International Blog

Lessons From China

Jessica Shyu is the head of training with Teach For China, a part of the Teach For All global network. In this role, she manages a team that supports about 208 first-and second-year teachers working to close the achievement gap in under-served communities in China. Prior to joining Teach For China, she was a special education teacher and staff member with Teach For America. (Lessons from China ceased publishing in September 2014.)

Education Opinion KIPP Student to Rural China Teacher: How Do I Teach Kids Empathy, Grit?
Statistically, this should not be happening. As the son of two impoverished immigrants from Mexico, I should not be teaching English to four grade levels of village children in Yunnan Province. I should not be a college graduate and math major. I should not have even left my hometown of Houston, let alone move to rural China and know how to speak Chinese. But because of my family and teachers, all of this is happening. As I head into my second year as a Teach For China teacher, I'm more aware than ever of my own role to empower my students in the same way - to make whatever they want to happen, happen - regardless of what the poverty statistics say. Growing up, I attended a KIPP charter school. I worked hard, developed grit, did as I was told most of the time, made mistakes, fell more than once, and got up again. I was a "good" student. KIPP helped me flourish. My teachers, especially those like Mrs. Soliz, helped me to work through the challenges I faced then and later on as well. When I interned for a Chinese nonprofit serving migrant workers during college, I was reminded of what my mother taught me long ago: Education inequity exists all over the world. So I moved to rural China after graduation, starry-eyed, hoping to be able to make a difference in my students' lives. Just like Mrs. Soliz.
Jessica Shyu, September 1, 2014
5 min read
Education Opinion #DONTSHOOT Because Discrimination Is Killing Children Worldwide
"Education didn't save Mike Brown. Racism killed him." In fact, education doesn't save children from preventable diseases in India. Education isn't saving people from being slaughtered in Syria. Education didn't save college students on Tiannenman Square. Racism, discrimination, hatred, fear killed them. What's allowing them to keep going on is apathy. Fortunately, good educators know all about taking a stand and doing something about it. After reading the latest news updates everyday on Ferguson, Israel and Syria, I find myself turning to Education Week and education blogs to be reinvigorated by the outpouring of lessons, resources and love from colleagues everywhere who are doing something to end racism, no matter what their role is in education.
Jessica Shyu, August 23, 2014
3 min read
Education Opinion Stop Failing Your Quiet, Well-Behaved Girls. They Need You Too.
At the end of my first year of teaching, I was given the option of repeating seventh grade English again with a group of new students or staying with my current class and teaching eighth grade. My current students are exceptionally lively and I know they will be even more of a challenge to manage in the coming year. While I was strongly tempted to start fresh with new students, I chose not to. The reality is I have failed the female students in my own class this year. In an effort to respect their independence, I've actually neglected them as I focused almost the entirety of my attention on managing attention seeking, misbehaving boys. Out of all the home visits I have done, I have only ever visited the home of one female student.
Jessica Shyu, August 10, 2014
9 min read
Education Opinion To All the Kids I Failed: This Is For You
I'm part of Teach For China, Teach For America and teach-for-anyone-out-there-who-deserves-it not only because I want all students to dream boldly like my father and my own students. I'm part of Teach For China and Teach For America because I want kids to know it is never too late. I'm proud of my former students like Matilda who refused to give up against all odds. They are the ones who keep me inspired by the work we do. But it's the students who I've lost track of, the ones who haven't walked across any stage--the students of mine--Elroy, Derrick, Shiloh-- who, if I'm honest with myself, are most likely in jail, on drugs or homeless right now. They are the reason why I refuse to give up in this fight for educational equity.
Jessica Shyu, July 31, 2014
5 min read
Education Opinion You're Not Too Busy to be a Mentor
Less than 30 percent of poor rural students in China make it to high school. About 600,000 drop out each year. Only 5 percent make it to college. The statistics for girls are even worse. (Check out the average years students go to school in different countries)
Jessica Shyu, July 24, 2014
3 min read
Education Opinion Battling Racism Against Blacks in China with Love, Education, and a Dictionary
In 2012, Darryl Johnson moved to rural China as an English teacher expecting to be regarded as a teacher, friend and mentor. So when he was called "monkey", "darkie" and labeled pejoratively as "African", he was bitter and angry. He reflected that he would need to be so much more than a teacher during these two years. It would be so easy to sink into bitterness, fear and return to America. Instead, he would need to lead by example and to build relationships based on mutual respect with his students. He spent our first couple of classes discussing respect, cultural understanding, compassion and the value of friendship. If we want to end discrimination in the world, we need to start with the children in front of us.
Jessica Shyu, July 1, 2014
4 min read
Education Opinion Zach Is Not Dumb: Empowering Struggling Kids to be Passionate, Confident
Zach is 12 and labeled "dumb" in his village school in rural China. But seeing Zach give his absolute all on the CORE entrepreneurship project got first-year teacher Taylor Loeb thinking: Elementary school isn't about prepping kids for high school and college. At least, it shouldn't be. School is about giving kids the chance to discover a passion and belief in themselves. Some kids like math, some kids don't like math but do it because they know they have to. Some kids hate it, can't do it, and will never change their mind. That doesn't mean they can't be passionate and have confidence about something. That doesn't mean they've missed their shot at a productive obsession. Newton liked gravity, Galileo liked stars, and Zach from Dongpo likes drawing intricate constructions of his ideal hometown. Newton wouldn't have known how much he loved gravity if an apple didn't bonk him on the cranium. Zach wouldn't have known how much he loves drawing if he wasn't given the opportunity through the CORE project. I mean and believe that with complete conviction. Zach's not even close to "dumb," whatever that means, his passions have just been on the shelf.
