A Blog Covering D.C. Education [ABCDE]

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 20 2011

Teaching in Rural China, Pt. 1: The Power of Libraries

In this series, I’ll be reflecting on my experience teaching and working with Chinese high school students, using the photos and videos I took to supplement my reflections.

Today’s theme: libraries.


Members of our group’s construction team spent the week building, essentially from scratch, an English language library for the local high school where I worked. This group took an empty, decrepit classroom and transformed it. They began by cleaning and repainting it. Then, they built bookshelves. Finally, they arranged the space.

This was how the books looked before (stored in another classroom):

The team worked hard, in the stifling summer heat. Here’s what the library looked like as a work-in-progress:

By the end of the week, when we showcased the various projects we had been working on, the library looked like this:

What did I learn? I discovered that the power of libraries is universal. The library project made a remarkable impact from the very get-go. Even though I did not work on the project, I grew extremely excited by what I saw.

When I stopped in, dozens of students were busy perusing the books and magazines, which had been carefully organized on the freshly-constructed bookshelves.

Also, almost instantly, students began lining up to check out books. The entries on the list grew quickly.

And to add to it all, the murals that students had painted to decorate the library warmed my heart, for reasons that are obvious.

One mural was particularly touching for a reason having nothing to do with libraries and literacy. It goes without saying that our service project was as much about cultural exchange and understanding as anything else. And, in that, I think we succeeded.

Our group’s hope, of course, is that students will use the space for a long time. I certainly found it extremely inviting and an excellent place to kick back–and perhaps even work on a Robert Pattinson Twilight puzzle with some friends.

The team also decorated the space with photos of Yale, to commemorate our contribution to the school community. But the best part was the calligraphy painted symbolizing Yale’s relationship with China.

A library is an unbelievably powerful space. As readers of my blog know, I did my best to ensure that my classroom library was as transformative as possible. No matter what, it’s essential that one makes do with what one has. The library at Xiuning doesn’t have many books. But I can say with certainty that the new library will make that impact for many years to come.

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Really, "A Blog Covering Dilemmas in Education": A (former) English teacher's reflections…

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