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Bay teacher says 'ni hao' to Chinese secondary school

Weiss takes leave for one year to teach physics in Chongqing

Judy Weiss, a Whitefish Bay High School educator, will be taking a one-year leave of absence to work as a physics instructor in China.

Judy Weiss, a Whitefish Bay High School educator, will be taking a one-year leave of absence to work as a physics instructor in China. Photo By C.T. Kruger

July 24, 2012

Whitefish Bay - Judy Weiss stands at the front of her classroom at Whitefish Bay High School, a tennis ball in her right hand and a marble in her left. She lowers the tennis ball and taps the desk in front of her, asking with her eyes if it would land before the marble if she had dropped them both. She repeats the process with the marble, then lowers them both in unison, raising her eyes in expectation as the two make contact with the desk.

Producing a sheet of paper from under the desk, she repeats the experiment again, gesturing to show that the flat paper would flutter downward and fall slower. She pauses a moment, frowning.

"I'd have to show that in a vacuum they would fall the same."

It would be a much easier lesson if she was teaching native English speakers.

The long road to China

The hallowed lesson of the simultaneously falling objects, central to a proper conception of gravity, is but one of many that Weiss is reconstructing in pantomime as she gears up to teach physics to secondary school students in the bustling Chinese municipality of Chongqing.

Weiss, a former metallurgical engineer, has been teaching biology and engineering at Whitefish Bay High School for the last eight years.

Details of the teaching opportunity came to her in May, which led to a round of video-chat interviews and an offer.

Like the metallurgical engineering jobs she held before coming to the district, Weiss notes, she, too, is now China-bound, approved by the School Board to take a one-year leave of absence for a yearlong contract.

A change of setting

Once she starts in August, Weiss will make the daily 40-minute bus ride through the crowded city of Chongqing (population between 6-7 million) to her classroom at No. 1 Middle School to teach advanced-placement students with an international focus - which means they will have some understanding of English.

Weiss knows two Chinese phrases: 'ni hao' (pronounced 'knee how': hello) and 'xie xie' (pronounced 'sheh sheh': thank you).

"I have some studying to do," she says, laughing.

The good news for a physics teacher, says Weiss, is that mathematics is the universal language - though that can only help so much.

"I suspect I might be spending a lot of my time working on the English part of it," Weiss says.

Her hopes of communicating with her friends back home via Facebook were dashed when she realized the site is blocked by order of the Chinese government.

"That was a little distressing," she admits, though she plans to keep in touch with video-chat services and email in its place.

Potential Partnerships?

The school where Weiss will teach is networked with a variety of English-speaking schools and universities around the globe. Weiss hopes her journey to the Far East may be the first of many such trips by Whitefish Bay teachers.

"I think it would be an incredible opportunity for Whitefish Bay High School to build a relationship with a school like this," Weiss says.

A relationship like that could hone skills essential for students in the ever-shrinking world, she says.

"We're in a global society," Weiss says, "and the more our students know, the more successful they can be as adults."

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