2010 grad experiencing all that China has to offer
February 3, 2011 By Leigh Cocanougher
August. When he’s not in the classroom, he can often be found
performing for his students with the Foreign Devils’ Blues Band.
Shelton (in red) says that “ordering food is somewhat of an
experiment. Most menus have no English or pictures, so you
guess, point and pray.”
2010 Centre College graduate J.T. Shelton never took good teachers for granted. Inspired by his instructors, he knew from a young age that he wanted to teach, and his love of art led to the clear decision to make that his subject matter.
What was less clear was where he would teach.
Then, during the three-week CentreTerm of his senior year, Shelton traveled to China with Dr. Steven Beaudoin and several fellow students. Having “had a blast” abroad, he was eager to spend more time in the country.
“I knew I wanted to return someday,” he says, “but I had no idea how soon I’d actually do it. When I couldn’t find a full-time teaching job in the States, I decided a little adventure would do me well, so I applied to several universities in China.”
He quickly received three job offers and finally chose to teach at Xiangfan University in Hubei Province (a central province in China).
“They wanted me to teach English,” he says, “and I figured it would be a great experience. My first year after graduation, and I’m a college professor—pretty scary, really.”
Art, however, was the subject he most wished to teach, and his opportunity to do so arose more quickly that he could have dreamed. When one of his managers picked him up at the airport and asked him about his hobbies, Shelton discussed art and then showed him some of his work.
“He was pretty excited and said that he could potentially have me teach an art class,” Shelton says. “Needless to say, I was ecstatic.”
After a “bit of a rocky start” due to the language barrier, Shelton grew comfortable in his new role as an instructor. “I work with students who speak virtually no English,” he says, “but who find a way to communicate with the language of art. I use a translator as often as possible, but sometimes must rely on my ‘Chinglish’ abilities, charades skills or drawings. Each class is somewhat of an adventure, and I’m constantly on my toes.”
At Centre, where he majored in studio arts (ceramics) and minored in secondary education, Shelton took many courses that prepared him for the challenges of living in China.
“I’m one of few experienced teachers here, so the ability to structure and manage a class felt very natural for me from day one,” he says. “I’m teaching material that is new to Chinese students and presenting it in a manner that is also new to them. The other members of the art department have actually had Dan, the other art teacher, and me lead a discussion on concepts of Western teaching and our strategies for creating art. I mainly work with freshmen, and their introduction to college art is my bizarre sense of humor and strange western ways of doing things.”
Outside of the classroom, he has been getting involved in a number of organizations and teams. “Whether it’s playing against the school’s recreational basketball teams, attending English corners and movie nights with students or even performing holiday rock concerts for the school, I’ve had a great time getting involved.”
(Shelton and several friends make up the Foreign Devils’ Blues Band and play songs by Metallica, Chuck Berry and Pink Floyd. “We’ve written one of our own songs for the both the students and some locals. I’m pretty sure they’re terrified,” Shelton says.)
And despite the frustrations of living in a country with a language so foreign to him, Shelton says he would encourage others to follow in his footsteps.
“I’d recommend this job to anyone looking to gain teaching experience and looking for adventure,” he says. “It definitely isn’t for the faint of heart, but it is absolutely amazing.”