RANDOLPH, NJ- Lei Huang stands at the head of the classroom and greets her students with a wide, warm and welcoming smile. She speaks to them in a bright voice; however, the words coming out of her mouth are not in English but in Mandarin Chinese. Huang is not only a new teacher at the Randolph, but she is also the only teacher to teach the high school’s debut Mandarin class, Chinese I.
“I’m so excited because teaching language is my favorite, and I can teach the language I like,” said Huang. She teaches Chinese I to her 22 students during Periods 1 and 2 at the high school and, during the afternoon, she goes over to the middle school to teach it to the sixth, seventh and eighth-graders.
“To care about students, you have know their needs. Each student is different so you have to find out and design a lesson especially for them,” says Ms. Huang, when asked what the most challenging part of teaching is. Ms. Huang seems to be a dedicated teacher who cares a lot about her students.
Most of Huang’s students are beginners at Mandarin, which can be difficult to learn. Depending on certain dictionaries, there are from 50,000 to 80,000 Chinese characters. However, just knowing approximately 3,000 characters will allow anyone to write and communicate well.
To ease her students into the complicated language, Huang first teaches them pinyin, the official system for converting Chinese sounds into the Roman alphabet letters to help students speak Mandarin. Because some Chinese characters are pictographs, Huang also teaches calligraphy in her class so her students can see how images of real objects are represented by Chinese characters. As she always tells her students, “Little by little. Day by day.”
“The reason I wanted to bring Mandarin to Randolph is because it gives students a world language option that is very different from the current options,” says Paula Paredes-Corbel, the supervisor of World Language and ESL at RHS. Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world and uses pinyin and pictographic characters with radicals and strokes, unlike French or Spanish. “I wanted students to have options when it comes to world languages because we don’t all have the same interests nor do we all learn in the same way,” Paredes-Corbel adds.
Huang’s philosophy is that as long as a person is interested in something, nothing is too hard to learn, including Mandarin. She believes that a good starting point for her students is to get them interested in Chinese by letting them have fun like painting so she prepares a variety of activities for them, some of which appeal to their interests and hobbies.
For example, Huang lets her artistic students paint on blank traditional Chinese fans, design birthday cards that pertain to her lesson and draw Chinese calligraphy. She also incorporates history into her lessons, teaching students the four important writing tools used with calligraphy: paper, a Chinese brush, ink and an ink stone.
When students need a short break, they enjoy Chinese-themed games such as using chopsticks to hold marbles for as long as possible.
“Language is a powerful tool. You can make friends; you can communicate with people from other countries who speak Chinese. I think it’s a really good way to know about the different countries,” Ms. Huang says. Mandarin is also an important language in the world of business and politics. Ms Huang stresses, “If you know the language, you can know more about the culture, the history, anything.”
“I love language and I want to teach students who also love language,” declares Ms. Huang. She learned English in middle school because it was required in China but she fell in love with the language, so she chose it as her major in college. Ms. Huang earned a B.A. in English in China and completed her Ed.M. degree in language education from Rutgers. She was a student teacher at Livingston High School for a semester before she came to teach at Randolph.
Huang was born and raised in the JiangXi Province in China and moved to New Jersey in 2011. She chose to move to the United States because she wanted to speak and communicate in English in its target culture. Ms. Huang says she became a teacher because she loves language and wants to teach students who also love language.
“I love them,” says Huang of her students “I feel proud I have them. I’m so happy I have them in my class. I trust them and they just like the language and enjoy the class and they can speak a lot of Chinese now. I am so, so glad and so proud of them.”
The high school plans to expand the program, offering Mandarin I and II for the 2018 to 2019 school year.
Editor's Note : Isabella Hu is a student at Randolph High School participating in a journalism program