Visiting scholar brings Chinese culture to area schools
Feb. 9, 2012
By Luke Baynes
The Year of the Dragon, which began on Jan. 23, is considered the luckiest year in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese lunisolar calendar.
But for 27-year-old Chinese teacher and scholar Tao Ye, her luck began last fall — during the Year of the Rabbit –—when she began her sabbatical in the Chittenden South Supervisory Union school system.
“I think I’m so lucky I can come to CVU (Champlain Valley Union High School) and come to different schools to learn, because it’s good for my teaching method,” Tao said.
Tao, who pointed out that the Year of the Dragon is deemed the most auspicious time to get married, have a baby or start a business, began teaching Chinese cultural studies at CVU in January after spending time at primary schools in Hinesburg, Charlotte and Shelburne.
A native of Lijiang, a city in the mountainous Yunnan Province of southwest China, Tao said classroom sizes are much larger at her home school — often greater than 50 students per class — and that academics in China are focused more on book learning and preparing students for standardized college entrance exams. Another difference, she said, is that the school day is longer in China.
“At school (in China), students have a long schedule every day — from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” Tao said. “Most students will have breakfast, lunch and dinner at school.”
She added that Chinese schools differ from their American counterparts in terms of a rigidly enforced set of personal conduct and appearance codes.
“In China, the schools have a lot of school rules,” she said. “Boys cannot have long hair. Girls cannot dye their hair.”
As a result, Tao observed, Chinese classrooms are less participatory and students are less assertive.
“The most impressive thing I learned from students (in Vermont) is they are very brave,” said Tao. “In China, the classroom is always very silent. Here, students are very brave. They will give you feedback.”
Tao, who will have lived with eight host families by the end of the school year, is one of several Asian instructors who have traveled to Vermont as part of the University of Vermont’s Asian Studies Outreach Program.
Since arriving in the Green Mountain State, she has instructed students in Chinese history, geography and calligraphy. She also teaches about and cooks Chinese cuisine — including Kung Pao chicken, which she has made no less than seven times for students.
“Every province has a different kind of flavor, so if you go to different parts of China you can taste different kinds of food,” said Tao. “In Lijiang, it’s almost the same as the Sichuan Province. We like spicy foods.”
Tao will remain at CVU through the end of the week and will move to Williston Central School on Feb. 13. She will finish out the school year at Allen Brook School and return to China in June.
Reflecting on her time spent thus far in the CSSU, she said she has learned as much as she hopes she has taught students.
“This is a very nice program for Asian people to come here and share something, but also they can learn lots of things from here,” Tao said. “It’s good for us to come here and learn something new and take this new way home. It’s good for our students.”
Citing the American teaching techniques of student-teacher dialogue and positive reinforcement, Tao said she hopes to incorporate these methods into her instruction style back home.
“I think after I come back (to China), I will change some teaching methods,” she said.
While she has occasionally felt homesick for her country and family — particularly during the Chinese New Year celebration — Tao said that the welcoming nature of the community and the school system has made for a natural transition.
“This is like a big family for me,” she said.