The Oregonian - Wendy Owen
Shortage of Chinese language teachers in Oregon prompts virtual classes with educators in China
By Wendy Owen, The Oregonian
Sunday, February 6, 2011
HILLSBORO, Oregon – About 6,000 miles away at 2 a.m., a teacher in China will turn on her
computer and teach Mandarin to students in Oregon.
At least, that's the hope of educators at the Northwest Regional Education Service District in
Hillsboro. By the end of February, the Education Service District (ESD) plans to offer the first virtual Mandarin Chinese language classes in Oregon taught by teachers in China.
Because of China's growing economic power, Chinese has replaced other foreign languages, such as German, in some Oregon school districts, but it's difficult to find Chinese teachers.
"We believe the demand far exceeds the training," said James Sager, assistant superintendent
Northwest Regional ESD.
Nationally, districts have struggled for years to find enough certified Chinese teachers already in the United States.
In Oregon, there are a total of 17 licensed Chinese teachers, said Vickie Chamberlain, executive
director, Teacher Standards and Practices Commission.
The Commission does not offer a specific Chinese language endorsement as it does other languages, which has kept universities from developing programs to prepare those teachers, Chamberlain said.
Superintendents at rural and urban districts were intrigued by the virtual plan.
"In rural areas like ours, it's very difficult to add options," said Rainier School District Superintendent Michael Carter. "This would be an opportunity for our kids to expand and
The classes, offered through the Oregon Virtual Education Center, cost $600 per semester, per student. School districts would pay the fees, which go to myChinese360, the company providing the program. Classes will have a maximum of 10 students.
In Beaverton, the district's Chinese classes are not meeting demand, said Beaverton School District Superintendent Jerry Colonna.
"I think it's a very important role for us even during these difficult times to still be adding things that are strategic for our students in this global economy," he said.
But Colonna added that he would want to negotiate a lower price for the virtual classes. The ESD's other online classes cost $300 a semester.
The program's teachers are mostly recent graduates and work out of offices near Beijing University, said Steve Niederman, executive vice president of myChinese360. All of the educators have master's degrees in teaching Mandarin and the curriculum meets state standards, he said.
Though it's not required by state law, the ESD is ensuring all of the teachers are certified to teach in Oregon. Teacher Standards and Practices Commission requires Chinese teachers in Oregon to have a license, but that doesn't extend overseas.
"We can't reach over to China," Chamberlain said. "It's only if their body is in our state."
The ESD requires all of its Oregon Virtual Education Center teachers to hold a license. Those in
China will have to submit their college transcripts and take a U.S. civil rights knowledge test, Sager said.
Created by Americans about three years ago, myChinese360 is based in Austin, Texas and has
contracted with nearly 50 school districts in 19 states, Niederman said. The company currently
employs 12 teachers in China but will be hiring more. Their salaries range from $10,000 to $12,000 a year, he said.
"We pay our teachers considerably more than they would ever make as teachers in China,"
The company is planning to bring teachers to the United States as well, but the program would
remain online, he said.
"I believe there is added value in having those teachers in China," said Jim Mabbott, Northwest
Regional ESD superintendent. "Language is learned much better if the students are able to immerse in the culture. That's not going to happen in Oregon."
Portland Public Schools has vast experience with Chinese language classes, and Michael Bacon, who directs the district's K-12 Chinese Flagship Program, said there are cultural challenges for some of the teachers. For example, it takes a while to get acclimated to the American way, where students don't automatically show teachers respect, Bacon said. There's a learning curve on both sides.
"In Chinese culture, being critical of your students is very well accepted," he said. "You give a level of criticism and students respond to that, whereas Americans tend to motivate through praise. That has been a hard thing, especially for the parents more than the kids."
Niederman said his teachers in China are fresh out of college and up on American culture.
"Our teachers will tell you they absolutely love teaching American kids," he said.
Oregon is working to bring more Chinese teachers to the state. The three-year-old Confucius
Institute at Portland State University will provide teachers from China to schools that apply for
The teachers are no cost to the districts but are temporary and their main purpose is to assist fulltime Mandarin teachers. They can teach classes on their own if needed, said Meiru Liu, professor and director of the Confucius Institute at Portland State. So far, Portland Public Schools and Beaverton School District are using the instructors.
In addition, the Oregon Department of Education signed a contract last week with China's education agency, Hanban, to provide full-time, temporary teachers to public schools. The teachers will be licensed in Oregon, unlike the Portland State program.
Meanwhile, Mandarin will join other classes offered through Oregon Virtual Education Center.
About 150 students take classes through the center, which started this fall. So far, the classes
include ninth-grade algebra, English, biology, health, physical education and digital photography, taught by teachers as far away as Bandon.
The program is open to all students in Oregon, but students must go through their counselors to apply. It is designed to supplement regular school classes, not replace them, Mabbott said.
Virtual classes are not the best option for all students, he added.