Jessica Shyu, June 15, 2014
8 min read
Education Opinion Empowering Kids to be Rural China's Entrepreneurs Today
If we want to improve the quality of life in rural China, we must encourage our rural students to grow up and contribute back to their hometowns. Education should not be used as a means for students to escape their roots, but rather a pathway to reinvest in the communities that raised them. This is the problem that the C.O.R.E project seeks to address. We train students to research, interview and analyze the problems within their communities in order to define how they can enact changes. Rural China is ready for innovation and entrepreneurs. And they need to come from our own students - not primarily by people from foreign countries or big cities.
Jessica Shyu, June 4, 2014
4 min read
Education Opinion Practicing What I Preach as an Administrator: Global Special Ed Start-Up
After more than seven years working as an education administrator and making my living off of telling teachers what to do, it's about time I practice what I preach about being brave, getting entrepreneurial and just doing it. This year, amid countless changes in my work and life, I'm committed to starting and/or supporting a global program that empowers students with special needs in the most under-resourced communities worldwide. This is what keeps me up at night: Knowing that until something changes, it's the children in rural China, the slums of India and the mountains of Pakistan who are most at-risk of staying illiterate and stigmatized, most likely to being homeless and jobless, and most likely to have few resources, independence, friendships or opportunities in the world.
Jessica Shyu, May 15, 2014
4 min read
Education Opinion Education in Sight: Teacher Closes Achievement Gap With Eyeglasses Start-Up
As a first-year English teacher in the mountains of rural Yunnan, vision impairments was one thing I didn't anticipate being a life-changing hold back for my students, especially having grown up in the United States where eye exams and glasses are as common as buying shoes. "Why do things have to be like this?" It's something we constantly ask ourselves as teachers, and often the reason we became teachers in the first place, no matter where we are in the world. However, as we get bogged down in our day to day struggles, it is easy to avoid finding solutions to the problems that do not immediately fall into the realm of "teaching". This is a fallacy. The true responsibility of a teacher lies not just in education, but in defending the needs of their students by either raising awareness, or taking action themselves.
Jessica Shyu, May 4, 2014
5 min read
Education Opinion Physics by Day, Web Start-Up by Night: How One Teacher has a Lasting Impact
Last week, I wrote about how the education inequity gap won't be closed in China by simply sending armies of great teachers into classrooms. It's going to take so much more, including entrepreneurs who understand the real issues, and have the vision and gumption to start their own programs, non-profits and businesses that will serve children across the country.
Jessica Shyu, April 23, 2014
3 min read
Education Opinion Stop Talking, Just Do It: Be an Educational Entrepreneur
If there's anything I learned from being a teacher, it's that every great educator embodies an entrepreneurial spirit. Anyone who has not only survived, but achieved, with their students knows what it's like to identify a common problem, get creative with new, innovative approaches in how you do things and try it... because you have nothing to lose. It's those desperate moments when you frantically try anything, only to find than 1 out of 5 times, you actually "invented" a new approach to gathering formative data, sharing IEP goals, or tracking student behavior. In other industries, it's called entrepreneurship. For teachers, it's called survival. To all of my colleagues in China and worldwide who see the problems our most under-resourced children face and are brimming with creative ideas, I dare you to be fearless and launch those after-school student programs you've been saying your students need, to jump-start those Web-based teacher training modules you keep complaining local teachers need, and to kick off those app-based courses for factory workers in your town that you keep dreaming about.
Jessica Shyu, April 10, 2014
4 min read
Education Opinion Cutting, Bullying, Suicide: What to Do as a Teacher in Rural China?
At my school, teachers like function as educators, parents and, in some cases, counselors for classes of more than 60 teenagers who board at school. Young local teachers have brought me cases of promising middle school students suddenly considering dropping out of school due to financial reasons and family tragedies, hoping that as a Teach For China fellow I could do something about it. My fellow Teach For China teacher Li Bolin has struggled to help a student who, over spring vacation, chose to jump into a river and end her own life rather than to return home. She was thankfully saved in time, but what emotions does she have to suppress every day to function as a normal student? As teachers who have noticed troubled students, we each risk our concern transforming into hopelessness, defeat, and sometimes, Band-Aid solutions. I have heard of past cases of self-injury among students written off as an unhealthy fad, with the students in question punished and sent home on suspension. In this context of such insubstantial mental health infrastructure, I completely understand how sometimes we would rather simply teach the curriculum and mute out those individual stories of trauma and tragedy. What is the right thing to do?
Jessica Shyu, April 1, 2014
5 min read
Education Opinion Proof: Kid-Centered, Non-Textbook, Deep Learning is Possible in Rural China
In the beginning, I too was that starry-eyed, 22-year-old teacher who couldn't stop talking about all the amazing projects, hands-on learning and after-school activities I was going to lead. I just couldn't figure out why so many of my veteran colleagues on the Navajo Nation would listen, laugh and kindly give my brilliant ideas a smack down.
Jessica Shyu, March 16, 2014
3 min read