My name is Tamula Drumm and I am a high school Chinese teacher. This is my 5th year teaching Chinese and my 3rd year teaching at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio. Last spring, I saw a notice about the upcoming iFLT conference and decided I should go because I needed to find a better way to teach reading in Chinese. I actually didn’t know what I was getting into. I went to the pre-conference workshop with Linda Li and Diana Noonan and was totally blown away. Diana said something that really struck home about how every year she would vow to teach more in the target language and every year it wasn’t happening before she started doing TPRS. For the past two years, I have been part of a FLAP group for area Chinese teachers and our trainers are always harping on this. The state is making it part of FL standards so I was feeling like a big failure on this point. Whenever I tried, the kids got lost and frustrated . . . until now. I learned about Ben’s professional learning community from two lovely teachers on the bus back to the airport. I joined when I realized that I need help to become proficient at teaching with CI and TPRS.
A few words about my background . . . I am actually a middle aged teacher. I spent 20 years in the field of university study abroad and first went to China as a young English teacher in the mid-1980’s. Eventually, I became director of a U.S. study abroad center in China. I lived in China for 7 years, married my husband there, and we went to India for one year doing the same kind of job. In between, I got my MA in Chinese Studies from the University of Michigan. Toward the end of that career, I worked at Cleveland State University as a study abroad coordinator. I loved working with the students but got really tired of the bureaucracy and in-fighting in academia. I wanted to become a Chinese teacher. Then CSU got a grant from the state to train teachers in high needs areas including Chinese. I signed up. My first teaching job was in a semi-rural public school. I got laid off from there after two years and eventually ended up where I am now. I love teaching. I love the kids and have great colleagues. My situation is ideal in that I have strong support from parents and administration and the kids. I am the only Chinese teacher and the program has grown in two years from 16 kids to 68. Best of all, our Russian teacher who started with us last year has been quietly teaching with TPRS for 4 years and is now helping me. I joke with her about how ironic it is that she is mentoring a teacher who is 22 years older than her but she gives me marvelous advice. Our chair is supportive of “the younger teachers who bring in new ideas” and we are careful not to challenge what the others are doing.
I am excited about this new journey. Everything about it makes sense since it is so much like the way I learned Chinese. If a student asks me a grammar question, I tell them “give me a second because I have to think about how I used this term in China and then think it backwards until I can make up a rule.” I have five grammar books for Chinese in my library but none of them make much sense to me. I tell the kids that no one in China even wrote a grammar book until the 1920s so that shows how much they care about grammar. Last fall, I introduced my Headmaster to the idea of accepting Chinese students into our school. The summer before that, I had met four kids in China who had studied in American high schools. They all had amazing English and were so bi-cultural. We started working on the idea and as soon as the U.S. government approves the program we will start recruiting. I will be responsible for them so all that study abroad experience will be back in use. Best of all, my American students are very excited about the program. Will I be able to handle all the work? Well, I really believe it was fate that I went to iFLT this summer because I have now been given a clear path to follow. I just need to master it!