August 19, 2017
School & Youth
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  • One of just 35 teachers from across the United States to be selected for the Global Learning Fellowship to China, Jennie Merrill said, “The trip was to submerse U.S. educators into a field-based experiential learning experience so that their awareness of global education practices are expanded beyond their comfort zone.”
    One of just 35 teachers from across the United States to be selected for the Global Learning Fellowship to China, Jennie Merrill said, “The trip was to submerse U.S. educators into a field-based experiential learning experience so that their awareness of global education practices are expanded beyond their comfort zone.”

SPES Educator Tours China

Judy Tacyn
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August 9, 2017

Jennie Merrill Gains Greater Understanding Of Chinese Education System And Culture

 

“It was an amazing opportunity,” said Jennie Merrill, a fifth-grade teacher at Severna Park Elementary School. “I couldn’t believe it was actually happening because it truly was a once-in-a-lifetime type of trip!”

One of just 35 teachers from across the United States to be selected for the Global Learning Fellowship to China, Merrill said, “The trip was to submerse U.S. educators into a field-based experiential learning experience so that their awareness of global education practices are expanded beyond their comfort zone.”

Merrill earned Anne Arundel County Teacher of the Year honors in 2015-2016. She then learned that the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) wanted to nominate her as its representative for the 2016-17 National Education Association (NEA) Teacher of Excellence award.

Merrill completed the application as requested and in August 2016, when school came back into session, Merrill learned that she would be the California Casualty Awardee for the Teacher of Excellence for Maryland, and also the Maryland representative for the 2017 Global Learning Fellowship to China.

“The official charge from our NEA leader was ‘to explore the global competencies and ways to prepare students to thrive in the flat world,’” said Merrill.

By observing how Chinese schools operated, learning from students and teachers, the American educators were tasked with understanding the Chinese perspectives of education and examining how Chinese schools were different or similar to those in the United States.

Merrill was fascinated by how the Chinese valued education and respected teachers in both a middle school and a culinary high school she visited.

“The parents worked hard to send their children to these schools,” said Merrill. “The students generally wanted to learn. They were driven and asked a lot of questions. They were serious and on task and wanted to please their families.”

With a deeper understanding of Chinese history and culture, the fellows will develop a lesson plan that will be made available on the NEA website. Merrill is working on a lesson plan that she will take back to her fifth-graders at Severna Park Elementary School to help them understand how their perspectives can change as they travel throughout their lives as well. She said she will teach with a global perspective in mind so that her students will embrace how their newfound knowledge fits into the world around them, not just in their own backyard, but beyond.

Merrill and her group visited a culinary institute that had won awards in the country and was offered to high school students. Merrill noted that the school was similar to Anne Arundel County’s CAT North and CAT South schools where students learn vocational skills. In both countries, she noted, students are given opportunities to learn culinary skills that can be used when they work at restaurants.

She observed two major differences in our schools: the discipline policy and classroom management. “There are about 42 students in each class at the middle school we visited and they stay together all day in one classroom. Teachers move, not students,” said Merrill.

“Second, each class has its own master teacher. This teacher handles all of the discipline and stays with the class throughout the day,” said Merrill. “Also, they had a massive security room with screens showing cameras for every part of the school.” Students also wear uniforms.

Similarities between the educational systems are the many after-school clubs available to students. “We both have foreign languages, but in our country, it is mostly Spanish, French and some Chinese. In their country, it is mostly English, then French and some Spanish. Their major foreign language though is English,” said Merrill.

As for culture, in China, apparently, age is just a number. Merrill noted that all of the older people she met or saw were very fit and strong.

“In every park, there were exercise equipment, ping pong tables, and things for [people of all ages] to do. There were tai-chi groups, flamingo dancing, line dancing, card playing, Christian people singing, people playing instruments, hacky sack players, ninja-warrior types exercising on bars, you name it, people were everywhere and involved,” said Merrill. “People who were 76 years young were doing flips on bars and bending their bodies in all sorts of ways that I couldn’t imagine our people here doing.

“Everyone welcomed us to come and be a part of things. People hung their bags on trees and poles and no one bothered them, no one was stealing from each other,” added Merrill. “People were generally curious about us and took photos with us, and wanted to teach us about their culture. We felt welcome wherever we would go. When you would approach someone, they were more than willing to talk to you.”

Kindness and respect is a deeply rooted Chinese value. In the middle school the educators toured, Merrill said that there was a daily virtue class that not only taught students how to respect others, use their manners, and how to act in social situations, but also taught the political views of their country.

“Students seemed more serious and focused than some of the middle school students I know, including my own,” she said. “They are very confident and can keep a conversation with adults easily.”

Regarding the country itself, Merrill said she was surprised at how clean the Chinese cities were. She said city workers were everywhere cleaning the streets, planting flowers, fixing broken signs and making sure the city continued to stay beautiful. She was struck by the Chinese people’s pride in their country and their heritage.

“I saw gardens and gardens of flowers, lakes full of lilies, and beautiful bridges and buildings with fresh paint,” said Merrill. “It was truly breathtaking.”

The trip was also personally eye-opening for Merrill. “People are people no matter where they are and that we need to love on each other as much as we can,” she reflected. “We need to start seeing things from others’ perspectives.”

When trying to order lunch at a McDonald’s in a mall food court, Merrill found her lack of Mandarin Chinese and the counter person’s lack of English to be a challenging hurdle.

“I didn’t realize how difficult it is for someone to come into our country and not know the language or the customs until right then,” said Merrill. “We Americans sometimes forget how tough it is to figure out American customs, and by having this experience, I really started to realize what other people go through when they come to our country. I have a broader view now and more patience to find ways to explain things differently.”

In one of her debriefing sessions, Merrill said the group decided that educators need to be leaders and teachers to both students and colleagues in three ways in order to bring more global literacy to our classrooms.

“First, we need to be compassionate and empathetic. We need to put our biases and beliefs in check and be open to new experiences in the world around us,” said Merrill. “Second, we need to travel as much as we can, whether it is in our neighborhood to meet the locals, to the other end of the city to see other schools or to other countries. And, finally, we need to seek out new adventures wherever we go. While we are there, though, we need to take a moment or two and be reflective of our experiences and then learn from them.”


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