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Growing demand for English teachers: China


In China, September 10 has been designated Teachers' Day. Bless, a former student, wrote to her teacher, Todd Hanson, “You are like a third parent… You have our respect and gratefulness. You have been a qualified teacher and even better friend.”

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Oct 30, 2006
-by Dan Dyck with Todd Hanson

Winnipeg, Man. and Nanchong, China — Mennonite English teachers in China are so popular children are dragged from one instructor to another by parents demanding individual tutoring for their child.

Since many teachers volunteer at church-run English classes in addition to their university courses and extra-curricular activities, it is impossible to accommodate everyone. Todd Hanson, Mennonite Church Canada Witness worker in China since 1991, recently invited a student to join him on his morning jog in order to provide some tutoring time to the daughter of an especially persistent university official. Learning English, says Hanson, is seen as a sort of Holy Grail among Chinese young people, who are seeking every possible advantage in an increasingly competitive society.

The popularity of English learning has, over the years, grown well beyond the traditional university population. The local Nanchong church, where Hanson and his family worship, reaches out to its community by offering four levels of English classes, at kindergarten, primary school, junior middle school, and adult levels, as well as offering local primary school teachers an opportunity to upgrade their English language skills. “It took less than half a morning to fill all of the slots, and we are still receiving requests from parents who didn’t manage to get their children enrolled,” says Hanson.

The high demand means that teachers like Hanson frequently work well beyond normal working hours, and spend summer breaks taking English classes to churches in other regions of the vast country.

These activities characterize many who work through China Educational Exchange (CEE), which celebrated its 25th anniversary on Oct. 20. CEE is a program of five Mennonite Church agencies set up to bring Christian English teachers into China and to bring Chinese scholars to North America. Christian exchange programs are a rare breed in China.

Hanson, who strives to integrate his Christian faith and Anabaptist values into his teaching and relationships with students, has had the privilege to teach the children of some of his former students. Teacher Tang, a former undergraduate student of Hanson’s, brought her daughter to the church English class. Tang recently returned from a three-month course in the UK, and has offered to help the church by teaching one of their English classes.

On Teachers Day – a national day of recognition in China – a former student named Bless sent Hanson an email which said, in part, “You are like a third parent… You have our respect and gratefulness. You have been a qualified teacher and even better friend.”

In moments like these Hanson is gratified. Relationships with students frequently lead to conversations about Christian faith and serve as a reminder that the difference his work makes goes well beyond language instruction.

Sidebar: Dear Mr. Hanson

This is Teachers' Day and a time to be grateful to all teachers. This profession deserves the special recognition and respect. There is no more appropriate time than this to honour you and others in your chosen field. You have my eternal gratefulness. Have a happy Teachers' Day. You are like a third parent. We all love you and respect you. We all like having you as our teacher. You have our respect and gratefulness. You have been a qualified teacher and even better friend. Thank you for all that you have done. Thank you for making learning not a dull thing but a great joy.