SOURCE: Fund for Teachers

Fund for Teachers

January 08, 2010 08:00 ET

NYC Teacher Embarks on Odyssey to Define Her Homeland and Heritage

As "Year of the Tiger" Approaches, One NYC Teacher Explores What It Means to "BE Chinese"

NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwire - January 8, 2010) - An immigrant from Taiwan teaching at America's first public school with a dual English and Mandarin curriculum is presumably credentialed on things Chinese. But Elsa Chen, third grade teacher at P.S. 184M, realized the culture she shared with 85 percent of her students remained largely undiscovered by teacher and student. Using a Fund for Teachers fellowship, Chen spent six weeks last summer traversing Sichuan, Guizhou, and Yunnan's community centers, places of worship, and transportation centers to define "Chinese."

"Fifty-six different ethnic groups comprise China's 1.3 billion population," explained Chen. "Most of my students are from the Guandong and Fujian provinces, but know little about the rest of China, its people groups and cultures. I wanted them to understand what it means to BE Chinese and to know a 'Chinese' person does not have to look like them or me."

Through her travels, Chen can now share her new-found curiosity and knowledge of all things related to China with her students. "None of (my students) knew there were such things as ethnic groups or the idea that we are Han Chinese," said Chen. "The energy in my voice stemming from my fellowship piques students' interests. My teaching projects a new passion and I'm also excited for my students to share with me what they know or have experienced."

Back at P.S.184M, Chen designed a year-long study of ethnicity and culture based on her summer odyssey. She created units around six ethnic groups -- Tibetan, Hui, Naxi, Bai, Dong and Miao -- focusing on their gender roles, food, family structure, language, geography, and religion in world communities.

"Each province in China provided a surprising new opportunity for learning, but my love for my job goes beyond expounding content knowledge," said Chen. "I am driven each day to give my students opportunities for success in our competitive world and I strive to foster pride in and understanding of being Chinese."

Fund for Teachers is a national, donor-supported organization celebrating its tenth year of awarding fellowships for self-designed professional growth to teachers who recognize the value of inquiry, the power of knowledge and their ability to make a difference. For more information about Fund for Teachers, visit

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