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English teacher from China impressed by her Willmar, Minn., students

Chinese language teacher Tang Beiyi talks during an interview Friday about some of the things she has learned from teaching in the language program at the Willmar Senior High School. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)1 / 3
Chinese language teacher Tang Beiyi holds a conversation Friday with a Willmar Senior High School class entirely in her native language. Just two months ago, Tang said, the students would not have understood what she was asking them, and she was happy to see their progress. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)2 / 3
Stephanie Heard, left, a representative from the U.S. State Department's Critical Languages Program, discusses the language program at the Willmar Senior High School during a Cardinal Clips interview conducted Friday by principal Rob Anderson. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)3 / 3

WILLMAR -- Tang Beiyi has found students at Willmar Senior High to be active and eager to participate in class activities.

The English teacher from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province in China, said this week that she has enjoyed meeting the students and the people in Willmar this fall.

Tang will be spending the school year in Willmar, co-teaching with local Chinese teacher Todd Lynum.

Tang is the second teacher from China that Willmar Senior High has hosted in the past three years.

Tang's year in America is supported by the U.S. State Department's Teachers of Critical Languages Program. Stephanie Heard of the Critical Languages Program visited Willmar on Friday morning to observe the progress of the Willmar program.

The Teachers of Critical Languages Program places native-speaking teachers of Chinese and Arabic at schools around the country. This year, there are 15 teachers from China working in the United States.

Heard said she was impressed by the Willmar Chinese students when she observed classes.

When Tang spoke to students in Chinese 1, she spoke to them in Chinese and they responded in Chinese. It was a diverse class that included Latino and Somali students.

Two months ago, she said, they wouldn't have understood what she was asking them, and she was happy to see their progress.

Tang's Chinese 2 class has been learning Chinese calligraphy, and she has also taught them paper cutting and cooking.

She's taught them about ping pong, too, as she has been a top player in her home city. "I would like to find a table," she said. "I could teach ping pong and language at the same time."

Heard said she observed the Chinese 2 students working on their calligraphy and noticed that they spoke Chinese to each other when they were working in small groups. "I heard very little English."

In the past week, Heard visited schools in California and in Minneapolis before coming to Willmar.

It's not common for schools to host two teachers in three years, as Willmar has done, she said, but it does happen.

Usually, two years is a limit for any one school, she said. "The hope is to see the teachers and schools collaborate together to build a program."

The program places teachers in a mix of urban and rural schools, she said. "I personally am excited to see it in rural areas. It's something students may not be exposed to on a regular basis."

After two months in an American classroom, Tang beams when she talks about her students.

She's found students in Willmar to have a variety of learning styles, and she is working to find ways to reach all of them in class. Chinese and American classrooms are quite different, she said, and "I am learning at the same time."

She enjoys her Latino and Somali students, she said, and talked about how smart they are to be learning a third language.

The Critical Languages Program teachers always impress, Heard said. "It's a big challenge for teachers to come here," she added. "It's a very hard job, and they put a lot of work into it."

"Our program has always kept an eye on your program and what Todd has been building here," Heard said.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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