From China to Rhode Island: Teacher’s Story

Cynthia Drummond writes about a teacher from China spending a year nearby, in Rhode Island. I really enjoyed it.

WOOD RIVER JCT. — Li Ning, Chariho’s new Mandarin Chinese teacher, arrived in Rhode Island just a couple of weeks ago but said he was already feeling at home. A self-confessed geography nerd, he produced a map of China, annotated in Chinese, and pointed out that Jiaohe, the small northern city where he lived, is similar in latitude and climate to Rhode Island.

“Last year, you had a teacher from Hunan province, her name is Wang Ling,” he said. “I’m very different. I’m here, Jilin province. The location of Jilin province is very similar to Rhode Island, in America.”

Li is Chariho’s second Chinese teacher. This year, the program has expanded to include two levels of instruction: introductory and advanced.

Li’s teaching job in China is at Nanganzi School, students from kindergarten to Grade 9. He has a degree in teaching English as a second language and he is also an American film buff, which has helped him polish his language skiils.

“I learned myself,” he said. “I watch movies time and time again.”

Li was chosen by the U.S. Department of State to teach Chinese in America for one academic year. The program pays his salary, room and board and living expenses. Li was one of only 23 teachers selected from a field of 660 applicants.

“I’m really honored to be here,” he said.

Chariho Principal Craig MacKenzie welcomed Li to the district and said he was pleased to see the Chinese program grow.

“I just met Mr. Li this morning and was immediately impressed with his energy and enthusiasm,” he said. “We are excited to welcome him to the Chariho community and to continue the growth of our Chinese program at Chariho High School. His presence reaffirms our commitment, outlined in our district strategic plan, to provide our students with learning opportunities that prepare them for our increasingly global society.”

Li said his biggest challenge would probably be keeping his students engaged.

“Interest,” he said. “The language skill, the knowledge, is not that hard, but to keep their interest to learn Chinese, that’s the main part. Many American people say Chinese is hard, but from my opinion, it’s not that hard. It’s easy, actually.”

Li is currently staying with John Pecoraro, head of the world languages department, but will soon move to Westerly to live with the family of Chariho teacher Joe Lopes.

Pecoraro said he had been showing Li around his Cranston neighborhood and parts of Providence.

“There’s a huge Chinese market on the Cranston-Providence border which we’ve been to a couple of times,” he said.

“Very impressive,” Li said of the market. “I’m so surprised there’s such a big Chinese supermarket here.”

Li also had a boat tour of Narragansett Bay, and on another occasion, Pecararo brought him to Conimicut Point in Warwick.

“He tends to like to be in places where he can sit alone and think and watch nature,” Pecoraro said. “So we also went to Conimicut Point, which was very quiet, very few people there and it was beautiful.”

Li said he had been enjoying the food, especially a fish sandwich he had eaten shortly after he arrived.

“Amazing,” he said. “The fish sandwich was very yummy.”

Li said his first task when school begins will be to conduct a pre-assessment of his students to determine their skill levels and their goals for their classes. Forty students have enrolled in Chinese classes this year, up from 15 in 2018.

“I have to do a survey first, to know how my students desire to learn, and combined with our school curriculum, I will make a plan,” he said.

“Li Ning is going to have an opportunity to sit with me and another educator to plan out his year, and then start writing his first lesson plans,” Pecoraro added. “We all know what we’re going to be teaching in the future but things can change day to day. You see something that’s not working quite right or you want to maximize potential in a different area, so lesson planning happens actively day to day.”

Li will be able to refer to the lesson plan left by Wang Ling last year and he can also contact her if he has questions.

Li, who is 33, said he hopes to travel while he is in America. He is especially looking forward to visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

“From what I read, I can see the big museum in New York, the Metropolitan,” he said. If I have one day, or even a week, I will spend it in the museum. That’s a treasure.”

Li admitted to being nervous before meeting his students and colleagues but he said he welcomed the experience.

“As a new teacher, new school, new workmates, new students, nervous, of course,” he said. “But I have confidence to do my job. I teach Chinese for a long time. I teach English for a long time, so I think it’s a challenge but for me it’s growth. I can grow more mature, be a more experienced teacher and I’m really excited to do all of this.”