intrigued by history as I was in that moment. The symbolism and attention to detail; everything was purposeful and meaningful.
As the time in Beijing ends, I am hungry for the adventure that awaits in Nanjing and am thankful for this time on the train to download and debrief from the immersion in Beijing. I am thankful to Beijing for allowing me to transition into this space with grace and support. I am humbled by the welcoming nature of the people and have many ideas and thoughts to bring back with me.
Friday, June 22Christi Edwards is in her 25th year of teaching at West Stanly High School at Oakboro, N.C., and currently teaches 11-12th grade pre-calculus, honors and AP calculus, math II, and calculus honors.
We began the day with an introduction from GU Chunming (Deputy Director for the Division for Basic Education) about K-12 education in Jiangsu Province. He shared information about this province including what makes Nanjing Province unique as well as the breakdown of the levels of education. A few things we found interesting were that there are 13 million students in the province. There are 15 years of education divided into 3 levels: preschool ages 3-6, compulsory grades 1-8, and high school grades 10-12. One thing that impressed us was that 2/3 of top scholars in China are from Jiangsu Province. The goal of this province is to create an equal and excellent education for all students. We believe this is a common goal for the United States as well. Additionally, they have realized that the creativity in students in this province is lacking and therefore have made efforts for education reform by offering applications through research options for the students. We loved the closing remarks, “…this is the end of the day, but not the end of the exchange.”
Our afternoon consisted of an enlightening and interactive visit at Nanjing Foreign Language School. Professor Huang instructed the teachers in creating our own Chinese herbal medicine sachet. This was collaboration at its finest as some teachers, such as Christi and Amanda, needed assistance from multiple people to complete the task. 🙂 The end product will be a memento to treasure for years to come. Next we were led by grade 10 students in a tour of the school campus. Throughout the campus there were multiple examples of social responsibility reminders in a variety of languages. The school is making a constant effort to connect their students to students of other nationalities to compare them to be globally prepared and connected in the future. A warm invitation was extended for us to come and participate in the Sino-American summer camps that occur for 2 weeks over the summer. This is one other example of how they are taking students, “From NFLSXL to the WORLD”. Another day full of learning and expanding our knowledge of global education. We are grateful for these opportunities and are excited to see what awaits us!
Saturday, June 23
Matt Scialdone teaches 9th grade English and African-American Literature at Middle Creek High School in Apex, N.C. He participated in Go Global NC’s Global Teacher – South Africa 2016 program.
After visiting the Apartheid Museum in South Africa with Go Global NC, the concept of “truth and reconciliation” has become a central focus of my classroom practice. So, when I saw the Nanjing Massacre Memorial listed on our itinerary at our orientation session, I was solemnly expectant of the experience to come. The Nanjing Massacre Museum was founded in 1985 after workers at a construction site unearthed a mass burial site from Japan’s 1937 occupation of the city during which over 300,000 Chinese men, women, and children were brutally murdered and the city itself almost totally destroyed. When I awoke today, I noticed a shift in my mood. Our journey so far had been one filled with awe-inspiring historical sights, fascinating cultural exchanges, and a deep sense of camaraderie among the Global Teachers. But today was different. At breakfast and on the way to the memorial, I could feel myself withdrawing inward, preparing for what I would see and hear. I had grown accustomed to all of our adventures having an accompanying soundtrack of thought-provoking conversation and laughter, but I had already decided to keep to myself during our visit; I knew I needed to process the memorial privately.
The statuary lining the walk to the memorial’s entrance set the emotional tone for the experience to come. The elongated and abstracted figures reach to the viewer and cry out in silent agony. Many of the statues feature children, and as an educator and a parent, they seemed to be calling out to me specifically for my care and protection as a teacher and father. Along a distant wall, the phrase “300000 VICTIMS” is stated in many of the world’s languages to ensure that no visitor could miss the memorial’s central mission—to make the world stand witness to what happened in Nanjing. Upon entering the memorial, we literally descended into darkness down a staircase flanked by enormous shelves holding the alphabetized records of all those lost during Japan’s occupation of Nanjing. At the foot of the stairs, we entered a dimly lit circular room. Along the walls hung portraits of only some of those lost during the massacre. Portraits of aged survivors looked down, reminding us of the importance of never, never forgetting. At the room’s center, bright yellow flowers were laid on a large stone declaring the simple and stark reminder: VICTIMS 300000. As I stood viewing that stone marker, I could feel the eyes of the victims and survivors on me, asking, “What will you do with this moment? How will you use your role as a teacher to affect change?”
