Emma Willard School Chinese Instructor and International Student Coordinator Preston Sundin recently attended the National Chinese Language Conference in San Diego, California where he represented the school by leading the session “Race, Sex, and Gender in the American Chinese Language Classroom.” We asked him about the experience and his takeaways from the conference.
Have you attended this conference previously? How were you selected as lead presenter?
This is my second year presenting at the National Chinese Language Conference. I also presented last year when the conference was held in Salt Lake City (topic: “From Learner to Teacher: Teaching Strategies from Non-Native Mandarin Instructors.”). One must go through a lengthy application process to present at the conference. I've wanted to present on this topic for a long time.
As the lead presenter, I wrote the formal proposal and assembled a team of fellow co-presenters that I felt possessed unique perspectives on the topic. They were all fellow Chinese teachers whom I've met at other conferences and teaching programs. Given the complexity of this topic, I wanted to assemble a diverse representation of Chinese teachers, American and Chinese, black and white, as well as from public and independent, elementary and high school, single-sex and co-ed institutions. After submission, the proposal goes through a highly competitive review and selection process before the final presenters are announced. Our team was honored and humbled to be selected.
In your session “Race, Sex, and Gender in the American Chinese Language Classroom,” what kinds of things did you cover? What kinds of questions did attendees ask?
My team presented on a variety of topics, from supporting gender diversity in the classroom to addressing a Chinese word that sounds like a racial slur in English. When presenting, we didn't claim to have all the answers, but we hoped to propose important questions for Chinese teachers to consider when planning and conducting classes.
Most attendees came to the presentation assuming they would learn how to incorporate topics of Race, Sex, and Gender into their Chinese classroom, but left understanding that these topics have always been present in the classroom, but often go unseen or unaddressed. For example, in my presentation, I argued that society (and therefore language) is deeply gendered. You can't teach topics as simple as family members, or the terms "man" and "woman" without broaching the topic of gender. The trick is doing it in a manner that avoids stereotypes and is sensitive to our evolving understanding of gender.
Do you feel Emma’s Chinese curriculum differs from other schools in attendance? If so, in what ways?
When planning my Chinese classes, I try to align my lessons with Emma Willard's mission of empowering young women. I believe that many schools strive to achieve this goal, but it is more difficult in a co-ed setting. The long history and supportive culture at Emma Willard reminds me every day to be intentional about what and how I teach my students.
Did you attend other sessions while there? If so, was there a session that really resonated or impacted you?
Some of the presentations focused on the latest in Chinese language pedagogy and classroom practices while others focused on macro-trends in the Chinese teaching field in America. I loved hearing about how learning Chinese can be a tool of empowerment for students, not just for getting into college or getting a leg up in the job market, but also for fostering cross-cultural communication and developing empathy within students and a desire to better the world around them.
What were some of your overall takeaways from the conference?
I walked away from the conference with more ideas on how to further perfect and grow the Chinese program, but also with a deeper appreciation of what makes Emma Willard so special. I firmly believe that a knowledge of Chinese language and culture will be essential skill for the 21st century, and I want to do all I can to ensure that it remains a part of the curriculum here at Emma Willard.