American English teacher popular with students

Dec 19, 2014

WHEN Robert Donald Klein first came to Suzhou and became an English teacher in a local kindergarten in 2007, the then 37-year-old thought he would stay in China for just one year.

Seven years later, he’s still here. He teaches English at Jiangsu Liangfeng High School in Zhangjiagang City of Suzhou. He is also a winner of the Jiangsu Friendship Award, which is the highest honor given by the Jiangsu government to foreign experts who work in the province and make great contributions.

After graduating from the University of Houston in business administration, Klein started to do engineering work in his father’s company. Years later, one of his friends recommended he take a visit to China in 2007. As a travel lover, Klein accepted the advice.

Klein found his first job in China as an English teacher in an international kindergarten in Suzhou.

“I liked working in kindergarten, but I think I don’t have that energy,” he said. “I had fun there but I was too old for chasing kids around in the whole class.”

He quit the job after a year and became a teacher in Zhongnan University in Wuxi, teaching management. Next Klein was employed by Longre Training Center, a commercial educational institute that specialized in teaching TOEFL and IELTS, a pair of English-language tests. He taught speaking classes to prepare students for the two tests. He stayed in that position for four years, until he took his current job to teach the two international classes of Liangfeng High School a year ago.

“I try to make the class here the same as those in America,” Klein said after he was recently selected by the students as “the most beautiful foreign teacher” of Liangfeng High School of 2014.

Robert now teaches English writing and reading to 52 Chinese students in the high school. Laughter can frequently be heard coming from his classrooms.

“I like having fun during class,” Klein said. “In my opinion, learning language is really boring, at least for me. So I always try to make them happy in my class.”

Klein said all of his students will spend only two years in Liangfeng High School, then will finish their last year at Craig High School in Wisconsin, where they will try to pass the tests of TOEFL and SAT to gain offers to American universities. It’s a cooperative project between the two high schools.

“At first, they were very shy at class, but when they started to have my class, I tried to make them comfortable,” said Klein. “We do a lot of teamwork so that they have to be active.”

He said Chinese students always work very hard, which will greatly help them in their US studies.

“They will study abroad in the future, so I think I should teach them not only language, but also cultures,” Klein said.

Klein clearly is among the most popular teachers in the school. He was asked by the students to organize various activities, such as Halloween party and Christmas party, or some academic groups such as Model United Nations Society.

“I think trust is the key,” said Klein. “Learning language is difficult, so when they make mistakes I tell them it’s ok. I won’t make them lose face, and they realize they can trust me.”

Besides the classes for students, Robert also gives suggestions to his colleagues from time to time, such as how to control the class and how to make their PPTs attractive. He likes to share teaching materials with them.

Klein has spent most of his eight years in China in Jiangsu Province, and he always enjoys his life there.

“This city, Zhangjiagang, is clean and smaller than usual cities,” he said. “I live near the school and ride an electric bike as my traffic tool.”

Though he planned to stay for only a year when he arrived in China, something changed his mind. “I like the country a lot, so I thought, maybe one more year?”

“I like the people here most,” he said. “They are always very friendly. Many of the people I meet on the street will smile at me, and I feel very welcomed in the city.”

In his spare time, he participated in a charity program — Volunteer English Teacher — and has visited Yangshuo County of Guilin in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region for three summers to teach English to poor children in the mountain area.

Klein has not married and lives alone, but he doesn’t feel lonely. “In fact, I do have children. I have 52 children here,” he said.

About the Column

Suzhou Face

This series focuses on individuals who have lived in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province for a while and have a tale that’s worth telling. Age, gender, nationality and race are all unimportant in comparison with what adventures the subject has been up to, the experiences they can recount.

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