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Summer Mission: Baylor Grad Student Leading Teachers into China

April 17, 2013

The long flight from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport will land in Shanghai. From the airport it is a short walk to Zhongshan Park Transit Station. There, Agnes Tang and her companions will take a two-hour bus ride, and nearly 28 hours after leaving Waco they will arrive in Suzhou for a week of teacher training at two migrant schools.

Agnes Tang and Teachers

This will not be Tang's first trip to China. She and her husband were born in Hong Kong, and both are fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese. But, it is English that is the focus of this trip.

Tang is the project coordinator for a professional mission trip sponsored in part by Calvary Baptist Church. Her group will provided English education training for about 45 Chinese teachers. An additional group of volunteers will work with about fifty children, providing tutoring and fluency practice in English.

Tang, a doctoral candidate in Baylor's Curriculum and Instruction program, supervised a similar trip in 2011. She took with her three other graduate students and three secondary teachers from Waco. Working with the China's Education Department, they spent two weeks and trained more than one hundred teachers.

"China wants their students to be able to be proficient in English," Tang says. "But the teachers themselves have not been trained with a native speaker, so a lot of the teaching methods in English are still grammar translation, workbooks, and reading passages. There is not a lot of authentic application, conversation or meaningful learning."

Authenticity is at the heart of her research at Baylor, where she specializes in ESL instruction and language acquisition. Applying what she has learned is one motivation for her work in China.

"I have some experience with how English is being taught in China and Hong Kong," Tang says. "I want to use what I have learned and my experiences both as a teacher and someone who trains teachers to bring a different approach to China."

While major differences in the American and Chinese educational systems are evident, the students are not all that different.

"In my research and interaction with Chinese international students," Tang says, "I find that many of them are very good at taking tests on reading and grammar, but relatively weak in listening, speaking, and writing."

Along with her experience in curriculum and instruction Tang has incorporated her Christian faith into the project. Tang sees this project as an excellent mission field in a country where it is very difficult to publicly practice one's faith.

"When you're over there they want your expertise in the language so they are willing to hire Americans even though they know that they are Christians," Tang says. "A lot of times (in the classroom) issues of faith come up, and you just can't avoid it."

Tang's trip is sponsored by Calvary Baptist Church as a summer mission. Teachers who have taught English at any level and are comfortable sharing their Christian heritage are welcome to join the trip scheduled for July. Those without formal English teaching experience are welcome to participate in the summer camp for children. The total cost is about $2,500.

"Last year we collected children's book and helped start a children's library in one of the neighborhood community centers," Tang says. "But, due to limitations on luggage, we will not be able to bring very much. We gladly accept donations through Calvary Baptist Church, and donations are tax-deductible."