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Teachers in China


by Andrea K. Harker, Bridges assistant editor

Teaching is more than “going by the book”—using overheads and textbook demonstrations— and, in this case, more than teaching English. It is sharing hope and imparting skills which open the door of opportunity to many who may not have otherwise entered it. Participants of a unique project teach Chinese students by incorporating innovative learning techniques and valuable life skills into their classes. Their desire to extend quality learning does not stop once the school bell rings. On the contrary, many volunteers go out of their way to “teach” outside of the classroom. Dedicated China Teachers become involved in the welfare of not only their students, but the community as a whole.

A few qualifiers ensure a consistent standard for volunteers in the Kennedy Center’s China Teachers Program. Participants must be active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints under seventy years old, who hold bachelor’ s degrees or higher (in any discipline), and are in stable financial condition. Each year (the program runs from September to July) dozens of qualified, inspiring teachers volunteer. Two such couples from this year’s teaching pool are the Seables and the Banfields.

Stephan and Kathleen Seable

The Seables visited the Ming Tombs with Davie, one of their students.

Stephan and Kathleen Seable applied for teaching in China after reading about the program in the Church News. Kathleen states that “for some reason that advertisement jumped out at us. We never considered doing such a thing before, but the Spirit started working on us.”

The influence was enough that they sold their home, which they had lived in for twenty-two years in Concord, California, and bought property in Oregon with their daughter’s family. Their move allowed them opportunity for more service. Although this may seem drastic, Kathleen asserted, “We have not regretted our decision. Our experience teaching in China has been very rewarding and enjoyable.”

Stephan painted the mural with a student, Yuan Yuan. Fred Seng, a young member of Stephan’s primary class, also helped with the project.

The Seables teach oral and written English at the Foreign Affairs College in Beijing to a variety of students. Stephan and Kathleen do not restrict their interaction to the classroom, however. “They come to our home where we have discussions, play games, and show videos; we invite them to be our tour guides; and with some, we exchange e-mail messages. We have helped with resume writing, job hunting skills, and filling out application forms.” The Seables also provide special tutoring and friendly advice.

The volunteer couple participate extensively in the community as well. One of the programs they work on together is the “English Corner” at the Chaoyang Cultural Palace, where locals practice speaking English. The Seables also participated together on a Beijing talk show where they discussed parent-child relationships.

The teaching couple have been working on solo projects as well. Recently, Universal Studios Experience in Beijing hired Kathleen to co-host an English Salon every week for students and business people. She provides a brief presentation with handouts, open discussion, and feedback. Kathleen records tapes that accompany English textbooks, too.

Kathleen, with some of her freshmen students.

As for Stephan, during the Spring Festival he was invited to participate in a nationally televised activity at the Cultural Palace, where he painted a dragon banner alongside one of Kathleen’s artistically gifted students, Yuan Yuan (Eva is her English name). Stephan’s Western-style dragon and Yuan Yuan’s Chinese dragon met in the middle of a large (14m x 1m) cloth mural in friendship and harmony in front of an enthusiastic and supportive crowd of Chinese New Year celebrants.

Stephan sketches at the Beijing zoo with some students.

Stephan has since made arrangements to paint a permanent mural in a housing building on-campus with the help of some local students, is finishing up a mural at the American Embassy, and has also used his artistic ability to create gifts for various Chinese friends and Waiban (Foreign Affairs Office) officials.

The Seables have made several friends from the community through tutoring, chatting in the marketplace, and helping with various English-speaking needs. During Spring Festival break, Stephan and Kathleen met with several of these friends in southern China to celebrate the Chinese New Year. In May, the Seables were also hosted by the mayor and government officials in Sichuan province, and traveled to many beautiful points of interest in the surrounding area.


Their experience in China has been rich and diverse. So much so, in fact, that the Seables’ daughter and son joined them for the experience. The Seables said, “We would recommend this experience to any who enjoy challenges, adventure, and the opportunity to work with a variety of talented and interesting people. We have grown to love the Chinese people we have met, and we feel that our lives have been greatly blessed by leaving our ‘comfort zone’ and risking change.” They returned home this summer.