Leaving this room, we followed a timeline of Japan’s invasion of China that included the occupation and devastation of other cities on the way to the southern capital; all the way to December 13, 1937….the day
that Japan occupied Nanjing. It was time to face the atrocities often referred to as “the Rape of Nanjing.” Survivors’ testimonials, photographs, films, and artifacts of the atrocities were brutally categorized using titles such as “By Raping,” “By Shooting,” “By Chopping,” “By Stabbing,” “By Burying Alive.” The memorial’s literal and emotional core was the viewing area above the remains found at the site. I wanted to look away from it all—from the photographs, from the skeletons in the viewing area, from it all, but I knew that I could not do that. For my family, for my students, for those whom I will tell about this experience for the rest of my life, I could not look away. This part of the museum served as a reminder of the importance of discomfort. Too often we avoid discomfort at all costs, and in doing so we miss opportunities for real, substantive progress. So, we either willfully ignore or “sugarcoat” those parts of our history that are complicated and painful to discuss in order to limit our discomfort. The Wilmington Race Riots, the NC Eugenics Program, and statewide cases of lynchings are uncomfortable,upsetting, and frankly embarrassing parts of our state’s history that often go un-taught in our classrooms. Today’s experience at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial reaffirmed my belief in the transformative power of facing discomfort head-on in our classrooms and communities.
After the viewing the atrocities, we began a gradual climb out of the memorial’s depths. The lighting also gradually became brighter as the information on the walls and in display cases focused not on humankind at its worst, but rather, at its best. We learned about the creation of “Nanking Relief Zone” at the city’s center—an area of safe shelter, medical care, and advocacy for the Chinese citizens. I beamed with pride as I learned about the work of Americans like John Magee to help protect and heal the victims of the massacre, as well as their efforts to document atrocities and draw the attention of international community to Nanjing. Of course, I felt an extremely personal sense of pride to see that among the doctors, nurses, reporters, and faith workers there were teachers from nearby universities who would not stand by passively during the massacre…they took active steps to better the lives of as many people as they could. Just like any teacher would.
As teachers, we are vessels for information and experiences. On programs such as this, we have the rare opportunity to encounter new places and ideas, process them through our lenses as teachers, and collaborate to create ways to expand our students’ worlds. More than anything, I am humbled and grateful to have this experience in China among such a tremendously talented group of educators. And I am proud that I can utilize my role as a teacher to carry this experience back to my students and in doing so, encourage truth and reconciliation in my classroom and community.
Sunday, June 24
Evelyn Gower teaches first grade at Willow Springs Elementary School and is a Level 1 Google Certified teacher, Microsoft Innovative Educator, and a Seesaw Ambassador.
Today we visited the temple. Being a Catholic, I’ve never stepped outside my religion to fully look at someone else’s. I know that there are many different beliefs in the world, but I have stayed within mine (another one of those comfort zones). Today was different. Even though I do not practice Taoism, the feeling of respect and worship were felt the moment I walked in. It was quiet within and held a sense of peace. The statues in each room were enormous and beautifully crafted. I watched as a child knelt down and bowed before one of them. She must have been 6 or 7 years old. As I walked the people sat, knelt, or walked focused on thought. I wanted to make sure I showed respect to their religion and their worship. I almost felt like I shouldn’t be there not because of them or any of their actions, they didn’t seem to mind having “tourist” maneuvering through their temple. I just felt like I was intruding on their private moments within their religion by snapping pics of everything. For example, as I walked up the stairs to one room, a man walked up to a statute of a goat and held it with such affection. I watched as he rubbed it. I knew nothing of the goat and it’s significance to him or his religion but just by watching his movements and body language, I knew there was something special and of importance to him and that it had meaning for him. I snapped a picture of this interaction but felt guilty after. The same happened with another man who calmly placed his hands on a sign outside the room just holding it with his head down. Though I didn’t know the reason, it was moving to me to see the connection between these two people and their religion. I think what I got from this experience was that our beliefs, though different from others, are what grounds us; they give us purpose and meaning.
