Xiaotian Tang, or “Frank,” as his students and co-workers at Riverview High School know him, went to his first American football game Friday night.
“It was awesome,” he says with a Chinese accent, although his English is impeccable. “I only know a little about the rules, but I could understand what they were doing on the field: the players’ cooperation, their tactic, the grand parades (marching bands).”
Tang is serving as a Chinese language teacher for one year in Sarasota through the College Board and Hanban Institute in China. He teaches in the mornings at Riverview and then in the afternoons at Suncoast Polytechnical High. The program recruits teachers from China to teach abroad under a three-year contract made possible from a state grant.
“I have been teaching for so long in (the same) background, and now I have the opportunity to teach different students in a totally different environment,” he says. “It’s exciting.”
Tang grew up in the small rural town of Jishou, in the People’s Republic of China. He left to study English in a bigger town, and for the past 18 years he has taught English at the same university from which he graduated. He also spent some time studying English in the U.K. His wife and middle-school aged son still live in Jishou, which is a 12-hour time difference. He video chats with them on a weekly basis.
Tang calls himself a “techie,” which explains why he can go from teaching on paper flip-charts in China to using smart-board technology in Sarasota. He says the school system is more systematic and rigid in U.S. high schools than at his Chinese university. He also says American students ask more questions. It has been a different and challenging teaching experience, but he likes it so far, he says.
Riverview Principal Linda Nook says the school wanted to add more foreign-language options and was already looking for a local Chinese teacher, when the Sarasota County School District asked if the school wanted to be apart of the Chinese Guest Teacher Program.
“He’s very popular with the students,” she says of Tang. “The kids have welcomed and received him so warmly, but when you talk to him, how could you not? Who wouldn’t love him?”
Tang’s students are just as pleased as their principal. Fifteen-year-old Manuel Montiel takes Chinese 1 with Tang, and it is his favorite class so far this year.
“He’s a really good teacher, and the school made a good choice picking him as a teacher,” Manuel says. “It’s interesting, and I learn new things every day.”
Manuel plans to continue taking Chinese classes and thinks it will help him in the future when he plans to enlist in the military.
“I told him that we should do a class fieldtrip to China,” Manuel says.
Manuel hopes Tang will prepare traditional Hunan food for the class, like Tang and his roommate make when they host dinners at their apartment for new friends. In addition to cooking, Tang loves the beach. He comes from a mountainous region and finds the beach relaxing. He also enjoys sports and riding bikes.
“I get a lot of support (from the staff and administration), and they even gave me a bike,” he said.
Tang doesn’t have a car and needed a bike to ride to school. He has two mentors, one in the Sarasota County Induction Program and a Riverview cultural mentor, who helped him settle in and find an apartment when he first arrived.
Tang says he learns as much from his students as they do from him.
“I really appreciate the (time) we have spent so far,” Tang says. “I’ve already learned from them (the students), and I hope they do outstanding in their studies and student careers.”