Zhen Zhang, a visiting professor of East Asian Studies at Union College, said Saturday he is stunned at the pace of change when he visits his home in China every three years.
“Every time I go back I cannot find my home,” he said to a room of 22 local public school teachers.
Zhang was lecturing as part of Union Graduate College’s program to teach teachers about East Asia. Union Graduate College is part of the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia and was asked to host the program.
Zhang said being away from China for three years can feel like decades.
Zhang said he wanted to speak during the program because he feels that the college students he teaches don’t have an understanding, or in some cases an accurate depiction, of East Asia, which he attributes to inadequate teaching at the high school level.
“I feel like I’m doing my part to overcome this bias and misunderstanding that these students have,” he said.
Catherine Snyder, Union Graduate College School of Education associate dean, who serves as the director of the program, said it is important for teachers to learn about East Asia because the area is developing into an important region for the United States.
“East Asia will be a very important region for the students that these teachers are teaching,” she said. “It’s important for the teachers to become knowledgeable about the subject.”
Marissa Owens, 24, a recent graduate of Union’s School of Education, received her first teaching position as a ninth-grade global studies teacher at Ballston Spa High School. She also teaches 11th-grade U.S. History and an 11th- and 12th-grade current events class. She said her studies in college were on U.S. history, not global studies.
“East Asia has become more interesting to me now that I know more about it, especially because of our relationship with China today,” she said.
The professional development program runs for seven Saturdays and once completed gives the teachers 30 hours of graduate level East Asian content, and $300 to purchase curriculum materials. Snyder said of the 22 teachers there is a wide variety of experience and interests.
Linda Kowalewski has been an English teacher at Bethlehem Middle School for 15 years. She said she likes to incorporate East Asia into what she teaches and is going to use novels in her lessons.
“This allows the students to learn about the world and hooks them into literature, world studies and different cultures,” she said.
David Besozzi, a social studies teacher at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School, returned in October from three weeks in Japan. Before that he toured China for six weeks. He said he believes the state’s public schools do a relatively good job teaching about East Asia because of the global history Regent’s exam.
“We have two years of global studies in New York,” he said. “Some states don’t have any.”
Zhang’s lecture used various photographs, advertisements and videos to discuss contemporary China. He tried to dispel popular notions of China, including the outdated perception that all the large cities are in the eastern portion of the county. He said large cities are sprouting up quickly along the country’s two major rivers. Small villages can become large cities with millions of residents in less than 10 years. Zhang talked about how the rapid growth could lead to challenges, such as solving environmental issues, grappling with a growing disparity between the country’s rich and poor and preserving Chinese history and culture. Susan Beadle, a ninth-grade Asian and African studies teacher in Queensbury, thought it was interesting how fast China was growing, but she wanted to teach her students that growth should not be seen as a threat. “It’s not us versus them,” she said.
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