The meals on this trip have pushed me way out of my comfort zone! I’m just a mountain girl who loves her fried chicken, green beans, and mashed potatoes. It’s easy for me to snarl my nose at something because it’s “not normal to me.” Hot Pot was definitely not in my norm! Hot Pot is an important Sichuan Cuisine (think the Melting Pot spiced up Chinese-style). At our table, we had two different types of bubbling hot oils and broths infused with spices (some hot and some not). We were brought various meats, tofu, and vegetables to cook in our choice of broth. The meats and spices are definitely not something I am used to eating! I usually like my food mild with a side of mild! But I think a big part of this trip is putting us out of our comfort zones and seeing the world in a different way. Emersing ourselves in another culture includes eating a different way. On this trip I’ve truly seen why our country is one of the most obese countries in the world. What was missing in our hot pot meal (and other meals that we’ve had here too)? Sugar, high carb breads full of gluten, and dairy certainly were missing! As someone who is medically not supposed to have any of those three things (I’m cheating for the trip), it has been refreshing for me to see food from a culture that doesn’t emphasize these things that can be detrimentally unhealthy! Hot Pot is a new way to eat for me, but it is one that was worth trying!
Megan Lewis is a first grade teacher at Willow Springs Elementary School in Willow Spring, N.C., where she is the originator and coordinator for their outdoor learning center.
This was a much anticipated day of our trip as my first grade students were super excited for me to “bring” them with me to see the pandas. On our way to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding Center, Nancy, our tour guide, told us the story of how a missionary from France was the first foreigner to see a baby panda, capture it, and try to take it back to France. Sadly, that panda and several others over the years didn’t survive as people didn’t know what their needs were or how to care for them. Pandas drink their mother’s milk for their first year of life. After that, they eat about 20 kg of bamboo per day. That’s a lot! Pandas eat very little meat in the wild and none in captivity. The deaths of these first captured pandas gave me a better understanding for what prompted China to pass strict laws regulating who could have pandas. Understanding that caring for animals is a passion of mine as I teach my students to respect nature and care for it. Many caterpillars, lizards, and other animals have given their lives over the years to unknowing children hoping to have a pet, but not knowing the animal’s needs. That is sadly true for adults as well. I can’t wait to share China’s panda history with my class as we learn about organisms and their needs next year! Grown-ups learn from their mistakes too and people work for the protection of animals as we share this Earth. With China’s conservation efforts, the Research Center has grown from 6 pandas to over 200 and the population of pandas in the wild continues to climb as well. Our group was thrilled to take photos of the adult pandas, baby pandas, and red pandas. They were all adorable and so playful! It’s easily understandable why China considers them a national treasure. ?
Blair Morrow teaches English as a Second Language (ESL) at Jordan-Matthews High School and Chatham Central High School in Chatham County, N.C.
Monday, June 25
Bob Carpenter teaches seventh grade at social studies at A.C. Reynolds Middle School in Asheville, N.C., and also has coached soccer, wrestling, and cross-country. Adam Reeder has taught math at Asheboro High School in Asheboro, N.C. for the past 18 years and serves as department chair and 6-12th grade mathematics content area coach for the district.
The bus departed the hotel in Chengdu at 7:15 a.m. and we were on the bus and off to another adventure with our Go Global NC compatriots. Today’s agenda took us to schools, meals, and a world heritage site.
As we drove to the first school, Nancy (our incredible tour guide), shared with us some basic Chinese phrases that she thought might be helpful in communicating with the faculty and students of Taziba Middle School in Dujiangyan. We arrived in time to see the students gather on the field with beautiful mountains as their backdrop to begin their morning calisthenics. Not only were we we able to observe but also given the opportunity to join the kids in their routines. After the blood was flowing, we were able to circulate around the hallways to appreciate the students’ artwork. Next we joined Mr. Wang and his students for an English lesson on weather terms and other common phrases. The students again included us in their camaraderie by inviting us to practice some conversational English. The time at the school concluded with a chance for us to see some traditional Chinese performances in song and dance. Again, the students went out of their way to include the teachers and make us feel welcomed by allowing us to strum the instruments and by teaching us some basic dance steps and hand gestures. We departed with each of us taking our gift of Chinese masks in hand as we headed for lunch.
