By Casey Hans
When Kristi Bishop visited mainland China last month, she encountered a number of surprises. Such as how little energy the average household uses. That many public buildings have no central heat. How her group was offered only Coke, Sprite or beer to drink.
Or, as she says, “how much progress has happened so quickly” in the Communist country that has only recently opened itself to world commerce, Western influence and visits from people all over the world.
The Bach Elementary School music teacher was a member of a People to People Ambassador Program (www.peopletopeople.com) delegation with 50 other music educators from the United States, including K-12 teachers as well as university level educators.
She said their Chinese hosts were cordial and curious, the architecture fabulous, the food delicious and the experience once-in-a-lifetime. And, she is reeling from the experience that will give her plenty of food for thought.
“I will continue to put my thoughts together,” Bishop said. “There’s enough here for me to think about for years to come.”
Bishop, a 15-year teacher in Ann Arbor, had no plans to travel to China. In fact, she did not have a passport and had not traveled out of the country except for visits to Canada and Mexico. Then, she was invited to be a delegate with People to People, because she is a teacher who likes to share her expertise with others.
“Everyone was so excited to show us the traditional instruments,” she said. “About 80 percent of their music is instrumental. That seems to be the highlight of their musical culture.”
But, perhaps most valuable for Bishop, was something definitive she got from the experience: A rededication to her craft. She said she plans to not only work hard ensuring that all students in her care have an opportunity to learn music, but also raise her expectations of what students can achieve.
“There’s so much more I can expect from the students,” she said. “I’m excited about it.”
Bishop said she is thankful that all students here in the United States get an opportunity to practice music. “We want everyone to participate, regardless of their talent,” she said. “In our society, opportunities are limitless.”
In China, she said, “children are identified (as musically gifted) at a young age and encouraged to go to boarding school. They go away from home as young as the first grade.” She said other children learn about music, but only through music appreciation.
She noticed a difference in the overall school environment in China, as well. Classrooms are crowded (about 40 students per class, she said) and a huge emphasis is placed on appreciation of the arts, including calligraphy, dance, music and silk printing. “I noticed that the Chinese honor their teachers in the same way they honor their elders,” she added.
Bishop said the trip left her with more questions than answers, but opened her to many things to think about. And, she hopes continuing correspondence with some of those she met on the trip will help her to learn more. “The power of this (trip) is in the future connections,” she said.
The People to People music delegation visited mainland China from Dec. 11-21 with each member paying for their own travel and trip costs. They stayed in Beijing for four nights, then flew to Shanghai for another four nights and spent most of their time in the country’s urban areas. During her trip, she was part of round-table discussions, panels, seminars and site visits allowing her to gain an in-depth understanding of the common interests and challenges she shares with those overseas.
Bishop also experienced culture and history through visits to the China Conservatory, Beijing No. 35 High School and visit to The Great Wall, The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.
The trip was organized by Lynn Brinckmeyer, director of Choral Music Education at Texas State University Brinckmeyer said she worked hard to get as many states represented on the trip as possible and said Bishop was selected as a delegate because of her involvement with her profession and the knowledge that Bishop and others would come back and share their experience with others.
“We have already had some dialogue via e-mail,” she said of the group. “And almost daily I’m getting something (from the group.) It’s been very rewarding.” She said the delegation will have a blog on the People to People site where they will be able to share photos, video and other thoughts.
Brinckmeyer said she expects many of the delegates will write about their experience for professional journals and, perhaps, present at state conferences before their peers. Bishop said she hopes to write a professional paper to share her experiences. She lost her voice early in the trip, so spent a lot of time writing observations in a journal, which she is now pleased to have to help her collect her thoughts.
Her favorite part of the trip was a visit to an elementary music classroom on the last day. “Even though the teacher didn’t speak English, we knew exactly what she was teaching,” she said. “It gave me a better understanding of our ESL (English as a Second Language) students and how they learn.”
“I feel we were given such an opportunity,” Bishop added.
Occupation: Elementary music teacher at Bach Elementary School. She also has worked at Pattengill, Angell, Burns Park, Pittsfield and Dicken elementary schools and is in her 15th year teaching for The Ann Arbor Public Schools.
Education: Master of Music degree from the University of Michigan, Bachelor’s degree in Music Education at Wichita State University in Kansas.
Residence: Scio Township in the Dexter school district.
Family: Married to Andrew Bishop (Jazz Saxophone Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan,), Sons Oliver, 9, and Linden 6.
Pets: Chancey the Dog, and cats Bela and Domino
Hobbies: Music, dance, gardening, jewelry making, sewing, studying archaeology and origins of religious traditions.
Community service: Trustee and vice president of the Educational Foundation of Dexter, co-chairwoman of the of Bates Elementary School PTO (Dexter), vice president of Arts Advocates in Dexter Community Schools.
Favorite meal: “Whatever my husband cooks especially Chicken Marsala with smashed potatoes and steamed asparagus.”
Last books read: “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert and “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future” by Daniel H. Pink.
Life philosophy: Victor Hugo: “The human soul has still greater need of the ideal than of the real. It is by the real that we exist; it is by the ideal that we live.”
Casey Hans edits this newsletter for The Ann Arbor Public Schools. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 734-994-9800 ext. 51228.