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Helen standing in front of an archway

I grew up moving around a lot, since my father was in the military. I liked this nomadic lifestyle, and after having attended BYU in Provo for a few years, I wanted a change. I also love learning about new cultures in general, so this opportunity to go to China seemed perfect. Someday I would like to do some international teaching as well, so I thought that by going to China for my student teaching, my future employers could see that I have had international teaching experience.

I coached the swim team while I was there. It was such a great experience to see my students outside of math class and to be able to encourage them in something new. If I hadn't done my student teaching in China, I probably wouldn't have had the chance to coach the swim team and learn about this aspect of teaching.

Working with almost all ESL students was a challenge. It was difficult but eye-opening to teach students who had a hard time understanding basic instructions, let alone the math content I wanted to get across to them. I had to be extremely aware of how well the students were understanding what was going on and how well they understood each activity.

Helen posing behind a suit of armor with her head filling the place of the soldier's helmet

I was also con­stantly reiterating the vocabulary terms. I think this helped me learn to be better teacher because these ESL students were not much different from any other students. Students, especially in math classes, will stop paying attention once they don’t understand something because they assume they will be lost for the rest of the lesson. I didn’t want to lose any students, so I was constantly monitoring the students to see who did and who didn’t understand. If it was a language barrier problem, I would have a nearby student explain again to the struggling student in their native language. If it was a problem with a mathematical concept, I would address it myself. In a classroom without so many language learners, it is still going to be important for me to constantly monitor the students so I know who is getting left behind and so I can avoid losing any of them during the lesson.


Written by Helen Gillespie, Math Education Student
Photography by Helen Gillespie