Alumnus delivers world history, economics to students in China

University of Wisconsin-Platteville alumnus Charlie Schoenberg '18 was initially drawn to the field of education because he wanted to walk in the footsteps of the amazing educators who had challenged him to think, grow and reflect as a learner. He never imagined, however, that someday, he would be a member of a living and learning community in southeast China, at a foreign language school that hosts more than 3,000 students and teachers from six countries.

Schoenberg, a Roscoe, Illinois native, earned a Bachelor of Arts in secondary social studies education with an emphasis in history from UW-Platteville in May 2018. Soon after he graduated, he accepted a position as a social studies teacher and student academic mentor at Guangwai-Pacelli High School, an international pathway school in Fuwan, Guangdong, a coastal province nestled in southeast China.

As the school’s sole social studies teacher, Schoenberg delivers world history and economics curricula, adapting it to meet his students’ cultural and language needs. When students complete their coursework at Guangwai-Pacelli, they will be awarded a high school graduation diploma from Pacelli Catholic High School in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, through its International Student Program.

As a student academic mentor, Schoenberg holds individual meetings with each student every quarter to discuss academic progress, challenges and goal-setting. He also provides students with information about universities in the United States and assists them with the university application process.

“My greatest hope is to validate my students’ experiences and opinions to the best of my ability,” said Schoenberg. “I want my students to enter a classroom that values difference, diversity, inquiry and truth. The Pacific Ocean separates my students’ culture from mine. I cannot speak their native language; they are working toward learning mine. Despite these cultural and language differences, my students enter the classroom energized and prepared to learn. I am truly humbled to teach my students. I wake up each morning excited for what the day may bring.”

When students begin their coursework at Guangwai-Pacelli High School, they possess an intermediate-to-low level of English fluency. Part of their first semester coursework is completing Schoenberg’s economics class. He said he especially enjoys the last four weeks in the course, when students turn what they have learned throughout the year into a 100-point project, which entails creating, designing and marketing a product. At the end of the project, students deliver a sales pitch, completely in English.

“I find it incredibly rewarding to see the final products of these projects,” said Schoenberg. “Students express great pride in their work and demonstrate impressive progress as language-learners."

To help ensure student success, Schoenberg has incorporated technology and innovation into his classroom. For example, at Guangwai-Pacelli High School, students utilize a reading program that prepares materials designed to fit their language abilities. In his social studies courses, students take advantage of having their textbooks digitally available. For projects, students use various design and presentation tools accessible to them via technology. In addition, students struggling with academic vocabulary may access translation technology using their iPads to practice reading and pronouncing certain terms/phrases.

Challenges, rewards of teaching in China

Schoenberg said one of the initial challenges of his position was adjusting to a new culture. “The adjustment of moving from United States’ western culture to China took time,” he said. “There were numerous learning experiences involved with such cultural adaptation. The greatest challenge was embracing that adapting to a new culture requires patience.”

He said one of the most rewarding parts of his job is providing support and encouragement to students. “I am lucky enough to support students on the extremely difficult journey of learning in an English-immersion environment,” he said. “For my students, this is hardly an easy task. Despite the challenges of studying in another language, my students are motivated, eager and excited to learn. In turn, my students motivate me to grow as a teacher, learner and mentor.”

Schoenberg credits UW-Platteville’s cross-cultural learning experiences; outstanding, hands-on education; and excellent professors for his academic and career success. 

Cross-cultural learning experiences

Schoenberg said his education at UW-Platteville broadened and deepened his understanding of the people and the world, which helped prepare him for his teaching career.

“Through studying the social sciences, I grew an appreciation for diversity and multiculturalism,” he said. “Combined with studying the field of education, I grew excited to occupationally travel to observe and absorb other cultures. My studies at UW-Platteville energized me to not just see the world, but participate in it.”

Schoenberg put everything he had learned as an undergraduate into practice when he served as a student teacher at two United States military bases in Kaiserslautern and Landstuhl, Germany. His 18-week student teaching experience was divided evenly into middle and high school experiences.

During this time, he collaborated with expert United States teachers living abroad. “I would not be the teacher I am today without Deborah Standiford, Andrea White and Kurt Kiefer,” he said. “These teachers served as my cooperating teachers and welcomed me into their classrooms with open arms.”

While he was in Germany, Schoenberg traveled to several European countries and cities. By fall 2018, he was living and teaching at Guangwai-Pacelli High School.

“Student teaching internationally was an excellent opportunity to prepare me for working full-time abroad,” he said. “I have taught in the United States, Germany and now China. I am deeply humbled to not only travel to new and exciting places, but also to live in other cultures.”

Outstanding, hands-on education

Schoenberg said that as a smaller-sized institution, UW-Platteville is able to offer a more individualized education to its students. “Many of my classes at UW-Platteville were not conducted in large lecture halls, but in classrooms where the professor actually knew my name,” he said.

He stressed that UW-Platteville is keen on supporting personalized learning for their students. “Most of my classes were close to 20 students and UW-Platteville professors held ample office hours for students to stop by with questions,” he said. “Even for the large lecture-style courses I took, there were weekly discussion sessions with professors to personalize the experience for students.”

Schoenberg noted that many entry level jobs are now seeking applicants with some form of clinical experience. “Throughout the entire southwestern Wisconsin area, UW-Platteville students conduct student teaching, internships, co-ops, among other clinical experiences,” he said. “Many businesses and industries recognize UW-Platteville because of this, only strengthening a degree from UW-Platteville.”

Excellent professors

“At UW-Platteville, I was lucky enough to have excellent professors and an amazing academic advisor, Dr. Gene Tesdahl, who supported and encouraged me throughout my experience as an undergraduate student,” said Schoenberg.

“Charlie Schoenberg demonstrated his intellect and effort in the first course he took from me in the fall of 2014,” said Tesdahl, assistant professor of history at UW-Platteville. “Charlie prepared, as a student and as an advisee. It is gratifying, and unsurprising, that he is already applying the same as an educator and mentor.”

“Charlie has such an open mind for learning,” said Jessica Brogley, lecturer of pre-student teaching and educational technology in the School of Education at UW-Platteville. “There’s no doubt he passes that energy on to his students.”

Preparing students for the future

Schoenberg said his students began at Guangwai-Pacelli with the hope of one day studying at a university in the United States, and he is confident he has prepared them for this endeavor.

In early May, Schoenberg was offered and accepted a sixth-grade social studies position at Horizon Middle School in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He will begin the position in July.

“As I move forward in my career as a teacher, I hope to continue building lasting relationships and take on opportunities and challenges with passion and motivation,” said Schoenberg. “I am incredibly lucky and grateful that my career choice has allowed me to travel, make lifelong friends and create lasting memories across the planet.”