Frank and Kim Banfield

China is also a long way from home for Frank and Kim Banfield, who joined the China Teachers program all the way from Montreal, Quebec, Canada. But the Banfields said that “like many of our colleagues we felt called to join.”

Frank demonstrates how to use the “talking books.”

During Frank’s first year in the BSW (Bachelor of Social Work) program at McGill University, he and his wife attended a wedding in the Toronto Temple. While waiting to congratulate the bride, Frank said, “The still small voice told me three times: ‘Linguistic mission.’ I hurried to tell Kim about my experience. At that moment, a friend was telling her about the China Teachers program. The next day we went to a ward conference in Toronto. The stake presidency all spoke about China. We knew then that we were to go to China.”

This “work experience” is more fulfilling for many of the English majors than regular college credit.

The community surrounding Hefei United University in China is certainly not complaining. Frank, a social worker, and Kim, a teacher and educational interpreter, have set up a unique practicum for English majors there. This innovative program gives students the opportunity of teaching English to blind children at the Hefei School for the Deaf and Blind.

The Banfields accomplished several other projects before this one came about—this is their third and final year in China. They organized recording sessions and distributed “talking books” of Chinese stories to various schools in the province; they worked with two hearing impaired children in their home; they put on a workshop for the special needs schools in Anhui province; and they proved to government officials that hearing impaired children could learn a second language.

Frank helps a student get set for an outdoor activity.

As a result of this exposure, a friend from Save the Children Fund invited them to visit one of the special needs schools in Hefei, where the headmaster invited them to teach the vision-impaired children. Their new program began in March. Tentatively titled “Bridges,” it is fairly straightforward. English majors of all levels volunteer for the experience. They are then required to attend a half hour training session each week and, by the third week, submit their own lesson plan.

An interactive program, “Bridges” involves primarily one-on-one instruction between the English teaching assistants and vision impaired children ages seven to eighteen. The curriculum covers skills in oral conversation as well as English in Braille. Activities include conversation about everyday things such as the weather, clothing, and getting to know each other. Along with formal learning, the students also sing active songs such as “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” and, because the Banfields enlisted a sports therapist (a former provincial track coach), the special needs children also receive instruction on running skills and sports, such as football.


The Banfields’ program has been a great success, mainly because it serves the needs of several different groups. It helps English majors gain self-confidence in their chosen area of expertise while simultaneously giving them valuable practical experience that appears as “work experience” on school records.

The staff and students work closely together.

It serves the special-needs students by supplying them with English skills necessary to obtain massage therapy jobs with five-star hotels—almost the only profession open to the blind in this area—as well as providing them with a valuable arena for physical exercise .

Their program has also served to heighten student body awareness. “Bridges” has received essential media coverage for special needs, and through this coverage volunteers have been attracted from the community at large. The community has been able to benefit from a program that would not otherwise exist, because Frank and Kim not only organized but funded this program—recognizing that Hefei is in one of the poorest provinces in China.

In their first year, Frank and Kim set two goals: to provide a quality program for the students at the university; and to serve the Hefei special needs community. Although they left their friends in China with some regret, they are confident they accomplished both of their goals. The Banfields returned to Montreal this summer, where they presented their project at a conference in July, and are currently working on a book about their unique experiences in Hefei. Before their departure, the Banfields organized a student committee to oversee the program, to serve those who are on the two-page waiting list, and to prepare for others who will come in the future. The people of Hefei also hope to expand the project to include students at the Oral School for the Deaf.

The China Teachers Program is administrated by Jeffrey F. Ringer, associate director of the Kennedy Center. Ringer is assisted in these efforts each year by a senior missionary couple, currently Morris and Donna Petersen. Those interested in obtaining information about China Teachers may phone (801) 422-5321,, or visit online here.