A cultural exchange began this week in Bloomfield, when two groups of foreign educators came to visit the township to get an up-close and personal look at the American education system.
The first group to arrive was a delegation from the Chinese province of Shenzhen City on May 29. Arriving for a 10-day visit as part of their multi-city, 55-day U.S. tour, the 20 or so teachers, principals and educators said they were looking forward to finding out all they could about the way American students learn, and the way American teachers teach.
“I’m looking forward to seeing as much as I can the differences between Chinese students and American students,” smiled Chinese middle school teacher Susan Zheng at an official gathering last week to welcome the visiting pedagogues. “We can open our eyes and see much. We can grasp some advanced teaching technology and skills.”
In attendance at the gathering were teachers, principals and administrators from the district, as well as School Superintendent Jason Bing, several Board of Education members and Township Attorney Nick Dotoli. Mayor Raymond McCarthy was also there to welcome the visitors, as was Councilman Nick Joanow, a former teacher himself.
“I think it’s great,” declared the mayor, shaking hands with various members of the delegation. He said he had gotten acquainted with them earlier at a meeting with township officials. “I found them to be absorbing. They took everything in. Considering there was such a big language barrier, they were like sponges. You could see the wheels turning.”
In fact, the educators asked questions and shared many observations during the event, which lasted for about an hour at the Bloomfield High School cafeteria.
“American students are more relaxed for studying. Our students are more stressed,” observed Xu Liangia, the Deputy Director for the delegation. “Our students mainly keep quiet during class. They have to obey the rules and they can’t eat or drink in class.”
He added, “In China, they have to memorize a lot. The teachers are very strict with the kids. In America, kids can do whatever they want. Since [American schools] are not that strict, the students have more flexibility and can be more creative.”
Dotoli called the cultural exchange, “A multi-faceted way for Chinese educators to see the dynamics of teaching in US public schools, and a way to introduce the students to Chinese culture.”
“Let’s do some out of the box thinking,” he said, explaining the district’s rationale for inviting the foreign educators. “Let’s try to do something for the kids, give them some exposure they wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Dotoli said this week the educators have been going into the classrooms and talking to students about the history of their province and Chinese teaching methods, as well as showing the Bloomfield students how to paint Chinese characters.
The second group of educators from South Korea, arrived Thursday for a one-day visit. They chose to tour the high school and meet with Principal Chris Jennings, Vice Principal Dr. John Pierce and Board of Education Vice President Shane Berger.
The group of educators around the table said one of the things that most intrigued them was the connection between guidance services and the academic curriculum in American schools, and how it affected students’ college and career choices.
“They asked if we give our students IQ tests to see whether they’re allowed to go into certain careers,” marveled Berger outside the conference room. “Wow.”
Berger said the concept of foreign exchange represented a big step forward for the school district in terms of cultural enrichment and awareness.
“In order to get our property values up, we need to have this type of offering in our school district,” he said. “I hope other visitors come from other countries too, like Africa and India.”
The Chinese visit also bolstered Bloomfield’s coffers, as the delegation paid $14,000 to observe the township’s educational practices. The money, which will be donated to the Bloomfield Education Association, was not a factor in the decision to host the delegation, said Dotoli. “The district would have been happy to host them regardless.”
Click here to see an MSNBC photo essay on China's annual national college entrance exam day.