(Note: This is the sixth of seven installments of what’s “New for NJSD in 2014-15.” Each Wednesday during July and August, a feature will be posted with something new to look for during the upcoming school year.)
Neenah Joint School District students will learn Chinese firsthand from a native speaker during 2014-15 as Yan Liu has been hired through the Hanban teacher exchange program.
Liu, who has taught English in Tianjin, China for the past 10 years, recently arrived in Neenah and will teach two classes at Neenah High School and three at Shattuck Middle School during the upcoming year. Neenah becomes the first public school in the Fox Valley to offer the world’s most-spoken language after the School Board approved the course at its December 17 meeting.
Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Susan Nenning wrote the Hanban grant to begin the process of acquiring a teacher from China. Liu saw a text message last December looking for teachers to take part in the program and volunteered. After two interviews, she was one of 140 teachers from China selected to take part. She is one of two teachers from the program working in Wisconsin with the other in Oak Creek.
Liu had three weeks of training in Beijing and arrived in Los Angeles on July 21 where she had 10 more days of orientation and training at UCLA, teaching American youths as part of a summer camp. Liu arrived in Neenah on August 1, giving her a month to prepare for the 38 high school and 42 middle school students she will work with this fall.
“I like the life here,” said Liu, who will go by Selena as her American name while in the United States. “The people here have already impressed me a lot. Everyone I met so far has offered to help and has told me ‘don’t hesitate to ask for anything.’”
Liu began speaking English in elementary school and found it to be her favorite subject. She said she always wanted to be a teacher and teaching English was a natural fit. This is her first visit to the United States, though she did travel to the United Kingdom two years ago. Liu has previously taught American students through a sister school program with a school in Minnesota that has sent students to her school in China.
“The hardest part for the American students is writing a Chinese character,” Liu said. “I try to teach them to see it like a painting and to draw it – not write it. Chinese also has four tones and that can be very difficult for students to understand.”
Liu hopes to teach her Chinese students more than just reading and writing. She has several culture projects planned for her classes, including tai chi, paper folding, Chinese knots, Chinese paintings and eating with chopsticks. She plans to have the students make dumplings during the Chinese New Year in February and brought over some unique paper to show the students. The students use a brush and water on the paper, but the result looks like real ink.
Liu said English is becoming more prevalent in China, but students still struggle with speaking English, since Chinese colleges only require listening, grammar, reading and writing skills. She is excited to bring her culture and teaching skills to Wisconsin. She’s confident in teaching American students and her only nervousness is about the weather.
“I had to look at a map and see where Wisconsin was,” Liu joked about hearing her appointed school. “It’s very warm where I’m from and in winter we don’t get much snow, so this winter will be very different.”
Also part of the curriculum changes this fall was adding a one semester world language course for sixth grade students at Horace Mann and requiring all incoming students at Shattuck to take one year of a world language course in either their seventh or eighth grade year. Neenah also offers French and Spanish as part of its World Language curriculum.