By Daisy Creager|Staff Writer
It’s finally time. Xueling Xu sits with her hands in her lap, patiently waiting. Still relatively new to the US, the Chinese teacher is reserved and speaks softly, pausing to think before talking.
A Nanjing, China native, Xu went to Nanjing Art Institute to receive her Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History. After graduating college, she wrote and edited art appreciation articles for a local newspaper and magazine. Before moving to the States, Xu worked as a secretary in the Center for European and American Literatures at Peking University. In 2004, she moved to the US and got her permanent residency.
“I am still debating about getting a US citizenship or not since China has not permitted dual citizenship at the moment,” Xu said. “Being a permanent resident you have most rights and obligations to follow up just same as US citizens. But, permanent resident cannot vote. You have to be a permanent resident for about 4 years to apply for citizenship.”
After moving to San Antonio and working as a teacher’s assistant with special ed, Xu was the first Mandarin Chinese teacher in the district.
“I think [I wanted to teach Chinese] because China has a long long history, it’s a fantastic country. So it’s a couple reasons: first it’s the most spoken language in the world, second it’s a business language, third because of the culture,” Xu said. “I think in the United States there is a lot of culture, but in San Antonio it’s not like New York or San Francisco, so they really need some teachers to spread different culture. Not just the Spanish culture but also other world cultures like the Chinese culture.”
Among other things, the very different school system took some adjusting to.
“In China the academic is separate from the sports. That’s the first thing,” Xu said. “In China also, the school has a lot of homework for students. Also parents more appreciate education. Education is what they want most for their kids.”
Unfortunately, because of numbers and budgeting, Chinese classes will no longer be offered to Johnson students after next year.
“Every school works on a budget. As you know, in this day and age we need to be prudent with tax payers’ money,” AP Freeman Cone said. “If you look at numbers at Johnson, we’re having fewer kids sign up. We generally have a rule of thumb that we offer classes if we have 15 kids or more. I know it’s an important program and many students are passionate about it just like some are passionate about Latin or about Course x or Course y, but unless there is enough to keep financially supporting it then we can’t do it because then we use a teaching unit to teach that, then what happens to your math classes?”
But hope for students interested in Chinese isn’t lost; Chinese classes throughout the district are being consolidated to Lee High School.
“If it’s very much a passion of a student, they can do school choice and take Chinese there. I don’t know how that decision was made; my assumption is that they have a larger base of Chinese students there due to ISA being on the campus,” Cone said.
To finish the obligation to the students who started in the program, the Chinese classes will be gradually taken away. This year there is no Chinese I so no one can enter the program. Next year Chinese II will be taken away and so on. Although they will receive the required language credits, current Chinese students are not happy with the way the program is going.
“I’m pretty angry about it; I think that Chinese is a very well needed language, despite what others might say,” junior Megan Koleff said. “I get to finish off my Chinese class-it doesn’t go away for me. But other people don’t get to go into it. A lot of people in the world know Chinese-even if not a lot in America do. China is a big big country and has a large economy. You can get a job easier in business or politics if you know Chinese.”
Of the students in Chinese this year, only two are taking the Chinese AP test. Megan Koleff and Destiny Dailey are both juniors in Chinese III.
“The other kids may not even go into Chinese next year, and the AP exam me and [Megan] are taking is actually for the Chinese IV level and her and I are in Chinese III,” Dailey said. “So we’re actually taking a more advanced test. They’ll ask us a question and you have 20 seconds to answer that question. Depending on how thoroughly you answer is how you are scored. There is also writing, reading, and I think, translation.”
Because only two student are taking the exam and limited resources, Xu can’t spend much time in class preparing the girls and they share an AP textbook.
“[Xu] lets us listen to some practice tests, [the exam] is very specific,” Koleff said. “Our teacher got us an AP Chinese IV book, Destiny has it right now for two weeks and then I’ll have it for two weeks. Destiny and I actually text in Chinese. We try to talk to each other as much in that language as we can, because obviously you can’t just go around here and say ‘hey, speak Chinese with me’ like you can in Spanish. We’re probably going to have a cram sleep over too a week before.”
With the growing Chinese economy and population, it’s sad to see the declining interest in it’s language among our schools.
“English is mandatory foreign language for Chinese students to study. I think even if it’s not mandatory but more people were interested in it would be good,” Xu said. “Any foreign language is a difficult thing, it’s a lifetime thing to learn. I do hope more students from Johnson HS, Reagan HS, Bush, Tejeda MS, and even elementary schools become aware of the Chinese language as one’s second language, or third language and see it as a tool to get a job in their future job market and career planning.”