Guest Teachers From China, Via the College Board

Public schools nationwide have seen a major boost in the number of Chinese language programs in the past years thanks in significant part to an unlikely source — the College Board.

Best known as the gatekeeper to selective college admissions, through its administration of the SAT and Advanced Placement exams, the College Board decided to promote college-prep language course offerings after surveying schools in 2004 about foreign language classes. The group found an overwhelming desire for an AP Chinese course, as well as courses in Japanese and Italian.

The problem with Chinese, College Board administrators discovered, was a dismal lack of qualified and certified teachers, says Selena Cantor, director of the group’s Chinese language and culture initiatives. “Out of that, it seemed like a wonderful opportunity to build a guest-teacher program to bring qualified teachers from China to jumpstart programs,” she says.

So the College Board formed a partnership with the Hanban, China’s Office of Chinese Language Council International. Hanban pays the teachers a monthly stipend and provides transportation to the United States. School districts receiving the teachers cover other costs. In January 2007, 35 teachers arrived from China, followed by 64 more in August. They’re working in schools in 31 states.

The College Board partnership with the Hanban also provides scholarships for American teaching candidates seeking certification in Chinese and in-service training for current teachers.

The guest-teacher program helps school districts overcome more than just hiring difficulties, Cantor says. Many school administrators found it easier to approach school boards reluctant to offer Chinese with the knowledge a qualified teacher was in the bag. And it’s a relatively low-cost way for districts to build interest in a new program, she says.

Meanwhile, the AP Chinese exam debuted in May 2007. Cantor says the College Board hopes the influx of guest teachers eventually will build a market to sustain the test, especially in school districts offering the language in elementary and middle schools.

Still, the guest teachers will put a dent in the teacher shortage for only a short while. They’re here through 2009. During their stay, the College Board hopes receiving schools and districts will figure out how to continue their Chinese programs with permanent staff. That can only happen if states begin developing alternative licensing options for teachers of Chinese, Cantor says.

“Our hope is we can have this [the guest-teacher program] as one part of the solution while spurring efforts to create a Chinese teacher pool,” Cantor says.

More information on the guest-teacher program is available at or by calling 866-630-9305.

— Kate Beem