Another great lunch was shared and our perceptions of the school were discussed. We talked about how genuine the students were and how impressed we were with their level of commitment and openness to visitors. Some teachers were even able to slip away long enough to visit the kindergarten class next door.
Our next stop of the day was the Dujiangyan Irrigation Project. This World Heritage Site is over two thousand years old and to this day supplies water to over one million square acres of farmland. This project transformed the region by creating a new channel for the water to flow instead of damming the water. This beautiful site is as practical as it is gorgeous. We were given the opportunity to explore this area on our own and soon pictures were being shared.
The day was nearly concluded with a visit to Dujiangyan Vocational High School. Here students choose from ten majors such as hospitality and tourism, cosmetology, automotive mechanics, and other skilled trades. We were greeted at the bus by school administration and then given a short tour of some of the building. Students were mostly engaged in exams, but we were provided with a chance to see some of the students demonstrate the trades for which they were preparing. This included a tea ceremony, traditional dances, and arts and crafts displayed by the students enrolled in the early childhood development program. We then had more opportunities to interact with the students where they helped to teach us about their skills.
Before heading back to the hotel, the formal part of the day’s agenda ended with a thunderstorm accompanied meal. This turned in to a great time for us to share in small groups what we gained from our experiences and how these experiences will impact our teaching practice and benefit our students. As a large group, the meal concluded with some heartfelt thoughts and words of appreciation for all we have learned from traveling to China with Go Global NC.
Myra Morgan teaches graphic communications at McDowell High School in Marion, N.C., and also teaches Adobe Academy. In the fall, she’ll begin teaching the Future Teachers of North Carolina class.
Tuesday, June 26
Jennifer Linn teaches English at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis, N.C., where she is completing her 22nd year in the classroom.
Bob Carpenter teaches seventh grade at social studies at A.C. Reynolds Middle School in Asheville, N.C., and also has coached soccer, wrestling, and cross-country.
I’ve been in China for almost two weeks now as an AVID educator searching for ways to better employ technology in the schools across my county. There are quite a few reflection topics that I could address about this quest, but two in particular need to be addressed.
The first is that I had a preconceived notion that China would be a nation run by a very oppressive Communist regime. As a 7th grade social studies teacher for over twenty years, I have taught the Asian-Pacific region following the standard textbook American agenda to my students. I had what I thought was a sound understanding of Chinese government, economics and culture. I found out by exploring China that I could have not have been more wrong! I have discovered that the Chinese are thriving. To be more concise, I have described what I have seen to my colleagues as the “wild-wild west of Capitalism”. The Chinese economy is booming, and their standard of living seems to be quite high. I’ve told my colleagues that I feel that Chinese are working very hard to move away from communism and move towards capitalism. Nowhere was this more evident than when I would look out the tour bus windows and see countless numbers of European luxury automobiles, building projects, and western shopping malls. This analysis always comes across as quite surprising to the people I’m connected with back in the United States, as they were taught the same way I was and have never been to visit China.
The second is that I was a bit disappointed to see that there was not a stronger use of technology in the many Chinese educational intuitions that we visited. I asked a representative at the Beijing Department of Education if we would see any uses of artificial intelligence being used to direct personalized lesson plans or drive instruction, and to paraphrase, the representative said not around here. I asked in Nanjing if they use technology regularly, and the teacher replied they had a box full of iPads in the room but do not use them.
I have come to the conclusion on my Chinese immersion that albeit they are striving to become a capitalist economy, communist restrictions pertaining to Internet censorship may be limiting their effectiveness in employing innovative uses for technology in their classrooms. At the end of our meetings with different educational bureaus and officials, I was often left feeling like we were looking to them for answers about how to better educate our students using technology, and they were looking back at us wondering the same.
*The views, information, or opinions expressed by delegation images, videos, and social media posts are solely those of the individuals involved and do not necessarily represent those of Go Global NC.