Mary Jones is a Master Math teacher at Southeast Bulloch Middle School who has taught math for 29 years. Jones recently came to the attention of the United States National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and she was invited to join the U.S. Math Delegation on a trip to the cities of Beijing, Xian and Shanghai in China.
The delegation had teachers from 17 states, and Jones was the only one representing the state of Georgia.
They departed on Nov. 13 and arrived back on Dec. 13. The flight was incredibly long: altogether she departed from Atlanta to finally arrive in Beijing some 25 hours later. Almost immediately after settling into the hotel, they began their meetings with the executive board of the Chinese Mathematical Society.
Jones said that the hotels they stayed in were very clean, and the staffs were incredibly polite. The group always ate together at large round tables which had the Chinese versions of a “Lazy Susan' in the middle. Jones remarked about the enormous amount of food they had to choose from. For meats, they had duck, chicken, pork, beef and all kinds of seafood.
The group spent three days in each of the cities they visited, with one day of sightseeing and two days of visits to elementary, middle and high school math classrooms. Jones remembered that the Chinese teachers and staff as well as most of the students understood at least basic English, and were able to converse both freely and openly with her about all aspects of life in general.
While the classroom discussions never left the subject of math, they talked a lot about their classrooms, their salaries, their positions in society, and math instruction. Jones said Georgia schools are ahead of the national curve in math, so she found the Chinese students studying at the same level that hers are at SEB.
While Math has its own universal language, there were translators present to assist in all of the groups' discussions in order to clearly communicate the technical terms necessary to hold a conversation or instruct the students. In the classroom, each teacher was assigned two Chinese students to work with. This was Jones' favorite part of each day.
“I remember one day when a U.S. teacher was teaching a lesson in probability in a 5th grade classroom in the Jing'An Educational College's Affiliated School in Shanghai,” she said. “We played the game 'Rock, Paper, Scissors,' which I learned is played worldwide. I even use it in my classes.”
“The Chinese kids had to guess which numbers would come up during the games, and then put markers down on their selections. Then, we played the game. Once it was over, the students who had made the largest number of numbers that were selected won the game.”
Jones shared a strange experience the group had. “We were on a fully-loaded plane to Xian, and halfway there the plane was ordered to turn around and return. They removed a passenger who was suspected of having H1N1. Three rows of passengers were taken off the plane and quarantined.”
Jones' remarked that “They took us to a hotel where we were allowed to clean up, and then we went downstairs where they fed us. Believe it or not, just as our plane was getting ready to take off again, we were held on the ground for two more hours until another suspected H1N1 carrier was taken off the plane. The Chinese take the flu real serious.”
Jones' shared another interesting experience. It was the day she actually ate fried scorpions. She said they were delicious and kind of crunchy. Jones remembered how she would start looking for them at their meals, but alas, she never saw them again. “Chinese food still has all its parts (eyes, legs, and even tails) when it's served.”
Jones has adopted a Chinese classroom practice that caught her attention: if her students want to ask a question or answer the problem, they must first quietly raise their hand. Once she has acknowledged them, they may stand up next to their desk and give her the answer or ask their question. Hers is now the quietest class in the building, and no students are falling asleep in their seats.
Jones said in China the teachers are held in the highest esteem and shown deference and respect by students and parents.