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American teacher develops special methods in Ningbo

Updated: 2014-06-23 06:58
By Zhao Xinying ( China Daily)

At Ningbo City College of Vocational Technology, people may have no idea who Donald Guadagni is. But, if you ask "Who is Lao Tang?", almost everyone knows, or has heard the name.

Guadagni, 55, hails from the Green Mountain State of Vermont in the United States, but is working at Ningbo City College, teaching spoken and written English to English majors and tourism students.

He got the affectionate nickname "Lao Tang" from his Chinese students and colleagues who thought Tang sounded like his first name, Donald, while Lao represented respect and affection. Lao Tang likes the moniker.

Having worked as an English teacher in China for five years, he has formed a set of special methods for teaching and classroom administration.

Lao Tang has a strict class structure that doesn't allow for tardiness or absence except for real emergencies.

He believes that students should treat study as their work and duty "given that their parents pay them a living allowance each month to attend college".

"Habitual attendance problems are addressed remedially, by having the students wash dishes in the cafeteria for the time missed from class. Other classroom administration techniques involve contacting parents, treating all students equally and making sure that all the classroom rules are uniformly applied," he said.

His "toughness" may have something to do with his military background.

Lao Tang volunteered for military service after graduating from high school in 1978. After that, he went to the Vermont State Police Academy and became a deputy sheriff. He once worked for the prison system as a state employee in the 1990s.

He also worked on many other issues, including public policy and international trade agreements until his interests finally turned to teaching.

In 2007, Lao Tang went back to school to study teaching and earned a Level 4 certification for teaching adults.

In 2009, harboring a strong desire to improve the educational system for students in China, Lao Tang came to work.

"We must have the courage and vision to set aside culture and customs that prohibit us from doing what is right and necessary to protect the future of our children," he said.

He spent a year teaching in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, before "fate" brought him to Ningbo.

At the vocational college, Lao Tang applied some Western teaching methods, rules and approaches to make sure that his students would be well prepared for the time when they continued their studies overseas.

He believes the best way for Chinese students to learn English is to work on basic communication skills, without focusing too much on other technical elements such as grammar.

"Students should be able to ask and answer questions about daily activities and routines," he said. "A sound foundation in basic communication skills early in the process will ensure that adding skills later in the educational process will be easier and more effective."

This is also the way he himself learned Chinese.

When he came to China five years ago, Lao Tang knew virtually nothing about the language, but he resolved to learn.

He can now understand a fair amount of spoken and written Chinese and has acquired enough language to conduct basic tasks and routine business.

Lao Tang said his hope is to earn the right to become a permanent resident of China.

"In life, we sometimes seek a place to feel peaceful," he said.


American teacher develops special methods in Ningbo

Donald Guadagni, who once worked as a deputy sheriff in the US, lectures at Ningbo City College of Vocational Technology. Provided to China Daily


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